OF TREES AND FOREST
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III was quoted last week as saying that “aside from our health-care workers, we will prioritize vaccinating our economic front-line workforce.” Sec. Dominguez, who heads President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic team, also reported that they are fast-tracking the rollout of the country’s vaccination program noting that “the doses we are acquiring are more than enough to inoculate 100 percent of the country’s adult population (70 million people out of our total population of 110 million people).”
There are important things that we can glean from the statement of the hardworking secretary of finance. One is that the vaccination of our economic frontliners, and the entire population in general, is critical to our economic recovery. I agree with the assessment of President Duterte’s economic team that we need to reopen a bigger chunk of the economy in order to arrest the slide we are experiencing due to a year-long lockdown that has crippled our economy, wiped out our past economic gains, and if we are not careful, bring us to “a debt crisis farther down the road.” This is the only way we can address the lack of food and jobs many of our countrymen are experiencing.
How do we fast-track our vaccine program thereby ensuring that our population is inoculated from the coronavirus? One practical step government can take is to encourage the participation of local government units and the private sector in the vaccination program. The LGUs have been playing a critical role in the fight against COVID-19. They have been in charge in implementing localized lockdowns once infections spread in certain areas of their jurisdictions. They have been drafting and implementing rules to enforce health protocols—some more zealously than others, in fact.
Let the local officials be assessed by the voting public in terms of their performance in addressing virus infections, in inoculating their population, and equally important, in terms of economic performance. This is a practical way to fast-track the rollout of the vaccines program.
Competition brings out the best in people. Let cities, municipalities, and even barangays compete who can vaccinate the most, who can prevent infections the most, and who can revive the economy better. That, in fact, should be the true test of governance. We are in a crisis so let us assess those seeking public office, or those seeking the consent of the governed, on the basis of how they can address this crisis.
The second thing is that we should encourage the private sector to participate in the vaccines program by removing bureaucratic red tape that will impede their ability to purchase the vaccines for their employees—the country’s economic frontliners. I have no doubt in my mind that the private sector will do an extremely good job of increasing the number of people inoculated.
Businesses have a lot of interest in protecting their employees from the virus because it will allow them to increase production, improve operations, and begin the rebuilding process. From the public’s end, this will increase our ability to stop the infections because these are the people who frequently interact with the consumers, with the public. A lot of big businesses are willing and have the ability to purchase the vaccines themselves and even donate to small and medium businesses to ensure that the vaccines are distributed across the board.
Government can benefit from the help of LGUs and the private sector in making sure that we protect our people from the virus. All that is needed is for government to make sure that we empower rather than impede these partners who can help our country finally turn the tide in our battle against this pandemic.