TACLOBAN CITY – Despite the extreme weather conditions experienced in the region that resulted in the death of hundreds of people last year, Eastern Visayas’ economy expanded by a modest 6.8 percent, the third highest upsurge since the turn of the millennium, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported.

The PSA regional office, in a press conference on Thursday, said the growth was driven by strong performance in industry and services sectors where main contributions came from construction, wholesale and retail, repair of motor vehicles and financial and insurance activities.

The 6.8 percent growth in gross regional domestic product, though, was below the national growth of 7.6 percent, and also below the performance of two other regions in the Visayas – the 9.3 percent in Western Visayas and 7.6 percent in Central Visayas.

Meylene Rosales, regional director of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), said that like in the previous years, the services sector remained the primary economic driver contributing 47.2 percent to the regional economy while industry accounted for 40.6 percent and 12.2 percent coming from agriculture, forestry and fishing.

“Our robust performance was triggered by the complete lifting of mobility restrictions which led to re-opened and new businesses and revenge spending after pent-up demand during the height of the pandemic as well as election spending which increased consumer consumption,” Rosales said.

PSA data shows accommodation and service activities posted the fastest annual growth at 46.3 percent, which Rosales said is a welcome turnaround after nearly 30 percent of registered business establishments in the region have stopped operating or have permanently closed during the peak of the pandemic.

Transportation and storage also flourished at a record rate of 25 percent.

“Indeed, following the full reopening of our economy, easing of travel restrictions, and resumption of full face-to-face classes, the renewed vibrance of our local business scene is now apparent,” she said.

Rosales also noted the promising performance of other services from region’s “burgeoning gig or freelance and creative economy” particularly the growing number of virtual assistants, digital illustrators, online tutors, and other workers hired on a project-by-project or task-by-task basis and often facilitated through digital platforms and online marketplaces.

But while industry and service sectors grew, agriculture and fishery output in the region slowed down from positive 0.1 percent in 2021 to a negative 6.2 percent growth in 2022 attributed to the ill effects of extreme weather events, unusual price spikes of fuel and other farm inputs such as inorganic fertilizers and feeds, and the threat of deadly animal diseases.

Rosales said the magnitude of damage caused by Typhoons Jolina and Odette in the latter part of 2021 adversely affected our agricultural output in the first quarter of 2022.

But as the sector was beginning to recover from the losses incurred, Typhoon Agaton brought persistent rainfall during the second quarter, causing severe flooding and disastrous landslides in several farming and fishing communities in the region, particularly in Abuyog and Baybay City in Leyte. Also, Typhoon Paeng hit the region in the fourth quarter, causing significant crop damage. 

“All these led to the drop of the region’s rice sufficiency level and decreased output of all priority crops, save for cassava and pineapple,” Rosales said. The livestock and poultry subsectors also continued to contract, except for carabao production, due to the occurrence of diseases, such as African Swine Fever and bird flu, and higher prices of feeds. By Elmer Recuerdo (EV Mail April 24-30, 2023 issue)