A unified front against COVID-19



Senator Sonny Angara Senator Sonny Angara

The COVID-19 epidemic is upon us. Starting from a few cases in select neighborhoods in Metro Manila, we are now at the point that we had to institute a Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine to slow the spread of the disease.

Our valiant frontliners—doctors, nurses, policemen, and soldiers—are all doing their best to help our nation weather this crisis. In support of their efforts, the various branches and departments of our government have also taken decisive steps to deal with the COVID-19 epidemic.

For one, the Office of the President has declared a State of Calamity across the whole country. Aside from allowing all departments and local government units more latitude to act within their jurisdictions, the declaration also opens up various resources such as the Quick Response Fund for disaster preparedness and response efforts, and the continuance of basic services. We urge the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to waste no time in releasing such funds.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Vice President has facilitated shuttle services for health workers in the National Capital Region and raised P17.3 million for equipment that will protect health workers and frontliners. This will come to about 36,000 sets of protective equipment that will last 15 days for around 2,400 health workers. Initial batches have been delivered to some hospitals in Quezon City and Manila.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has come out with a COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program, or CAMP.  This will give support to employees, through a one-time, non-conditional financial assistance equivalent of P5,000, regardless of employment status. Employment facilitation will also be provided, through job matching, referrals, placements services, employment coaching, and providing labor market information.

Likewise, President Duterte’s economic team, headed by the Department of Finance (DOF) announced a P27.1-billion package for priority actions in helping frontliners and providing economic relief. The package will be distributed across medical assistance, particularly the acquisition of COVID-19 testing kits, TESDA upskilling and reskilling programs, support for programs and projects under the Department of Tourism (DOT), loan programs that can provide up to P25,000 per person under the Department of Agriculture (DA), microfinancing loan packages for micro, small, and medium enterprises under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and many more.

The private sector is also responding.

The Ayala Group has adopted an emergency package worth P2.4 billion comprised of wages, bonuses, leave conversions and loan deferments so that their workforce, including those of their partner employers, will be paid properly for the duration of the quarantine. They will also grant a rent-free period for all of its retailers not allowed to operate during the enhanced community quarantine, worth around P1.4 billion in deferred rental payments. This way, mall merchants can provide financial support to their employees. Special financial assistance programs for employees, aside from salary continuance, will also be provided where possible.

Metro Pacific Investments Corporation will, aside from continuing salaries and benefits, release the full 13thmonth pay of their employees, and the month-long quarantine will not be charged to vacation or sick leave. MPIC will also provide vitamin supplies, especially for their field personnel. They will also supply an initial 4,000 liters of alcohol to state-owned hospitals.

San Miguel Corporation has stated that they have enough raw materials to keep on operating and supplying food to the market 24-7. In fact, they’ve made several food donations to LGUs and frontline hospitals, and have committed to continue doing so throughout the crisis.  They will also produce alcohol and disinfectant powder for distribution to needy communities.

Two business giants, the SM Group and the Aboitiz Group have also started supplying medical frontliners with personal protection equipment (PPEs), sanitizers, masks, and other medical equipment. In the case of SM, they have earmarked P100 million. They have also contacted Manila HealthTek, Inc. for the distribution of 20,000 testing kits to government hospitals, once clearance is given.

Ordinary citizens have also contributed to the effort—and not only by remaining in quarantine.  Some have used online platforms to crowdsource and raise funds for food packages and PPEs.  Indeed, bayanihan cannot be quarantined.

Our nation is now facing a challenge that may go down in history as a turning point. It is a time when we must unite. No effort should be spared to fight COVID-19. (30)

E-mail: sensonnyangara@yahoo.com| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara

Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 6 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws.