OF TREES AND FOREST
By FORMER SENATE PRESIDENT MANNY VILLAR
Almost two and a half months into the lockdown brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, we continue to focus on the daily announcements of new COVID-19 cases by the Department of Health (DOH). Understandably so because we need to focus on the health of our people. We want fewer afflictions and more recoveries.
This pandemic is a tragedy because it has claimed the lives of many worldwide and it has disrupted the lives of people. But while we prioritize the health aspect of this crisis, let us not forget the other victims of this pandemic who are physically healthy but struggling to survive. I am talking about the Filipino entrepreneurs, specifically those who built micro enterprises that are now on the brink of demise.
According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), 99.56% of all businesses in the country are micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Out of the 1.42 million MSMEs, 90% are microenterprises or those with total assets of less than P3 million and employing less than 10 workers. MSMEs employ nearly 70% of all Filipinos who work while microenterprises employ as much as 28.9% of the total labor force in businesses nationwide.
But beyond these statistics, think about your neighborhood bakery, the computer shop nearby, the water refilling station where you get your supply, the laundry shop near you, or the eatery/restaurant where you and your family dine in to celebrate special occasions. These are real people who are now barely surviving because many of these enterprises depend on the mobility of people which is severely compromised because of the lockdown.
The quarantine has greatly impacted entrepreneurs and micro businesses more than any other economic players mainly because they typically don’t have a lot of cash on hand to ride out the storm. Some enterprises have enough cash to wait this out but small businesses may not survive this pandemic. Some, in fact, have already closed for good.
I have seen a number microenterprises as I went around our area and some of them are still closed while some restaurants are trying to survive by offering takeout and deliveries and maximizing their online presence. But restaurants cannot survive with delivery services alone. And really, how can they compete with giant fast food and restaurant chains?
The recent relaxing of quarantine restrictions barely helped because public transportation is still unavailable in areas under the so-called Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine. It may take until next year before a vaccine becomes available and I am not sure if many of the micro and small enterprises can survive that long.
I can feel the pain of our entrepreneurs. When I was starting out, I experienced the anxiety, the uncertainty, and the fear that all your life savings, your hard work, the blood, sweat, and tears you poured into this enterprise will all go down the drain. I empathize with entrepreneurs who struggle to provide for their employees and to pay the bills.
What pains me is that this pandemic will crush the wave of new entrepreneurs we have created the past years as a result of our spectacular and sustained economic growth. We have seen a new breed of young entrepreneurs all over the country employing creativity and skills to build a better future for their families and the country. The pandemic has stunted the growth of a strong entrepreneurial class in the country.
But entrepreneurs are, by nature, resilient and innovative. Of all people, they know how to reinvent and adapt to new situations. In the second part of this article, I will discuss how micro enterprises that are fighting to survive can survive to fight for their existence.