TACLOBAN CITY – Business group in Eastern Visayas refuted the national government’s recent declaration that super typhoon Yolanda caused the Philippine’s slow economic growth in the first quarter of 2014. In a statement, Eastern Visayas Chamber of Commerce and Industry Robert Castañares, said the economic performance of Region 8, the most badly-hit area by the monster storm last year, was “already at rock bottom, having registered a negative 6.2% growth rate.” “Typhoon Yolanda would not have significantly dragged down our GDP because Eastern Visayas is contributing only 2.3% to it. In fact, we are the only region with a negative growth rate in 2012,” Castañares stated. The EVCCI noted the agriculture and industry sectors in the region were already registering “substantial negative growth rate” even before the storm struck. The farming sector slipped by 3%, while industry sector dipped by 18.5% last year. Economic growth from January to March 2014 is lower than the 7.7% growth in the first quarter of 2013 and the 6.3% growth in the last quarter of 2013. The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) said the relatively slow growth is expected, “given the magnitude of storm destruction in production capacity.” “For us, one of the reasons for the huge decline in GDP was the government’s failure to implement big ticket public construction projects. The government will probably not acknowledge it because it will point to the concerned agencies’ inability to procure and implement much-needed projects like airports and railways,” Castañares claimed. NEDA-8 Regional Director Bonifacio Uy said natural calamities was the major factor that dragged the country’s economic performance since it only affected other regions in central Philippines as well. “For coconut, we are one of the major producers and it is one of the badly-hit industries. Production of coconut oil has stopped since late last year until this month. That would significantly weaken the economic performance,” Uy said. The region’s major oil exporters – Tacloban Oil Mills Inc. based in Tolosa and New Leyte Edible Oil Manufacturing, Inc. in Tanauan, both in Leyte, were badly destroyed by strong winds and storm surges, resulting to long-term shutdown. In the first quarter of last year, the region shipped 28,300 metric tons (mt) of coconut oil, contributing 7% of the 379,470 mt total export for the period. For the first three months of 2014, coconut oil shipments declined by 54% to 174,210 mt, according to the United Coconut Association of the Philippines (UCAP). “The region had zero export since November 8, 2013. The actual volume of shipment of oil processed in the region may not be very high, but many of our coconut processors are suppliers of raw material to oil exporters in Luzon and Visayas. That would justify the region’s contribution to economic slowdown,” said Philippine Coconut Authority Regional Manager Edilberto Nierva. (SARWELL Q. MENIANO)