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Future-proofing energy security

The Department of Energy (DoE) says it will no longer give permits for the construction of new coal-fired power plants. And, perhaps signaling preference for more renewable energy projects in the future, energy officials are also now allowing foreign investors to fully own big geothermal plant projects in the country.

Lock down or ramp up?

Metro Manila mayors have all agreed to keep their respective cities, and one town, under general community quarantine or GCQ for the rest of 2020. This was according to Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año. In this line, perhaps we shouldn’t expect any more monthly announcements on changes in restrictions in this fourth quarter, or until 2021.

The challenge of easing

I receive with cautious optimism the news that Malacañang is easing public transportation woes by approving the “one-seat apart rule” for public vehicles like buses and jeepneys. It is also increasing train capacity to 50% from 30%. Although jeepney operators are asking if the new seating rule applies even to vehicles already installed with plastic dividers between passengers.

Long-Term Evolution

COVID-19 is here to stay, indefinitely. Even if effective vaccines are made commercially available by late next year, it will take years before this virus can be effectively mitigated. The first smallpox immunization was in 1796, and the disease was eradicated only after almost 200 years. The first polio vaccine came out in 1955. And despite global vaccination efforts, to date, polio is still a recurring problem.

Rethinking retail

The Senate Committee on Banks and Financial Intermediaries approved on Monday the bill that will let banks sell their bad loans to asset companies, to keep their balance sheets clean. At the same time, the Senate Committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship approved the bill that will allow more foreign retailers to start doing business locally.

Ensuring continuity

Considering how COVID-19 has affected the global economy, and how it has practically suspended tourism and business travel until who knows when, does it still make sense for the Philippines to invest in new international airports now, to serve Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces?

There is no Food Security without Storage Security

Often enough we see fresh farm produce like vegetables and fruits — food, basically — go to waste after failing to make it to market on time. Farmers get rid of surplus harvest by either feeding them to farm animals or just turning them to compost. Those that stay fresh long enough are just given away to any takers for free.

The business of proximity warning

With physical distancing among people now the norm, both as a matter of practice and under temporary government regulations, proximity warning systems are somewhat in fashion. Personally, I don’t think them to be absolutely necessary. However, some businesses appear to be sensing something that some of us don’t, and seems to be capitalizing on the situation.

Renewing renewables

Since the start of the Community Quarantine about six months ago, I have been hearing a lot about how a number of Metro Manila residents are waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic in their “home” provinces. Some have quit their jobs and moved back for good, while others have opted to temporarily do Work-From-Home or Online School from the comfort of their provincial abodes.

Let light shine upon them

Face masks and face shields over the masks are now required in enclosed workplaces as well as other enclosed commercial establishments in Metro Manila and elsewhere. What used to be hospital protocol for the use of Personal Protective Equipment or PPE are now becoming more common even in workplaces such as service industries like salons and barbershops.

Calibrated response

To calibrate means to adjust, or to take into account all factors and to compare all available results data. At this point in our fight against COVID-19, it is not too late for our leaders to reassess our situation and to fine-tune the medical interventions deemed necessary. But this also means listening to all resource people and accepting assistance from all willing to help.

Preparing for the worst

Preparing for the worst, at this point, means recognizing and accepting the fact that the government and the private sector can do only so much in containing the spread of COVID-19 and saving people from it. No, this is not a defeatist nor a fatalistic stance. On the contrary, bracing now and doing what we can as individuals and as families, with what we have, is one way of improving our chances of physical and economic survival.

Adapting to change

It is never easy to adapt to change. We are creatures of habit, and tend to get comfortable with “what is” over time. We rarely welcome disruptions. Occasional change can offer us some relief, but nothing more than to break monotony or to keep us relatively dynamic, or to fend off stagnation. However, little change over a long time can also mean little growth.

Paying for COVID-19 vaccines

The Philippines may not be in a position to take immediate advantage of any vaccine to be developed in the near future against COVID-19. And this situation seems to require a review of Republic Act No. 11223 or the Universal Healthcare Act of 2018, which appears to pose a “limitation” as to when any new vaccine can be paid for by universal health insurance.

Time to go small?

I read with interest a recent Bloomberg report on how people in the United States were not “much interested in going out and spending” even as the US economy started to reopen. The report described Americans as becoming “fearful and frugal” as the COVID-19 pandemic affected 3.5 million people in the US and over 13 million people worldwide.

