The Coronavirus disease(COVID-19) has brought setback to nations around the globe but as there are many challenges, countries are also learning to turn some challenges into opportunities and move towards recovery and on living a “new normal “ amid the health pandemic.
National Economic Development Authority – Cordillera Regional Director Susan Sumbeling, in her State of the Region Address during the culminating program of the Cordillera Month celebration last July 30, said the Philippines was on track towards becoming an upper middle-income country with the economy growing by an average of six percent between 2016 – 2019, before the CoVID-19 pandemic that grounded the country’s economy.
The Cordillera region had its fair share in lifting the country’s status with the regional economy growing by an average of five percent during said period while poverty reduction programs were doing well with CAR as the fifth region with the lowest poverty incidence of 6.7%.
Then COVID hit in 2020 and with the imposed community quarantine, CAR regional economy suffered its worst decline in its economic history. Regional economy contracted by 9.9% with loss of income and employment as businesses, small and large, shut down and cut operations. The vibrant tourism industry of the region was also halted with the border closures and limited public transport services.
As of May 2020, the estimated total losses from the pandemic reached P18.6 billion. But the most devastating perhaps is the effect of the pandemic on the people’s mental health and well – being with everyone forced to suddenly live with health protocols that include social distancing and no mass gatherings.
Sumbeling said the pandemic is both a challenge and an opportunity as gleaned by our experience. While it saw some business closures, it also led to the emergence of new industries and income opportunities and the lockdowns also resulted to fewer crimes, lower number of vehicular accidents, and even improved air quality.
More importantly, the pandemic surfaced the region’s exemplary qualities and indigenous value and practices, as well as the Cordillerans’ brand of discipline, cooperation, perseverance and resilience, she added.
As the country reels from the devastation wrought by COVID – 19, the national government put in place Bayanihan to Heal As One Act to carry out urgent measures to cope with the current national emergency and Bayanihan To Recover as One Act focused on response and revival interventions in the country's struggling economy.
These interventions indeed helped a lot in keeping the Cordillera stay afloat. NEDA – CAR reported that over 50 local government units (out of 77 cities/municipalities) in CAR got higher overall ranking and scores in the Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness Index; regional physical integration continues to improve with 99 percent of the regional trunkline and 96% of national roads in the region already paved under the Cordillera Road Improvement Project.
Through the Department of Information, Communication Technology, 145 active sites in the different provinces are maintained under the Free Wifi for All program. Under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, 350 hectares were planted under the National Greening Program despite budget cut, and under the Mines and Geo – Science Bureau of DENR, there were two Minahang Bayan approved.
The Cordillera through the Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict gained headway in the fight against communist terrorist groups(CTGs) with all the LGUs in the region adapting resolutions declaring communist terrorist groups as persona non grata in their communities. Eight of the CTG – cleared barangays in the region are also included in the Support to Barangay Development Program with P20 million aid for community development projects.
For the region’s quest for regional autonomy and development, Cordillera also gained greater support from more local and national partners, NEDA added.
In moving forward, Sumbeling outlined the need to learn to live with the virus and make the most of our new circumstances and continue the work that the region has started towards recovery and enhancing resiliency through the Regional Recovery Program and Regional Action Plan Against COVID – 19.
“Even as we continue to live through uncertain times, and with our unwavering determination, dedication and cooperation towards working for a better future, we shall succeed in navigating the better normal to help the country pursue its long term vision of a “matatag, maginhawa at panatag na buhay” that embodies our vision of a prosperous and autonomous Cordillera where benefits are equitably shared by all”, said Sumbeling. (JDP/CCD-PIA CAR)