Many problems face many other sectors

The two-week “time-out” given to medical frontliners by President Duterte is “not enough” to relieve the stress and address the problems of the healthcare system, Quezon Rep. Angelina Tan, chairwoman of the House Committee on Health, said Sunday. She suggested that more time be given for the situation to stabilize and the government to come up with a plan to address the problems.

Two weeks are indeed insufficient for such a major problem which has taken months for many other nations to address and none of them have yet found a solution. Infections continue to rise in the Philippines and everywhere else in the world. The two weeks — a return to the Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) – had been granted by President Duterte as a compromise, instead of the strictest lockdown of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) which the medical frontliners had asked for.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, is no longer just a medical and health problem. The government is confronted with a myriad other problems arising from the original health one.

Since the lockdown restrictions began in March, many businesses and offices have closed down, either temporarily or permanently, and millions of employees have stopped working. Overseas Filipino workers have also begun returning from their host countries which have similarly been devastated by COVID-19. The government began to lift the restrictions on many business operations gradually, but because of the “time-out,” they have again closed down.

From the point of view of national economic leaders, the pandemic and the resulting restrictions have brought about a recession with an unprecedented fall in the Gross National Product (GDP). They are also worried by the precipitous drop in tax collections because of the business and industry closures. Without sufficient taxes, the government cannot run its offices; it cannot provide the Social Amelioration Program aid and provide the other amounts it has been able to give the poorest of the population.

A big part of the population has no permanent employment. In normal times, these people struggled each day to earn enough to get food for the day – sidewalk vendors, “mangangalakal” who scrounged around for anything useful or edible in restaurants’ garbage cans, jeepney drivers working for some operators, construction laborers hired for the day. When the restrictions began in March, they had nowhere to go and nothing to do. Their hopes lifted when the restrictions were gradually lifted, but they are now back to MECQ.

In the last five months, Metro Manila and Calabarzon – which account for 67 percent of the national economy – gradually eased from ECQ to Modified ECQ (MECQ) to General CQ (GCQ), until the President, heeding the appeal of the medical frontliners, returned the two regions to Modified ECQ. Businesses slowly reopening closed down again. Their employees stopped working again. Those without regular employment were back to the problem of how to survive each day.

Truly, the medical frontliners need a reprieve from their labors which the President gave them with the two-week “time-out.” But, as the President said last Tuesday, the country must move on. The government has no more funds to give away and the people with jobs need to go to work.

The pandemic continues and so will the planning for the government’s response. A major part of that plan must attend to the problems of the poor who have suffered most from the pandemic and its restrictions.