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The business of living and why living should be our business

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Kap Maceda Aguila-125

TALK BOX

DEPENDING on how you look at it, the successful lobby of medical frontliners to get critical areas under tighter quarantine control (as it turns out, modified enhanced community quarantine or MECQ) is either a blessing or a curse. On my Facebook feed, I’ve seen very strong arguments for and against the measure, and there are truly valid points for both.

One thing’s immutable: At this point, the pandemic that COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), the blackest of black swan events, has wrought irreparable (at the very least, over the short term) damage to our economy. Businesses, big and small, are reeling. Whether well off or not, hardly anyone can admit at this point that he or she has not been affected.

My heart bleeds for workers bereft of public transportation and have to resort to riding bicycles or even walking a long way just to get to and from work, the jeepney drivers who have been denied a living, waitstaff who have no recourse but stay home and weather this storm within a storm, salesclerks of shuttered businesses, SME hopefuls who had once great and surefire enterprises but now are gutted.

Being cognizant of them, of course, in no way should diminish the deeds and commitment of our valiant medical workforce. What it does is paint a more complete picture of the hellish 2020 we’ve had thus far. This is what we all need to do: Have a macro view where we take stock of what we’re going through. People need a livelihood, true. But they deserve to live safely as well.

And let me be clear: Lives should always be more important than anything else, and I’m sure no one will argue with this statement. By this measure, the biggest tragedies are the lives cut short by COVID-19; people shedding their mortal coil without family by their side, and denied of the wake they deserve. No one deserves to go through that, and we should do anything to prevent that.

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As for the car industry, we know that, based on recent reports from the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines, Inc., Truck Manufacturers Association, and Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors that sales are beginning to trend upward — though still nowhere near pre-COVID-19 numbers.

I reached out to Autohub Group President Willy Tee Ten for his comment on the new MECQ imposition. “Hopefully, we’ll see no further dip in terms of sales,” he said. “Fortunately, we’re also in the two-wheel segment as well, and there’s continuous segment growth nationwide. We will still continue to do what we’ve been doing for the past months which is the full transformation of our business to Brick and Click (which) pushes all our sales digitally.”

He continued: “We work from home, and make necessary advancements to our Autohub Mobile App for aftersales. We retail all our accessories utilizing all our social media platforms, do synergistic sales among the companies of the Autohub Group and cultivate more partnerships collaborations with possible partners that will benefit both our numbers.”

Meanwhile, multi-brand dealer principal Vincent Licup stated, “In terms of customer inquiries or people waiting to buy a car, we’ve seen an increase.” However, as often mentioned by auto executives we’ve interviewed these past months, crucial to the renaissance of the industry is the willingness of banks to okay more car loan applications during this time.

To be fair though, financial institutions are being understandably more careful these difficult days when a lot of people have lost their jobs, been forced to take pay cuts, or belong to companies that are on the brink of collapse.

Still, Mr. Licup observed, “All banks are now aggressive. As expected, they are all geared toward recovery from NPLs (nonperforming loans) by supporting consumer financing.”

Having said that, Mr. Licup revealed bank decisions have been lengthened from “the usual 48 hours to five days… The only issue is they are on skeleton workforce, so that cycle — actual CI or credit investigation and the processing of these reports — takes longer.”

Even more telling from the executive: The previous approval rate of 80% is now down to 40%.

For now, the tug-o-war between factors stoking the flames of car sales and ones that dampen them continues. Mobility (particularly public transportation) will be an issue while there is no vaccine, so there may yet be demand — pent-up or otherwise — even if the situation is not so normal.

“I really hope this will be the last MECQ,” continued Mr. Tee Ten. “We’re looking forward to GCQ again, and to when we can fully adjust to the new norm.”

There’s always hope.

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