W-T-F-H

BusinessWorld reported yesterday that two senators are considering a bill giving employees an additional deduction of P1,000 against taxable income for every month they are forced to work from home (WFH) because of COVID-19. This is to help them recover their higher electricity costs at home. An option, he said, is for their employers to just give them the P1,000 monthly as a subsidy.

The price of recovery

Metro Manila, Cavite and a few other areas with significant contributions to the national economy will remain under General Community Quarantine (GCQ) until July 15. With that, the government, people, and business will just have to wait another two weeks to see if these places can transition to the more lenient Modified General Community Quarantine (MCGQ). It depends mainly on the trend of the number of COVID-19 cases reported daily.

Long and bumpy road

In a June 2020 Outlook Report by Moody’s Investor Service titled, “Global economy is limping back to life, but the recovery will be long and bumpy,” the firm noted that the second quarter of 2020 would “go down in history as the worst quarter for the global economy since at least World War II.” But, on the bright side, Moody’s also said it was expecting “a gradual recovery beginning in the second half of the year.”

Miriam’s foresight

Last Monday, June 15, was the 75th birth anniversary of the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago. She was 71 when she succumbed to lung cancer in September 2016, shortly after losing her third and final bid for the presidency. No less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself preferred to her as the most qualified presidential candidate in 2016. But it was not her fate.

Distance education

The jury is still out on whether distance education, or even physical distancing in education, will effectively keep our children healthy, physically safe, and properly educated during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am sure there is plenty of research out there on the pros and cons of distance learning. More should be made public to help people make informed decisions based on data.

Digital footprint

Just recently my wife and I each received P5,000 from the Makati City government, as financial assistance made available to city residents during the quarantine period.

Moving on

This is my 10th weekly column written in “quarantine.” And in that period, Metro Manila has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic by going through varying degrees of lockdown. The “stay at home” protocol has disrupted many if not most aspects of people’s daily lives. By next week, however, there may be changes to the situation in and of the National Capital Region.

Time to fish?

Some common folks theorize that fishing can still be good after a storm. This works on assumptions that: 1.) storms do not necessarily bother deep-sea fish, so bottom fishing is an option; and, 2.) fish don’t get to feed much during a storm and are thus hungry after. So, even if waters are still murky or cloudy after a storm, it can be easy to get fish to bite as long as you get their attention with the right bait.

Start-ups and closures

I have yet to see data on how many businesses, particularly small and medium enterprises, in Metro Manila will not survive 2020 as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. A few will probably start reopening by next week, some more perhaps by June 1. And of those that can resume by the second semester, I doubt very much if most will make it to the end of the year.

Practical approaches

My friend Meniong, the late Negros Oriental governor and congressman Herminio G. Teves, would have been 100 years old on April 25. But it was not his fate to reach that milestone. It has been almost a year since he passed on last May 15, just 20 days after he celebrated his 99th birthday. It is in crucial times like now that I truly miss his practicality and old-age wisdom.

Temporary normal

I choose to make a distinction between what we now commonly refer to as the “new normal” as opposed to the way things were pre-COVID-19. In my opinion, what is now emerging from this pandemic -- and the lockdown -- is actually a “temporary normal” that may last for about two to three years, or until mass vaccination is available to protect people against the coronavirus.

Life or money?

I am certain the COVID-19 lessons from Taiwan, Korea, and Hong Kong, as well as Japan and Singapore, and even in the United States, Italy, and the rest of Europe are not lost on our public officials and business leaders. I am likewise certain that many factors are now under consideration as the country decides on the next course or phase of action.

Managing in disasters

Expect some form of “rationing” to start in about two weeks, even with some easing on the Luzon-wide lockdown after April 30. And by this, I refer not only to food and other items but also in terms of work opportunities and access to various types of services. In fact, I foresee “rationing” to be a big part of our lives in the next couple of years, at least. What will be rationed? Supplies, to begin with. Many manufacturers and processors are still grappling with bottlenecks in raw material supply, in personnel, and in distribution. And even after the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), as we move to another mode of quarantine or restriction, many of these bottlenecks will remain. For how long, we do not know.

The Great Isolation

First, there was the Great War, or the First World War, that ran from 1914 to 1918. Then, there was the Great Depression, or the worldwide economic recession that started in the United States in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s. And prior to these, there was the Great Plague or the “Great Mortality” of 1347-1351, deemed the most devastating plague pandemic in history.

Life in a plastic bubble

As I started to write this weekly column, my third in “quarantine,” a Paul Williams song titled, “What Would They Say,” came to mind. For those who may not remember that 44-year-old song, or were not yet alive at the time, I share with you below some of its lyrics. I recall the song was used in the 1976 TV movie The Boy in a Plastic Bubble, which got four Emmy nominations.

