Yellow Pad


Before the spread of the Omicron variant, the world expressed optimism that the pandemic would wane. The rollout of safe and effective vaccines — fast in advanced countries but slow in developing ones — offered a way out of the pandemic. The pandemic would fade and turn into an endemic disease in places lagging in vaccination.

The outlook thus was a strong recovery in the major economies with knock-on effects on emerging markets. But then came Omicron. And it is rampaging throughout the world.

Omicron has a large number of mutations, and it is highly transmissible. It is capable, too, of immune escape. It has re-infected people previously infected by COVID-19. It has struck fully vaccinated people, including those who have received a booster.

We need to combat the idea that Omicron is “a blessing in disguise” for being mild and that it is a “natural vaccine.” Omicron is a virus, not a “natural vaccine.” People are getting hospitalized and dying because of it.

Those who treat Omicron as a blessing do not understand how deadly a highly infectious, albeit less severe variant, can be. To quote the title of an essay by Kevin Kavanagh (Infection Control Today, Jan. 5, 2022): “Those who underestimate Omicron aren’t doing the math.” The high infection rate has translated into an extremely high absolute number of hospitalizations and deaths even though the big proportion of cases are mild. This in turn has overrun the health systems.

In a trice, Omicron has dampened the world’s, and our country’s, incipient optimism. The brighter mood has dimmed, and expectations have lowered.

The full impact of Omicron is about to be felt in the Philippines. The onset of 2022 is characterized by COVID-19 cases growing exponentially. More, we are barely convalescing from the devastation caused by super-typhoon Odette.

Omicron has created new problems. Uncertainty has heightened. But Omicron is not the sole factor behind the uncertainty. Political polarization may be spooking business and investments.

Election time always brings uncertainty. Businessmen would rather wait for the election outcome before making any investment decisions. It is somewhat different this time — more perilous. The business community is most sensitive to the political polarization, which will intensify in the event of a victory for Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. At present, Marcos, Jr. leads the poll surveys by a wide margin.

The eminent Financial Times titled its Nov. 26, 2021 story: “Marcos Jr’s presidential bid stirs painful memories in Philippines.”

Pantheon Macroeconomics, an independent UK-based provider of economic intelligence, fears that a Marcos victory poses a risk to Philippine economic recovery. Its report, released in December 2021, said: “Elections in the Philippines are rarely fought on economic policy. But they still carry significant event risk, particularly if Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., the current frontrunner and the son of an ex-dictator, wins.”

Japan’s Nomura Global Research shares the same view as above. In its monthly report titled “No holiday cheer” (December 2021), the Nomura global financial services group wrote: “Marcos Jr., in our view will likely be regarded as less market-friendly than [Leni] Robredo, particularly when it comes to experience at the national level and in articulating a strategy for the country to recover from the pandemic.” In the same vein, while Nomura gave Robredo a perfect score of five for business friendliness, Marcos received a score of one.

Nomura further said: “A Marcos victory will likely be viewed negatively owing to perceptions against him, in part because his candidacy is facing some petitions for disqualification on grounds of making false statements and a previous conviction of failing to file income tax returns.”

The legal case of disqualifying Marcos as a candidate for President is the proverbial Damocles sword hanging over his head.

The polarization was seeded early in the term of President Rodrigo Duterte. As payback for the political support of the Marcos family, Duterte allowed the remains of the late dictator be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani with full military honors.

Worse, Duterte has pursued a similar violent approach to that which Marcos undertook during the dictatorship. Duterte has waged a merciless war against both drug users and rebels, marred by extra-judicial killings. He has stymied the opposition by jailing critics and closing a media franchise.

Meanwhile, Marcos, Jr. never conceded his loss to Robredo in the 2016 election for Vice-President. He challenged the narrow election outcome, but the Supreme Court eventually ruled against him.

The abandonment of civilized engagement, the sowing of distrust, the utter disrespect to opposition personalities, and the virulence of the rhetoric as exhibited by the likes of Larry Gadon all spell increased polarization. And for years, there has been a virtual army spreading fake news to tarnish Robredo and to distort history.

The fact is, Leni Robredo’s approach of cooperating with the administration and other parties and her campaign of “radical love” serve to attenuate the polarization.

Even as Omicron is causing uncertainty and wreaking havoc, it will come to pass in a few weeks or months. But there is a bigger uncertainty, a more dangerous problem. How we resolve the uncertainty and polarization that will have a longer-term impact, for better or for worse.

We need to overcome the pandemic. We need to end the polarization. The opportunity to do so and to enable recovery and healing is, obviously, to elect the most competent, the most unimpaired candidate.

Still, there is a bright side. Despite the fact that the economy has been badly battered by the pandemic, the expectation is that once the pandemic subsides — we just don’t know at this time where its terminal point is — the economy will adjust towards recovery.


Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.