The economy, according to a statement from the Trade Secretary, lost an estimated P180 billion during the two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) imposed by the government in Metro Manila and four other provinces. On the other hand, those who lost their jobs totalled1.5 million, and of this number 500,000 are expected to have gone back to work as government loosened restrictions and allowed more businesses to open under a Modified ECQ.
If and when the country returns to the more relaxed General Community Quarantine (GCQ) (these terms can be at times confusing), the Trade Secretary expects the one million to get their jobs back. And he has asserted that the Trade Department will advocate a return to GCQ once the number of active cases decline and hospitals are less burdened by cases.
The Trade Secretary may have to wait a while to get his wish.
The Health Secretary – whose colossal missteps, incompetence, and lack of managerial acumen have led us to our situation today – told a recent hearing of a House Committee that the bed capacity of Metro Manila’s hospitals remains at critical level, and the anticipated slowing of the infection surge has not been seen. Unfortunately, no one in the hearing bothered to ask why government decided to downgrade the quarantine status if there were no clear indicators of a downward trend in these two critical areas.
The independent OCTA Research group has already expressed concern that the MECQ “may not be working” as the growth rate continues to rise following the easing of restrictions.
Initially, I would hazard the conclusion that this government, once again, lifted the restrictions prematurely. And I am not alone in this view. Health experts and members of the medical community had claimed that the decision to revert to MECQ “wasted” whatever gains were made during the ECQ.
But why did government loosen the restrictions prematurely? The educated guess is that government was, again, avoiding the release of another round of cash aid or “ayuda” similar to the P4,000 per family it reluctantly ordered given during ECQ.
By now, the Trade Secretary and others Cabinet officials comprising the economic team should realize that such eagerness to further loosen restrictions and open businesses has been a disastrous course of action for the economy, with tragic consequences to the population. It only needs to look at the experience of other countries.
Unless government moves to quickly improve the health system, upgrade contact tracing and testing, and vaccinate a large portion of the population, we might as well accept that we will be experiencing a prolonged period of see-sawing between hard and loose lockdowns, of peaks and drops in infections and the number of recoveries and deaths. Not only will this strain the economy, but it will impact negatively on the physical and mental well-being of residents in Metro Manila and the four adjacent provinces, which is also the hub of economic activity.
The upper and middle classes may be able to ride out the prolonged uncertainty. The situation would require accepting changes in incomes, lifestyles and habits. For majority of the population, however, the prolonged uncertainty means more than surrendering creature comforts; it could just as well be a death sentence, akin to being damned to an eternity in hunger and poverty.
With no less than the leadership admitting that the government is encountering difficulties in getting vaccines – with the warning that things will get worse – the people have decided to do the next best thing, and that is act and live their lives as if government does not exist. They have turned to their loved ones, their families, and their communities for aid. And aid has not been wanting.
A “community pantry” in Quezon City, where vegetables and other basic food items sourced from good samaritans are given for free – with the admonition that each should only get what they need – has been replicated in other areas, including localities outside Metro Manila.
The principle behind these community pantries is simple. Get only what you need, give what you can afford. The pantries are stocked with rice, canned goods, fruits and vegetables, some of them supplied by farmers from nearby communities. Residents in need of sustenance for the day line up in an orderly fashion, taking only what they need for the day.
The takeaway from these expressions of social concern is simple. When government is absent, we turn to each other for help and comfort. When the situation seems hopeless, we lift each other up. We inspire and motivate each other. We can be a ray of hope in this time of uncertainty.