By JOHN TRIA
As many areas transition into general community quarantine, the obvious question being asked is: What now? How do we move forward? The questions matter because it looks like we will continue to live under the spectre of new infections such as the ones we are seeing in some countries.
The capability to quickly impose measures to keep the curve flat, or even lower the peaks as elucidated by the government early last week will be necessary at the regional level and efficiently implemented. all while keeping the economy moving.
This is just in case the feared second waves or new clusters such as those we are seeing in other countries do erupt. We are nonetheless confident that there are many lessons learned from our own experience and that of other countries that will serve us in the coming months.
For one, the clamor for increased testing cannot exist alone, nor should it be an end in itself, which is why it will need to be taken along with an enhanced capability to trace and treat being pushed by government. The establishment of new PCR labs such as that set up with ADB assistance in Pampanga that can process some 3,000 per day and those in the regions particularly, private hospitals investing in that capacity. This also means hiring more tracers and personnel to care for those infected.
On top of that, programs to spur economic activity, decongest our urban areas, and spread economic development, and activities to generate the necessary incomes for people and revenues for government will need to be pushed. New legislative proposals to introduce new economic stimulus measures at the local level are being proposed, along with new measures such as the enactment of the long-awaited National Land Use Act (NALUA), and the CITIRA Law to spur local investments, not to mention the Balik Probinsya program.
These only mean one thing: the work to keep the virus at bay is never done until a consistent treatment protocol is established. Resilience, or a capacity to control new infections while keeping the economy moving is critical. This, in my view, is what will increase business and consumer confidence that has been battered by infection fears even as some restrictions are relaxed. This will necessarily need to start in the regions, especially in areas where infections are lower than that of the NCR.
A further question being asked is: what mechanisms can coordinate the implementation the necessary measures to ensure this resilience?
A few quarters are raising the possibility that their respective regional development councils (RDCs) coordinate efforts to build economic resilience and long term infection management in their regions. Article 10 , Section 14 of the Philippine Constitution provides RDCs as a body for “administrative decentralization to strengthen the autonomy of units therein and to accelerate the economic and social development of the units in the region.”
The RDC includes all government agency regional heads and local chief executives on the Council, and private sector representatives. This creates a mechanism for policy and programs to develop, especially those with long-term impact like ensuring that allocated funds for vital health facilities and necessary infrastructure that can help manage new infections are implemented at the ground, activities that can spur trade and food production and distribution within the regions, the removal of bottlenecks that hamper these programs are pushed.
As I have written previously, recovery and thus resilience moving forward will essentially be regional, with some regions getting ahread of others. The RDC will thus play a big role. These are among other ways forward worth discussing among government and private sector actors in the regions. Fighting this virus while keeping the economy moving will need the efforts of all.
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