Philippines' jobless rate eases as economy reopens from lockdown

MANILA, Sept 3 (Reuters) - The Philippines’ unemployment rate dropped in July from a record-high three months ago, the statistics agency said on Thursday, as the economy gradually reopened after strict coronavirus lockdowns.

The Philippines, which before the pandemic was one of Asia’s fastest growing economies, is facing the twin challenges of surging infections and tepid consumption and investment.

The 10% unemployment rate in July, equivalent to 4.6 million jobless people, was nearly double the 5.4% in the same period last year but lower than the record 17.7% in April.

The relaxation in June of the country’s lockdown, one of the world’s longest and strictest, allowed more businesses to resume operations and generate jobs, but some economic centres were still suffering double-digit unemployment rates, national statistician Claire Dennis Mapa told a news conference.

The unemployment rate is seen easing further to 6%-8% next year with the gradual reopening of the economy, Karl Chua, acting secretary of the socioeconomic planning agency, told reporters.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday kept partial restrictions in and around the capital until the end of September to stem a rise in infections.

“The lockdowns have protected millions of Filipinos from COVID-19 but at a significant cost to the economy and employment,” Finance assistant secretary Antonio Lambino told a separate news conference.

The improvement in jobs data kindles hopes for an economic rebound, said Nicholas Mapa, ING’s senior economist in Manila. (Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema Editing by Ed Davies)