Businessmen by nature are not prone to criticize a sitting administration on every matter involving national policy. But it took a policy gaffe of epic proportions, one with far-reaching consequences on the economy and the livelihood of millions, for business leaders to wag their fingers at government over the weekend.
The cause: government’s sudden announcement that it was recalling its decision to further loosen restrictions in Metro Manila as part of an experimental shift to “granular lockdowns.” The last-minute recall caught many small and medium-business owners off guard, as they had already loaded up on supplies, most of them perishable, and were eager to resume operations after a two-week closure. Many of them took to social media to express their dismay.
The head of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) sternly reminded government that the last-minute policy reversal resulted in financial losses for business owners. And if members of the administration’s economic team shared the frustration of the business sector, they chose to express it in more diplomatic language, apparently to avoid being seen as openly criticizing colleagues. During a Senate hearing, they admitted that the decision to abruptly change lockdown classifications was not “ideal,” and agreed with the general observation that the lack of consistency does not inspire confidence in government’s decision-making process.
In their colleagues’ defense, they did say that the abrupt shift in policy was made in order to address several concerns. They did not identify these concerns, but according to some news reports, the mayors of Metro Manila questioned a plan by national government to implement what one official likened to “typhoon signals,” with the severity of a lockdown in a city or specific areas in each city dependent on the intensity of viral infections. The mayors felt strongly that this would not only cause confusion but would be difficult to enforce, especially among contiguous LGUs.
Besides, granular lockdowns are not new concepts for some mayors in the capital region. They have been implementing this type of lockdown for some months now. Not only do these cities test, trace, and isolate residents in locked down areas but they also provide food and other essential goods. Makati, for example, even provides a “concierge” service where residents of homes under lockdown can have medicines and other items bought for them by city personnel. In short, the mayors know what to do.
This kind of imposition from the national government, which has been scrapped in favor of a uniform classification for the entire Metro Manila, is not only an intrusion into the independence of mayors which the national government vowed to respect.
It also shows how detached our national officials are from the realities on the ground, which in itself, is symptomatic of the national government’s unfocused and fumbling response to the pandemic.