By Ellson Quismorio
The COVID-19 pandemic may have stalled President Duterte’s signature “Build, Build, Build” program, but the two-week extension of the Luzon-wide Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) gives the government a chance to put it back on track.
Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte (Camarines Sur 2nd district) suggested Tuesday that the Palace-ordered extension be turned into a modified, area-specific lockdown that will “reboot certain businesses along with the government’s infrastructure buildup program in order to rejuvenate the economy even before the coronavirus pandemic is over.”
“The President’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ is an engine of growth and should thus be put back on track during the extended ECQ period,” said Villafuerte, a Deputy Speaker and member of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the pandemic response.
“The revival and acceleration of infrastructure investments are guaranteed to re-ignite economic activity and create jobs, especially for a lot of Filipino workers dependent on the ‘no-work, no-pay’ setup who have lost their means of livelihood [due to the ECQ],” he noted.
Villafuerte pointed out that even the President’s economic team led by Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has bared plans to boost infrastructure spending as a way to avoid a slow economic recovery.
Dominguez has been quoted as saying that the government intends to “boost infrastructure spending as it will create jobs, stimulate demand and provide enhancement of connectivity.”
Responding to the President’s announcement late Monday night on extending the ECQ until April 30, Villafuerte described it as a necessary move to further stop the spread of the highly contagious virus.
He said that as of now, it was still too early to tell whether or not a “flattening of the curve” or a slowdown in community transmission had already taken place.
Villafuerte insisted that the extension should be a modified, area-specific lockdown that will keep most people at home but at the same time allow the resumption of some businesses, especially those in vital sectors such as the food and health “to revive the economy and ensure the steady supply of foodstuff, medicines, health products and protective equipment.”
“Certain businesses need to reopen, subject of course to the strict observance of social distancing and hygiene protocols by employers and their employees, in order to somehow revive the domestic economy this early after its sudden stop, following the implementation of personal movement restrictions in Luzon and other parts of the country,” he said.
Seize opportunity for PPE production
Another opportunity that the government can capitalize on, according to former Negros Occidental congressman Alfredo Abelardo Benitez, is the global demand for face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).
“I think that even after the pandemic is over, there will be a big market for these face masks. The Philippines should jump in and become one of the world’s leading supplier of face masks,” Benitez, a successful entrepreneur, said.
Benitez said the government though the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) should take the initiative to finance and organize livelihood programs to help Filipinos especially now that many of them are practically dependent on dole-outs as they wait for the ECQ to be lifted.
“Pansamantalang pantawid-gutom lang itong ibinibigay ng gobyerno na P5,000 hanggang P8,000 na social amelioration fund. Mas maganda siguro na mabigyan na natin ng pang-matagalan na kabuhayan ang ating mga kababayan at sa tingin ko napakagandang produkto ngayong iyong mga face mask,” he said.
(The P5,000 to P8,000 social amelioration fund being distributed by government is just temporary relief. It would be better to give our people livelihood for the long term and I think these face masks would be a good product.)
He said TESDA can launch an online vocational training program for the production of face masks, face shields, biohazard coveralls, gloves and other PPEs while DOLE can provide the seed money for the raw materials and equipment.
These products can greatly help frontliners who are constantly at risk of being exposed to the dreaded COVID-19, Benitez said.