By Beatrice M. Laforga, August 26, 2020; Business World

ACTING SOCIOECONOMIC Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said demand for agricultural products will sustain the rural poor, while their urban counterparts will suffer disproportionately because of the pandemic-induced slowdown in business.

In a Senate hearing Wednesday, Mr. Chua said the urban poor are more likely to have lost jobs and other sources of income.

He said the “majority of the poor” in rural areas will be less affected because they are tied to agriculture.

“We continue to see positive growth in agriculture production, our food supply is very good and prices are low. I think the urban poor are affected more (while) the rural poor are less affected and are possibly still holding up,” he told the lawmakers.

He said the government’s cash handouts may have prevented some of the poor from falling deeper into poverty.

“This pandemic is going to highlight inequality,” he added.

The disparity highlights the need to promote more balanced regional development, Mr. Chua said, providing better opportunities regardless of location, such as with the “Balik Probinsya” program.

He said economic planners remain confident of achieving their goal of reducing the poverty rate to 14% by 2022, which was the target before the pandemic set in.

“We entered this crisis on a very strong economic, fiscal and social footing. Not only did our poverty significantly decline, we also saw the lowest (rate) of unemployment and underemployment rate in our history so I think despite the problems we are facing with COVID, our strong foundation and track record will help us get back on track the soonest possible time.

The poverty rate declined to 16.7% in 2018 from 23.5% in 2015.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate rose to 17.7% in April.

The National Economic and Development Authority is currently updating the government’s medium-term economic development blueprint, known as the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, to account for the impact of the pandemic on the economy.