We can find a working balance

Published July 24, 2020, 10:26 PM

by Manila Bulletin


In the last four months, the  government  has generally followed  the  decisions  of the  Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management  of   Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) and its decisions have  leaned towards shutting down entire regions, towns, and cities to stop  the  spread of the  coronavirus causing the  COVID-19 pandemic.

People have been told to stay at home for their own safety. In the process, offices have had to be closed. Factories and other businesses have had to reduce or cease operations, along with all manner of transportation.   The government has lost taxes that it would normally get from these shut-down business operations.

Last Wednesday, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and  Industry  asked:  Have  all these restrictions accomplished the goal of stopping the virus in the country?

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon  said  in a television interview:  “The IATF has failed….  Look at where we are today – 70,764  Filipinos were affected as of yesterday,  deaths running to 1,837. Five million of our people unemployed. Forty percent of our  micro, small, and medium enterprises closed. And  — the worst – 5.2 million Filipinos suffered hunger in the past three months.”

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) President  Benedicto Yujuico was not as brutal in his assessment but it was along the same line.  He said that  the almost five months of lockdowns have limited business operations and put many at risk of permanent closure.

“You cannot open a business and limit it to only 30  to 50 percent, because they will lose money and would rather  close,” he pointed out. “You  cannot  tell a restaurant to open 50 percent  because 50 percent  is not enough to pay the rent,  utilities, and employees.  You cannot tell a manufacturing company to operate at below capacity and still provide accommodation and/or shuttle services for its workers.  And  you  cannot open businesses, even in phases,  without allowing public  transportation.”

The series of lockdowns in various part of the country – from the strictest  Enhanced  Community Quarantine (ECQ) to  Modified ECQ,  to General  CQ, to  Modified  GCQ  — were all aimed at stopping the spread of the virus, without or hardly any concern for the economic  implications of the restrictions.

It may be time,  as the PCCI  has proposed,  to make an overall assessment of the entire situation— including the  health, economic, and human  effects and repercussions.  The Philippines could see how other  countries  are  doing, countries like Vietnam  and  Thailand, which are beginning to reopen their economies  with the virus seemingly  under control.

We can perhaps find  a working balance between  the  IATF’s current  system of restrictions  and  PCCI’s   appeal for the resumption of    business  operations.