Healthy debate on quarantine status


Dr. Jun Ynares Dr. Jun Ynares

As we go to press, President Duterte and the Cabinet are set to meet and discuss proposals from the country’s economic managers to put the entire country under Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) status starting the first of March this year.

This follows days of intense debate played out in media. It was further fueled by an announcement by the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Diseases (IATF) that it was set to allow movie houses to open for business – a move strongly opposed by a number of local government officials including some mayors of Metro Manila.

It was interesting to see the advocates of the opposing positions actively defend their stand publicly. Among them were the youthful acting Economic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua who has taken the cudgels for advancing the idea that the national government must allow for the resumption of economic activities at levels almost similar to the pre-pandemic era.

Mayors Marcy Teodoro and Abby Binay of Marikina and Makati, respectively, have led a vocal opposition to some of the IATF’s most recent policies. Mayor Marcy took a firm stand against the reopening of cinemas while Mayor Abby called out the IATF to consult more often with local government leaders. It is the latter who takes the heat from the public when difficult policies issued by the IATF are implemented, she pointed out.

At the core of the debate is economics.

Secretary Chua has expressed his concern well over the urgent need to restart the economy and begin restoring jobs, boosting private enterprise and recreate the economic energy we enjoyed until we all had to be locked down because of the virus.

This is important and Secretary Chua has earned much esteem with his defense of this position. Yes, there is merit in the view that the government cannot allow the economy to slide down further. It cannot sustain the subsidies and the financial aids it has been giving out since people were confined to their houses and suffered limitations in their ability to earn their daily bread.

Local government leaders who took the opposite stand have also expressed strong, valid points.

Yes, it is possible that our bid to put the entire country under MGCQ could very well return us to the ECQ status of March 17, 2020. A move to the MGCQ state, local government leaders point out, could be a “super spreader” situation. People’s pent-up desire for “freedom”, for a return to “business as it used to be” – these could make people drop their guard and raise the infection to unimaginable levels.

Our position favors “prudence.” That which adheres to the highest standards of prudence – that, we believe, should be the way to go.

By “prudence” we refer to our ability to ensure that the steps and decisions government are to take would result in the least possible risk to people’s life, health and well-being.

This is the basis for the decision of the Rizal Provincial Government to excuse itself from the list of areas where the national government is to pilot the return of our children to schools for face-to-face learning. This is the basis for the move by the province and the City of Antipolo to continue the suspension of the operations of cinemas within their respective jurisdiction.

There is a strong argument in favor of the exercise of “maximum prudence.”

It is this: that the most important element of any economy are people. The Human Capital.

People drive all economies. They are responsible both for consumption and production. They matter more than the technological and financial resources that are injected into economic activities.

As such, we must protect – at all cost – the Human Capital.

If the Human Capital is decimated due to illness, there would neither be consumption nor production.

The final decision regarding the optimum relaxation of quarantine rules lies in the hands of President Duterte.

The good news is that our President encourages debate. It appears he is keen on hearing both sides of an issue. He also prefers his team to air out their views and stand publicly so he can size up public reaction and feel the public pulse.

Meanwhile, the exercise of maximum prudence is left to all of us – to every citizen.

We are responsible for our safety, health, and well-being.

We must continue to adhere to the measures put in place to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. We must not forget that we are the most important element of our economy. We must protect ourselves if we are to make sure that our economy keeps its priceless Human Capital.

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