Defeating COVID-19 and keeping the economy alive

The past few weeks have been a stressful time for our country. The outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 has sent waves of fear and panic among the people. And understandably so, because we’re dealing with a threat that even developed countries are grappling with and know very little about.

But with each passing day, little by little, we are seeing the results of the continuous efforts of our government, along with the private sector, in containing and combating the disease. Last March 16, at Go Negosyo’s Mentor ME Online session, which was moderated by Chal Lontoc-Del Rosario, I and Johnlu Koa of the French Baker shared our insights on the pandemic, and addressed some of the growing concerns of our MSMEs in light of the outbreak.

I emphasized the urgency and importance of the private and public sectors to work together especially in these trying times. Later that day, President Duterte declared that Luzon be under an enhanced community quarantine, and assured the public that the government is doing all it can to deal with COVID-19. He also underlined the importance of practicing social distancing, and encouraged each of us to do our part in helping prevent the spread of the virus.

I believe the biggest challenge now, aside from curbing the threat, is how we can prevent public fear from getting out of hand, and supporting our workers and small entrepreneurs.

This is what I had reiterated to Karen Davila when I was interviewed on ANC, and to Pia Hontiveros on CNN via phone interview. I believe that we must strike a balance between how we manage our economy and how we manage the virus which has become not only a threat to our health, but also to our social well-being. In this fight, we have to succeed on both fronts. We have to defeat the virus and we must sustain the economy so that it doesn’t devastate our micro and small entrepreneurs.

And this is where many of our big brothers are asked to step in. Some have proudly already stepped up. The Ayalas have lifted the rent of their mall occupants for the duration of the quarantine, amounting to around P1.4 billion. I’m sure the rest of the big businesses will follow suit to help their employees as well as their customers. I have not seen anything like this before and I believe a team effort between the government, the private sector, and the public is required if we want to secure our best chance at overcoming this situation.

In a meeting with some Cabinet members, I had proposed the idea of the private sector stepping in to ensure that the supply chain won’t get disrupted. Manufacturers can provide temporary lodging and transportation services to their workers so that production can continue. I had also raised the idea of our manufacturers being allowed to rent buses, which are not being used anyhow, because of the suspension of all public transportation. This contingency plan will allow them to move their employees and house them in secure areas close to the manufacturing plants. Employees will be able to work and receive proper compensation, allowing them to buy food, medicine, and other essentials, while helping to keep the economy afloat.

Definitely, these challenging times require special effort and a unique commitment from each of us. The sacrifice will be worthwhile, especially if we are to see ourselves resuming our normal, daily lives in the near future. The conglomerates and business organizations, now more than ever, are strongly committed to helping support the smaller entrepreneurs, as well as the public. I believe that we stand to gain more when we are not divided. We must work together as a united front.

This situation should also remind us that at the end of the day, we are a nation of fighters and brave hearts. Resilience is a trait synonymous to Filipinos. In the same way that we have used our winning quality to overcome numerous obstacles in the past, this is what will help us conquer COVID-19, too. I firmly believe that through cooperation and compassion, we will all emerge from this crisis stronger, better, and wiser.