INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT STUDIES INSTITUTE

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Recovery and Living with Covid

The Delta variant that first appeared in India has arrived in the Philippines. Early success stories of Australia, Singapore, Israel, Taiwan, Indonesia and a few other countries in fighting off the virus have since turned to new restrictions as a result of surges in Covid-19 cases.

Fake news hurt recovery

Some critics, whose views are megaphoned by CNN and Reuters and spread locally by Rappler and PhilStar, among others, disseminate the misleading story that Indonesia is seeing a second wave of infections and mortality after the country overwhelmingly used China-made Sinovac vaccines but fail to say that only 8 percent of the people there have been fully vaccinated. These critics do not report that Israel, Taiwan, the US and the UK that did not use Chinese-manufactured vaccines are also seeing resurgence of infections. The US Centers for Disease Controls itself disclosed that 4,100 were hospitalized and 750 died after receiving Western vaccines (76 percent were people over 65 years old). Israel saw the highest number of new cases after 85 percent of its population were vaccinated mostly with Pfizer. The scientific community has repeatedly said while none of the vaccines give 100 percent protection, they do help protect the majority from severe illness. None of the Filipino health workers, who have been vaccinated with Sinovac, have succumbed to the virus (DoH, June 30, 2021).

Dr. Edsel Salvana has defended Sinovac as effective and reliable, saying, “Fake news, combined with the Delta variant, can kill a lot of people… Combining best practices…are the keys to victory.” Sinovac has been delivering on its commitment of 25 million doses at a time when richer Western countries would not supply any or when they only deliver doses that were not approved for their citizens’ use and were about to expire. Yet, these countries would demonize others for their “vaccine nationalism.”

Safest vaccines is the one that reaches you

About 16.4 million doses have been administered out of the almost 31 million doses already in the Philippines, but only around 5.5 million Filipinos have received their second dose (PNA, July 24, 2021). Many line up for hours in vaccination sites even under the rain only to be told that there was only a limited number of doses made available. What are doable steps to fast-track our vaccination?

Living with the virus

“We need to learn to live with the virus, not live based on being afraid but on being smart,” a prominent business leader said. Hunger, mental health, children stuck indoors for more than a year are also dangers that also have long lasting costs. Less than 6.5 percent of local cases and less than 1.2 percent of deaths are under 14 years old (DoH, July 23, 2021). Can better tiered policies be applied to balance the wellbeing of more sectors?

Public and private coordination

The Asian Development Bank has described President Rodrigo Duterte’s performance as “hugely reformist,” but he has “unfinished business” just like previous administrations.

Crises, however, expose cracks in leadership that listening and adjusting can repair. In a webinar organized by IDSI, investors shared their concerns about RR9-2021, which aims to impose a 12-percent VAT on local purchases for exports. Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo told the participants that the government is listening to the various stakeholders. The Department of Finance has since revised the regulation.

There have been other revisions in government policies. The Inter-Agency Task Force, for example, has clarified that the private sector is no longer required to donate 50 percent of its vaccine purchases. The revised green lane for screened inbound travelers as reported by Secretary Roque, for another, will help better filter and activate partners who can help in Philippine recovery. Workable policies do not need to be invented as there are models to adopt from other countries.

Creative synergies

During the webinar, entrepreneurs also shared their concerns about travel requirements. Rodolfo, also managing director of the Board of Investments, allowed that balancing health and the economy poses a challenge. “Moving forward, our strategy is to provide more mobility for those who have already been vaccinated. [We also envision] [c]reating or securing market access for our export products and linking that with our industrial policy.” We see successes in public-private cooperation in the garments, fruit and services sectors, and securing labor protection for our OFWs, among others.

To survive the long game, Michael McCullough, co-founder of KMC-Savills, one of the fastest growing business service providers, said, “If you can’t generate new business at the moment, focus on your people, cash flow, strategy, execution (with regard to ten-year cycles). Being a good partner vs choosing ‘one winner and one loser’ solutions.”

The success of Build, Build, Build beyond the elections will be critical. Physical and digital infrastructure projects in the Philippines are enablers and creators of opportunities for Filipinos, beyond just donations or purchases of Philippine goods, explains business leader George Siy. The Department of Trade and IndustryPhilippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Anvil Business Club and IDSI have been helping bring in more technology transfers from foreign partners from China and the US. Highways, roads, bridges, ports and airports, especially in the provinces, will create opportunities nationwide for decades. Our internet speed has more than doubled in the last three years ago, partly because the President pushes the duopoly to improve their services and more partnerships between Filipino companies and Chinese telecommunication companies, which make possible 80 to 90 percent of installations nationwide. This increases our capacity for e-commerce and e-education.

People and culture play a big role in capitalizing on these empowerments. Despite our country being an English-speaking nation, we rank low in Math, Science and Reading. But we are first in using social media and watching porn. Filipinos average almost 10 hours on the internet and 4 hours on social media (Hootsuite 2020). These issues, however, can be overcome as investors recognize Filipinos to be pleasant, hospitable and trainable, which all bode well for a resurgence of the tourism sector.

President Duterte is due to give his last SONA or State of the Nation Address. His overall leadership can only be judged by history, as former senator Juan Ponce Enrile reminds us. His administration’s pandemic response has shortcomings, but even the US under Donald Trump saw over 500,000 deaths. With the US population 3 times that of the Philippines, our mortality is a fraction, for now. Today’s decisions have multiplier effects that will benefit or burden generations to come.. Governments can only do so much, but the bigger challenge is for each of us to step up and do our share in nation-building.


Austin Ong has assisted the Department of Trade and Industry in organising events to help Filipino entrepreneurs. He taught global developments in De La Salle University and co-authored “PH-CN: Interplay Between Domestic Politics and Globalization.”

Also published in ManilaTimes on July 25, 2021.

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