It won’t be business or politics as usual in our ‘new normal’

Paco A. Pangalangan, Executive Director, Stratbase ADR Institute

It’s hard to imagine life after COVID-19. But like all pandemics, this too shall pass, and most things will go back to the way they were. When it does, people will flock back to the malls, attend concerts and sporting events, and spend time with friends without having to practice social distancing, just like they used to do.

But while some things will go back to the way they were, hopefully not all things do.

We will all emerge from this crisis having learned new lessons, hopefully, one of them is that even the most challenging of times can be overcome when we, as a whole society, work together.

Let us not forget how the different sectors of society sprung into action in the early phase of this pandemic. How health workers risked and lost their lives caring for their patients, how local government units mobilized quickly on the ground to respond to their constituents, and how the academics and research community rushed to develop test kits and to better understand the virus and its impact on our lives. Or how we, despite being quarantined in our homes, cobbled together our collective voices loud enough to be heard by government officials dragging their feet on the crisis response.

We should also not forget how volunteerism shone bright in the face of this adversity and uncertainty. How ordinary citizens and small business owners banded together and dedicated themselves to helping our frontliners in their communities and in hospitals. Or how the business community, religious groups, and civil society, combined their efforts to step-up to try to fill the gaps left by the government’s slow rollout of its Social Amelioration Program.

A shining example of this, of course, is the Project Ugnayan initiative led by top business groups in cooperation with the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF), which has raised over P1.6 billion and reached over 7.6 million people in vulnerable communities of Metro Manila.

Initiatives such as this highlight the multiplier effect that comes out of multi-sectoral partnership. As PDRF Co-Chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala put it, its “a movement we should nurture as we prepare to let people return to work and to re-start our economy in the post-quarantine period.”

Indeed, as we move closer to the end of the quarantine period and begin our journey towards a post-COVID-19 future, businesses will begin to start up again. A welcomed development, as this means millions of Filipinos can go back to work and get back to making a living.

However, after the damper the crisis and the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) have put on the economy, I don’t think we can expect things to go back to business-as-usual. So while business leaders, such as PDRF Co-Chairman Manny Pangilinan, have publicly committed to seriously help our country recover from the lost economic momentum due to the pandemic, the business community, corporations and SMEs alike, will need the support of government policy to bring back economic growth and opportunity to the country.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) has already begun to study and identify the policies needed to help the country’s economy adjust to the “new normal.” It would be wishful thinking that these new policies to be identified by the NEDA will materialize as fast as the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act did. But, given the bureaucratic red-tape that has only further clogged the government’s response, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Admittedly, NEDA has some time. According to the economic body, the government is still in its first phase of intervention: a clinical and medical response to rising COVID-19 cases, and has yet to enter phase 2 and phase 3 — social and economic recovery, respectively.

While this may be the case, we should not wait before it’s too late to identify and implement these “new normal” economic policies. The ECQ is set to be lifted at month’s end, businesses will slowly start up again and will need clarity on these policies to make effective business decisions. God forbid we come out of this health crisis only to be greeted by an economic one.

However, we are by no means mere bystanders in the crafting of the policies that will shape our country’s economic future. We have shown time and time again, that we can come together as a society to voice our concerns and effect meaningful change. Just in the last few months, we’ve put others before ourselves, pooled our resources to help fellow Filipinos, and made enough noise to force policymakers to remove dangerous provisions from Malacañan-backed legislation.

We should keep our vigilance and passion with us as we move towards the end of quarantine and towards rebuilding our economy in this “new normal.” We must not forget to continue to push our government to provide the policy environment wherein businesses can thrive and jobs can be created, and the wherein the synergies between public and private sector partnership can be harnessed to overcome the hardest of challenges. We must also not forget to keep our public officials honest, demanding effectiveness and efficiency, but transparency and accountability as well.

Our post-COVID-19 “new normal” may still be beyond the horizon, but when we get there, it won’t be business-as-usual, we should make sure it isn’t politics-as-usual either.




This article was originally published in BusinessWorld. Image Source: Philippine Star/Michael Varcas.

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