The need for speed and scale

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

As the Philippines struggles to cope with the debilitating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Filipinos are hoping that the full implementation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act will prevent the further spread of the disease and mitigate economic disruption.

The law also seeks to facilitate the procurement of testing kits and other supplies, and expedite the distribution of donated health/medical products as well as the provision of special risk allowance for public health workers.

Aside from the need to implement a coherent and comprehensive public health strategy, the execution of the government’s plan has been quite slow and uncoordinated. The lack of medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) has been a glaring issue as early as February. Before the special authority granted to President Duterte, the Department of Health could have tapped its quick response funds to procure PPE, test kits, and other necessary supplies early. But the first delivery of procured PPE only arrived in the first week of April.

Health experts also advocated for mass testing as early as March based on findings about local transmission, but the presence of 100,000 donated test kits was deemed useless due to the absence of laboratory capacity to handle such tests. Mass testing started only last Tuesday, April 14, according to the Inter-Agency Task Force’s timetable, with the completion of the accreditation of more than 50 laboratories in different regions.

The economic and livelihood part of the plan, meanwhile, mandates that around 18 million low-income households be provided with emergency cash subsidy for two months, to cover for their basic needs during the quarantine period.

While the law’s noble intention is a given, the bigger challenge is how its propoor provisions can be implemented in a fast, fair, and equitable manner. With the blanket “stay at home” order, the economy has been paralyzed, displacing more than 630,000 workers. According to the National Economic and Development Authority, job losses may reach up to 1.8 million if the cessation of economic activity will continue until June. And the provision of monthly cash subsidies amounting to P5,000-P8,000 may not be sustainable if another extension is implemented.

As it is, the lack of a reliable database containing the names of the target beneficiaries outside of the members of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program has caused serious delay in the distribution of aid. The tedious procedures initially set by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the required cross-validation also presented additional hurdles. The DSWD guidelines enumerated a number of priority sectors such as informal workers, senior citizens, solo parents, pregnant and lactating mothers, etc. But the DSWD put a “quota” on the beneficiaries, thus aggravating the confusion on the ground while millions of Filipinos continue to wait for their share of the P100-billion emergency subsidy fund for April.

Bureaucratic inefficiency is the structural antithesis to the productive culture of the private sector. We see this in the speed and scale by which scores of private companies have responded to the crisis with simultaneous internal and external help initiatives.

Top business groups from diverse industries, some of them fierce competitors, have joined forces under Project Ugnayan to deliver assistance to affected sectors, in close collaboration with the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation and Caritas Manila. The fast mobilization of P1.6 billion in aid and the activation of distribution networks saw the timely distribution of P1,000 worth of grocery certificates or food packages to over 1.5 million families. An average household size of five translates to approximately 7.5 million people in the poor communities of the Greater Manila Area.

ABS-CBN’s Pantawid ng Pag-ibig campaign, the Asian Development Bank and the government’s Bayan Bayanihan, and Jollibee’s FoodAID program served as on-the-ground distribution channels.

The private sector has the heft and ability to scale up and hasten operations, which can be unleashed with clear direction, pragmatic solutions, transparency, and an attitude that inspires confidence and hope—qualities that the government can use more of as the country battles the COVID-19 pandemic.




This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Image Source: UNTV News / Quezon City Government.

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