Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute
As we battle COVID-19, the Philippines has to confront the decades-old problem of a health care system ill-equipped in terms of organizational capability, manpower support, logistics, and supplies.
But past mistakes should not hamper us from taking bold solutions. Only with a “whole of society” approach can we fight the deadly and invisible enemy. This crisis is about saving lives, and a rare opportunity to fix our health care system and start a transformation toward good governance.
President Duterte himself appealed to the private sector for assistance and acknowledged the vital role of the private sector in augmenting the resources and manpower of government in alleviating the condition of health frontliners and people in the poor communities.
As government embarks on a massive social amelioration program utilizing the people’s taxes, there must be transparent and responsive use of these funds.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development reported that, as of April 18, it has served 4.05 million or 22 percent of the targeted 18 million families, which include 4Ps and non-4Ps members. The Department of Labor and Employment, for its part, has aided almost 440,000 workers out of the target 715,000, while the Department of Agriculture has given financial subsidy to 52,000 out of the target 591,000 farmers. The government has allocated over P107 billion for the three agencies, and has said about 86 percent of the total has been distributed to beneficiaries.
In an example of a quick and aggressive response to the crisis, the building of high-quality quarantine facilities was completed on time because of the unprecedented support of the private sector, with big construction companies responding to the President’s call. The Razon Group, Prime Metro BMD Corporation, and Bloomberry Cultural Foundation Inc. spearheaded the setting up of isolation facilities at the Rizal Memorial Complex in Manila, while Ayala Land, AC Energy, Makati Development Corporation, and the Investment and Capital Corporation of the Philippines took part in the transformation of the World Trade Center in Pasay City into a separate quarantine site. EEI Corporation and Vista Land likewise partnered with the Department of Public Works and Highways for facilities at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City. DM Consunji Inc. has taken charge of the quarantine center at Quezon Institute in Quezon City.
Power distributor Meralco, for its part, assured the government of free and stable power supply for COVID-19 referral hospitals and facilities. PLDT and Smart Communications will provide free Wi-Fi access in isolation centers. Globe Telecom and the Aboitiz Group also lent support and assistance for the activation of quarantine facilities.
This multi-industry-led fervor can be sustained and applied toward reaccelerating our economy, but only in an enabling environment conducive to the private sector’s innovative and developmental nature.
Now that the ECQ has been extended until May 15, some shortcomings in the guidelines that pose real risks to the stable food supply, for instance, must be addressed. This is a critical governance issue. Government must ensure the free flow of goods from regional food baskets and agro-industrial facilities to keep food shelves stocked. There should be a wider understanding of essential industries, which go beyond food and health linkages. Public utilities and communications services must run uninterrupted. Even the manufacturing facilities in our export processing zones produce parts for the operation of global technology industries and should be considered essential.
There are some good and practical suggestions for a gradual and cautious restart: Increase the manpower capacity of the manufacturing industry to 100 percent in order to help the continuous flow of goods; open other key business sectors at 50-percent manpower; let more bank branches operate to ease the flow of funds for people and companies; and allow longer operating hours for fresh produce markets and supermarkets to avoid long lines of people.
Only with good governance can we harness the full potential of the country’s talents and resources to defeat the pandemic, and seize the opportunities for a reboot, a better way of doing things, to be able to move forward.
This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.