By Jenina P. Ibañez
THE country’s biggest business group is urging the government to focus on mass testing for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the resumption of some economic activity and the removal of barriers to movement of people and supplies in order to ensure a path to recovery after the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) ends on April 30.
At the same time, tycoon and SM Investments Corp. (SMIC) Vice-Chairperson Teresita T. Sy-Coson said a gradual resumption of businesses will help save jobs after the lockdown, which has halted most economic activities in Luzon, is lifted.
“As discussions on possible triggers for a partial lifting of the ECQ begin, the PCCI respectfully submits its recommendations, which encapsulate key elements to recovery. These are (a) success in epidemic control, (b) resumption of economic activity, and (c) eliminating barriers to the supply chain and the movement of people — all towards rebuilding consumer confidence,” the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) said in a statement on Sunday.
The PCCI expressed support for the government’s decision to extend the lockdown to April 30, saying this provides a window for mass testing.
“The results could improve data and monitoring ability that can help flatten the curve,” the group said.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles, spokesperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), said in a press briefing Sunday that the IATF is discussing government action after April 30, noting that the World Health Organization has said countries should be gradual in lifting lockdowns.
As the revival of economic activity is “critical to recovery,” the PCCI said the ECQ is an opportunity for the government to rehabilitate existing transportation infrastructure but with social distancing measures in place.
The chamber also recommended the prioritization of infrastructure projects that would improve the efficiency of agriculture and manufacturing supply chains.
The government should refocus its strategy on the domestic market, as well as develop agriculture and aquaculture sectors to achieve food security.
“Aside from infrastructure support that include farm-to-market roads, irrigation, post-harvest facilities and other related projects, the agriculture and aquaculture sectors must be provided input subsidies and access to research and development and technologies,” the PCCI said.
The business group also noted micro and small businesses should leverage on digital platforms to address supply chain gaps.
“Farmers, fisherfolks, manufacturers and entrepreneurs need end-to-end logistics platform solutions to ensure that their access to markets is unimpeded,” it said.
The PCCI also urged the Bangko Sentral, banks and other financing institutions, and the Small Business Corp. to make it easier for MSMEs to get loans.
If the government expands the list of “essential” industries, the PCCI recommended the inclusion of the public transport sector.
“Premised on the (future) decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to partially lift the Luzon ECQ, PCCI recommends the partial lifting of the public transport sector in support of the slow but steady journey towards economic normalcy while strictly enforcing social distancing policy,” it said.
The PCCI proposed the implementation of a unified public transport scheme, similar to those in Japan and Singapore where buses follow a regular trip schedule and have designated stops to make it easier to monitor social distancing of passengers.
“As the country prepares for the lifting of the ECQ and gradually resumes economic activity, the government, the private sector and other stakeholders should continue to provide a safe environment for work and for consumption,” the business group said.
For SMIC’s Ms. Sy-Coson, allowing companies to restart operations will ease unemployment, which is expected to rise as overseas Filipino workers (OFW) return home.
“If all the industries can start operating 50% including the transport with all the medical precaution like making test kits more available and disinfecting measures and sanitation safeguards, then we can gradually increase the employment, including the returning OFWs who are adding to our number of unemployment,” Ms. Sy-Coson said in a statement on Sunday.
Aside from loans and government assistance, Ms. Sy-Coson said companies can help boost employment as long as they implement social distancing and frequent disinfection of facilities.
“Employment is also the key to the health of their family by having enough food for their own immunity and the key to the health of our economy,” she said.
The SM group, whose businesses include shopping malls, retail, banking and real estate, employs 157,288 workers as of end-2019. Most of its employees work at SM Markets, BDO Unibank and the SM Store, according to its sustainability report last year.
The Sy-led conglomerate has so far given P170 million in donations for efforts to fight COVID-19. — with Denise A. Valdez