Private sector as primary force for recovery

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

The year 2021 almost ended on a positive note for the Philippines. Reeling from five consecutive quarters of recession, movement restrictions were eased. Daily COVID-19 caseloads significantly dropped to a few hundred with a positivity rate of below 1 percent, and more establishments resumed operations. More people were vaccinated against the virus and felt bold enough to go out especially during the holiday season. It appeared that people had learned to live with COVID-19 pandemic.

The operative word is “almost.”

The COVID-19 situation retrogressed in the last few days of 2021, just as Filipinos were preparing to greet the new year. The number of fresh cases jumped to 33,169 on Jan. 10 with a positivity rate of 46 percent, based on data from the Department of Health.

On top of the persistent socioeconomic challenges faced by Filipinos since 2020, the emergence and eventual spread of the Omicron variant is now causing another wave of national uncertainty. We had hoped to see the end of the pandemic soon, but now we are just as uncertain as we were before.

In all this, we must all actively participate in a holistic and collective effort that will enable us to recover quickly from the expansive impact of this crisis. Here is where the role of the private sector proves indispensable.

A December 2021 Pulse Asia survey commissioned by the Stratbase ADR Institute revealed that majority of the population recognizes the private sector as the driving force of the economy in terms of creating jobs, alleviating poverty, and generating livelihood opportunities.

We need a synergistic governance outlook whereby government actively seeks the participation of the private sector in developmental undertakings. We need an accommodative and morally upright national leadership that appreciates the value of the private sector as a self-sufficient and aggressive innovator for growth when given a fair playing field under a government that upholds the rule of law and democratic institutions.

Undeniably, the private sector has proven itself as a reliable partner of government in addressing the existential challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, the private sector voluntarily aided marginalized families and sectors severely affected by the shock of the lockdowns. In 2021, it was the private sector that significantly ramped up the country’s much-delayed vaccination program.

To quickly mobilize the strength in expertise and resources of private enterprises, the government needs to provide clear direction with upright and strategic leadership that can lead us to a recovery path founded on sound data and analyses. When there is confusing rhetoric and erratic pronouncements, there is an erosion of confidence which can only produce limited support from a preferred and corrupting circle of cronies instead of wholehearted commitment from the top industry players.

The next government should engage the private sector under a reciprocal framework of multisectoral collaboration and people-centered responsiveness. There must be a common commitment to purge the systemic ills of a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy. Environment, social, governance standards now widely integrated in the private sector should also be applied in public enterprises.

In the May 9 elections we must choose a genuine leader who can lead the transformation of a crisis-fatigued nation. Someone who will not exploit the vulnerable psyche of the poor masses with empty populist promises. Someone who will restore the grace of statesmanship, professionalism, and honor of serving in public office.

The divisive pomposity and questionable agendas of the past five-and-a-half years must end. Having more of the same or something even worse for another six years would be untenable given our already precarious state.

In good times and especially in the bad, collaboration is key. PPP, or public-private partnership, is not just a clever acronym. It is something we must take seriously and meaningfully in its spirit, to usher our country to sustainably move forward and make life better for all Filipinos.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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