By Cai Ordinario, October 1, 2020; Business Mirror

A crisis of pandemic proportions like the Covid-19 devastation could also serve as an opportunity to undertake reforms such as technological and statistical innovations, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

In his speech at the opening ceremonies of the National Statistics Month, Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said the contagion highlighted the challenges facing the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

In order to respond to the challenge of quality statistics amid lockdowns, health protocols and restricted mobility, Chua said the PSA must fully automate its data collection and processing.

“Sometimes it really takes a crisis to do a reform and our history shows so many examples. We hope that we can use this present crisis to improve the digital power of this country and our statistical system,” Chua stressed.

“I think we should proceed with utmost urgency and haste to complete, or to transition fully, from manual processing and collection of data to full automation beginning with the work that we’re doing in the LFS [Labor Force Survey], part of the census, the National ID [system], and so on,” he added.

National Statistician Claire Dennis S. Mapa told the BusinessMirror that the PSA is already preparing for full automation. He revealed the agency has started using computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) and the computer-assisted web interviewing (CAWI) in data collection.

Mapa said the CAPI was partially used in the conduct of the LFS and the Census of Population and Housing (CPH). CAWI, on the other hand, was also used for the CPH.

The use of CAPI and CAWI has been included in the 2021 budget request of the PSA. The national budget is currently being deliberated in the House of Representatives and the Senate of the Philippines.

“We started using the CAPI and the CAWI in the labor force surveys and the 2020 CPH—use of CAPI is selected provinces and option on the use of CAWI for households. We are planning to escalate the use of these in our 2021 operations,” Mapa told the BusinessMirror.

Chua added that the pandemic brought major challenges for the PSA, explaining that the demand for timely and useful statistics has become greater with Covid-19.

But if PSA will fully automate, Chua said this will not only lead PSA to overcome its challenges but also help spur economic activities.

Chua said quality and timely statistics facilitate the delivery of social services and information communications technology (ICT) will allow the PSA to reach all data producers and users that can lead to better development results.

“I think it is not just enough to adopt all this digital change, or processes, but also to review the way we manage the delivery of our statistics—how we reengineer the business process,” he said.

“So, in other words, if we are to use digital technology to aid our production and processing of statistics, then we must see some efficiency such as faster turnaround, and more skills of our people to help deliver using this technology,” Chua added.

CPH, civil registry

Mapa said that as of September 25, 2020, the PSA’s census operations have begun in 98.65 percent of the country’s cities and municipalities. This means 1,612 of the 1,634 localities have been visited by PSA enumerators.

While operations are still ongoing in several areas, Mapa said, the PSA has already completed enumerations in 30,181 out of the 131,565 enumeration areas.

“The data collection operations are still ongoing. But there is a substantial percentage of Enumeration Areas [EAs] where data collection is complete,” Mapa told the BusinessMirror.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has initially prompted the PSA to close its doors for civil registry applications due to the imposition of the enhanced community quarantine earlier in the year.

However, to date, Mapa said, all 41 Civil Registry System (CRS) outlets nationwide have resumed operations. The volume of transactions has also increased by about 50 to 70 percent of the pre-pandemic volume, depending on the location of the outlets.

He also assured that the PSA has sufficient manpower in CRS outlets to attend to the needs of Filipinos.

This despite the reduction in the number of personnel assigned at the CRS outlets by the private partner of the PSA due to low demand.

However, Mapa said the PSA outlet supervisors are constantly monitoring various indicators to make sure no delays in the processing of civil registration documents.