CEBU CITY – The Central Visayas region is projected to gradually recover in the later part of 2020 through next year, the chief of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in Central Visayas said.

In an online interview hosted by the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV), NEDA-7 regional director Efren Carreon said the “Build, Build, Build” program “should pump-prime our economy” even amid the current economic downturn brought by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

Carreon said the economic recovery in Region 7, the country’s biggest regional economy outside the National Capital Region, must be anchored on the infrastructure buildup push by the Duterte administration to make it more attractive to investors in the post-crisis era.

“Our positive outlook continues to be there,” he said. “We will rebound with our infrastructure projects in place and the plan for (a) mass transport system, which should enhance our attractiveness to foreign companies.”

Saying the region is centrally located in the country, Carreon said it is in a “great position” to attract more investments from abroad, especially those leaving China.

“We have a modern airport. Metro Cebu Expressway is on the pipeline. Our new container port is about to commence later this year. Other airports and seaports in the region have also been upgraded,” he added.

He also projected that domestic tourism will also likely start to recover by the end of this year, or early 2022.

Tourism has been one of the most gravely hurt industries in the region by the current crisis.

Citing figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority, he estimated the tourism sector incurred losses of about PHP12.5 billion in the first quarter of 2020 alone due to travel restrictions and mass quarantine measures.

Accommodation facilities, including hotels and resorts, recorded the biggest foregone revenue at PHP5.5 billion, followed by restaurants at PHP4.7 billion, retail at PHP1.9 billion, and transport at PHP876 million.

But while these industries have suffered from the economic pain caused by the Covid-19, Cebu’s information technology and business process management (BPM) sector has sustained its growth trajectory amid the crisis.

Cebu IT-BPM Organization managing director Jun Sa-a said the economic crisis globally would likely push companies to cut costs and resort to outsourcing, which should benefit the Philippines.

“Looking at a global perspective, outsourcing is the most viable solution to companies cutting costs,” Sa-a said, citing the country’s edge with its good and English speaking workforce Western orientation.

He said that during the quarantine period in Cebu, IT-BPM companies have been allowed to operate at a limited capacity and have made their employees to work from home.

As quarantine restrictions gradually ease, Sa-a foresees that outsourcing companies might still adapt as safety protocols in the workplace are observed.

While the services sector where the tourism business belongs has taken a backseat during the economic downturn, the NEDA-7 chief projected that it will continue to dominate the regional economy.

However, Sa-a sees more focus and attention on the agriculture sector moving forward.

“That’s the opportunity there. Our agri-fishery sector currently contributes about 5 percent to our economy. But there’s so much potential. We need to invest more into the sector to increase production,” he said.

While the Central Visayas economy is poised to start, its recovery path in the second half of the year, Carreon warned that growth might not be as robust as it was in 2019. (PNA)

By Carlo Lorenciana