By Ellson Quismorio
Like practically all nations, the Philippines had zero preparation for the global scourge that is COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean it lacked foresight on disaster.
Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez gave this insight during his virtual meeting with House of Representatives members last April 21, saying that lawmakers had unintentionally prepared the country for the initial onslaught of the new coronavirus.
How? By institutionalizing the Duterte administration’s multi-tier comprehensive tax reform program (CTRP) and, as a result, ensuring that government had extra money to draw from its pocket during this uncertain time.
“This is a good example of why tax reform works. You have enabled us to increase our revenues, you approved a budget that is conservative that was spent for really pro-active enterprises. Congress gave us the tools to prepare for this,” Dominguez told the solons, although admitting that there was no way for the government to predict the onset of a pandemic in 2020.
The financial foresight–together with the windfall from the Duterte administration’s flagship Build, Build, Build program” and the recent enactment of the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” –provided the country with time.
For two months or most of the duration of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), some 18 million poor Filipino families will get P5,000 to P8,000 in monthly cash aid while the government creates a plan to generate more assistance moving forward.
As for public health workers–the celebrated frontliners of the COVID-19 pandemic–they will be given special risk allowances as well as compensation packages worth P100,000 to P1,000,000 in the event they contract the deadly illness in the line of duty.
Meanwhile, local governments unit (LGUs), especially those with young or first-time chief executives have grabbed the current public health emergency as an opportunity to prove their worth as leaders and sincerity to serve.
Among those most visible with local anti-COVID efforts has been Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso, who two weeks into the ECQ was able to prepare some 5,000 rooms in the event of a huge surge in positive cases. He also led the donation of some P4.7 million worth of local officials’ salaries to the Philippine General Hospital earlier this month.
Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto has made headlines online for tapping drones as a disinfection tool against the virus. He was also among the first to guarantee the continued salary of city hall employees, including job order workers.
In Marikina, Mayor Marcelino Teodoro showed tremendous foresight and cojones by building the city’s own coronavirus disease testing center, anchored on the notion that early detection of COVID-19 can halt the contagion.
In short, the LGU efforts against COVID-19 has been the best kind of political one-upsmanship or “pasiklaban” the country has ever seen, since their constituents were ultimately the victors.
While the local officials may not have intended to outdo each other with their response to the pandemic, the fact is that their eagerness to perform was almost as infectious as the virus at one point, thanks to social media.
And then there are the less flashy individuals who are just as committed. Such silent “warriors” are those belonging to non-profit organization Act as One PH, which was established as a way to quickly provide for the specific needs of health care workers.
“Act as One PH has already distributed more than 7,000 PPE (personal protective equipment), 60,000 surgical face masks, 2,000 gallons of alcohol, 1,400 face shields, 7,000 examination gloves, 50 aerosol acrylic boxes, 6,000 food packs and other vital supplies to frontliners and hospitals in Metro Manila and nearby provinces,” it said on its Facebook page.
The group has also set up at least three temporary frontliner shelters, two in Quezon City and one in Taguig City. The funds they use are crowdsourced, most of the time anonymously given to the organizers.
Private sector ‘Bayanihan’
While “Bayanihan” (communal unity) was made the name of a law, its traditional meaning has aptly described the private sector’s immense contribution to the government during the crisis, despite the adverse effect of the ECQ on local businesses.
San Miguel Corporation (SMC), one of the country’s biggest conglomerates, has donated nearly P1 billion for various endeavors in connection with the pandemic. This includes P227 million in food donations alone to vulnerable families all over the Philippines.
“Lives are more important than profits. Once a life is lost, you can never bring it back. We choose life over anything else,” SMC President and Chief Operating Officer Ramon Ang has said.
Also answering to the challenge is the SM group, which has donated P170 million through the SM Foundation. They money is meant to ensure that health workers would be “well-armored” during the mass testing of individuals for the new coronavirus.
SM has also been providing ventilators and PPEs to hospitals with COVID-19 cases.
As far as utilities are concerned, power distribution giant Manila Electric Company (Meralco) has assured consumers of uninterrupted service during the quarantine period in Luzon.
“Meralco is implementing its business continuity plan and emergency measures to distribute power around the clock, especially to crucial installations such as hospitals,” Meralco Senior Vice President Ronnie Aperocho said.
Meralco had earlier suspended the physical reading of meters for March 17 to April 14 billing period.
Manila Water has done its part in addressing the crisis. It teamed up with partners in the Ayala Group and other companies in converting the World Trade Center (WTC) into a fully operational healthcare and quarantine facility for COVID-19 patients.
Dubbed the “WTC: We Heal As One Center,” the center has 37 shower facilities with hot and cold water, all built by Manila Water. The company has also provided three static water tanks to ensure continuous supply and adequate water pressure for the showers.
No doubt, more such selfless acts are needed. Luck may have brought the Philippines its foresight against disaster, but it’s the Bayanihan spirit that will see it through.