The Philippines’ jobless rate may hit double-digits and rise to a 15-year high amid an ongoing recession, the country’s chief economist said Friday.

Asked during an interview with Bloomberg TV if the Philippines was already in a recession or two straight quarters of economic contraction, Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua replied: “The textbook answer is yes we are, and this is something that all countries are going through.”

“We hope to recover very soon once we open the economy in the coming months,” added Chua, who heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority.

Gross domestic product contracted by 0.2 percent during the first quarter and it was expected to shrink faster in the second quarter given the extended COVID-19 quarantine in April and May.

Chua said the recession would likely bring the unemployment rate to double-digits during this quarter.

A double-digit unemployment rate would be the highest in 15 years or since April 2005’s 8.4 percent, the year the government adopted the current metrics in measuring employment, National Statistician Claire Dennis S. Mapa told the Inquirer.

The Philippine Statistics Authority will release official employment data through the results of the April labor force survey on June 5, but Chua said the government addressed the COVID-19-inflicted temporary job losses by providing the social amelioration program doleouts as well as wage subsidies to vulnerable sectors and workers.

The Department of Labor and Employment last Thursday said their latest estimates showed that 2.5 million workers had been affected by work suspension, flexible working arrangements and business closures amid the lockdown.

This reversed the latest gains when the unemployment rate was only 5.3 percent in January.

At the start of the lockdown in mid-March, 80 percent of the economy stopped, but more than half already resumed activity this month, Chua said.

By next month, two-thirds of the economic engine would be humming under relaxed restrictions poised to become the new normal during the second half.

Chua said he was hopeful of a quick, “V-shaped” recovery as the economy would be opened further once mass testing increases to up to 30,000 a day from 8,700 a day at present. —Ben O. de Vera

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