Living a quarantined life

I spent some time outside the house yesterday, sitting in the driveway to get some sun. I have not done that for a long time. It was pleasant to enjoy a slight breeze, and hear birds chirping. And from where I sat, which was about 50 meters from the main road just outside our community’s main gate, I could see a few cars and motorcycles, and pedestrians passing by.

Only the lonely

It is perhaps the loneliest and not the fittest, that are most likely to avoid COVID-19. “Lockdowns,” social distancing, and “independent” living are nothing new to people who live isolated, hermit-like lives. They live off-grid, away from crowds, and keep to themselves. They put a premium on privacy, and rarely use the internet or social media accounts.

Spies in our midst

Intelligence collection and intelligence analysis are key components of the intelligence-gathering discipline. But, gathering intelligence is not always clandestine, does not necessarily entail espionage, or employ subterfuge. At times, in fact, information is freely given or divulged with consent, either through human source, or research in open publication.

Media and politics

One media giant is now under fire from the government for alleged violations of its legislative franchise to broadcast. And while the concerns of ABS-CBN are now headlines, it is not really unusual for media companies -- or personalities -- to be in the sights of politicians at one time or the other. After all, news media have significant influence on Philippine political dynamics.

Going cashless

I am sure many people have shifted to cashless payments a long time ago, starting with doing credit card bill payments online. And then there came bills for household utilities like electric, telephone, water, cable TV and/or Internet service. In my case, in the last 20 years, I have found electronic and online payment to be a convenient and efficient mode of paying for personal bills.

A new privileged class

Any idea or initiative, no matter how good or useful, can be prone to abuse. And this is on the part of either the people proposing or implementing the initiative, or the people that are intended to benefit from it. Worse, the negative consequences of such an initiative at times outweigh its benefits, or have unintended economic or social costs.

Sense of others

I worry that we are leaving our children, and their children, a world far worse than what we inherited from our predecessors. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be a tipping point at some time. When, where, and how, no one can predict. But, going by what is currently happening around us, it seems that point is nearing.

Deadly as a virus

As of this writing, there were about 4,600 reported cases of Novel Corona Virus worldwide, and with about 100 deaths attributed to it specifically in China, where it all started. The world is worried, perhaps even more worried than when SARS or MERS wrought havoc years back. Incidentally, all these deadly viral infections started to occur only in the last 20 years.

No to ERP

ERP or Electronic Road Pricing is a mechanism presently used in a number of countries that charge motorists a certain amount for passing a particular road at a particular hour. It is similar to a toll fee, but pricing is determined primarily by “congestion” and time of use. The fee is higher when one chooses to pass a main road at “peak” hours.

Boom and bust, repeat

The Tagaytay City of today is not the same sleepy town I knew 25 years ago when my family started frequenting the place on weekends and holidays. Back then, there were still lots of open spaces, clearings, green grass, trees, and pineapple plants. And, one could easily view Taal Lake and the volcano from anywhere on the ridge, along the main highway to Nasugbu.

Are we Good As Gone?

If some of our people have little regard for their own safety, can we still expect them to have any regard for the safety of the rest of us? Self-preservation is a natural instinct. And yet, with the way some of us conduct ourselves, this does not seem evident. And with this being the case, then maybe little to nothing can be expected from us with respect to the preservation of others.

The impersonal age

As I wrote this on Christmas Day, I couldn’t help but think about how technological advances particularly in communication have changed many of us, socially. I went simply by the number of Christmas greetings I had received these past few days: no greetings via telephone call or via e-mail; and, only one Christmas card via regular post/mail.

Taxing plastic bags

The House Committee on Ways and Means has approved the proposed “Single-Use Plastic Bag Tax Act,” which will impose a P20 per kilogram tax on single-use plastic shopping bags. The bill is estimated to raise about P4.8 billion annually for the government -- money that will finance activities under the Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.

Smoke Easy

During the Prohibition Era (1920--1933) in the United States, when the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcoholic beverages was illegal throughout that country, illicit or hidden establishments emerged to illegally sell or serve liquor. Such a club or bar, called a speakeasy (or a blind pig or a blind tiger) became very popular among both the rich and poor.

Retired and rehired

Kudos to McDonald’s Philippines for giving senior citizens, presumably retirees, a “second” chance. Golden Arches Development Corp. (which operates McDonald’s Philippines) has said it has signed agreements with the Manila and Pasay City governments for the employment of senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) in McDonald’s branches in these cities.