Which kind of Filipino are we?
Reader, last week’s column expounded on the three requirements to successfully deal with the COVID-19 crisis: a well-prepared health system, good governance, and social capital. This column gives updates on the second and the third, as far as I can see.
These three working together will flatten the curve of the rise of COVID-19 so it does not overwhelm our health system (that’s why the lockdowns), and ensure that the economic and social impact is minimized, especially on our poor.
What is needed from our government are targeted policy responses, as opposed to a general, divide-by-n (everybody gets equal share) approach. From news reports, the government has announced a P27.1 billion financial package to fight the effects of COVID-19, which includes P3.1 billion for test kits. That means P24 billion for the economic and social costs.
Too little, too much, or just right? Let’s see. That P24 billion is about 0.13 percent of the country’s GDP (P18.6 trillion in 2019). Let’s compare that with Australia’s stimulus package—$17.6 billion, which, compared with its GDP of $1.89 trillion, amounts to 0.93 percent. Even the United States, which has been thought by many to have responded to the COVID-19 threat, is proposing a package of 4.7 percent of its GDP. What do you think, Reader?
To remind: NCR, Calabarzon, and the rest of Luzon were responsible for 3.2 percentage points of the country’s 6.2-percent growth in 2018—more than half. Not to mention the other parts of the country like Davao and Cebu, also in lockdown. The ADB will have to go back to its drawing board to estimate the negative impact on GDP of COVID-19. Or shift from its moderate-case scenario to its worst case scenario for the Philippines—a reduction of about 0.6 percent of GDP (from 0.3 percent). Methinks its worst-worst case scenario—a loss of 730,000 jobs and a drop of 1.7 percent of GDP—may be more like it.
Let’s take a closer look at the package—P2.8 billion for farmers and fisherfolk. The program lends a maximum of P25,000 per borrower. Do the math, folks. The fund will accommodate 112,000 borrowers. There are about 5 million farmers and fisherfolk, per the Census of Agriculture.
If the Philippines is to get through this crisis without hurting its poor too much, the government has to go back to its drawing board for a better way. I understand the economic cluster of the Cabinet is working out a better stimulus package. Millions of Filipinos are hoping they succeed.
Now let’s go back to the third leg of the tripod—social capital. That’s us. If the government can’t do it, it is left to us—the people—to help ourselves.
It is said that a crisis doesn’t make a person. Rather, it reveals what a person is made of. What is the Filipino made of? Is what we showed to the world in 1986, when we peacefully deposed a dictator, when we put the country above ourselves—was that a one-off, never to be replicated thing? I bet not.
The Palace thanked the taipans and the oligarchs for cooperating with the government (the ones the President was cussing for their greed?). They should be acknowledged for doing what is right. But remember that they are giving from their excess, not from their substance. Their profits will be less, but they will not be losing.
They are better, though, than those who, in these vulnerable times, prey on people to make a quick buck. And what about the couple who posted the receipt of their purchases from S&R in Ayala Alabang amounting to P950,636, together with a picture of themselves, plus the filled-up grocery carts?
Pitted against these vermin are the Filipinos who think not of “me” but of “we,” and give of their substance even though it hurts, and do not seek glory for themselves. Example: a businessman who has 700 people in his employ. His projects have been suspended, and he cannot collect from his clients. But he still met his payroll, and gave them their 13th-month pay. Groaning, but still alive. No wonder his employees love him. On a smaller scale: A man who gives his driver, gardener, and caddy what they would have earned without the lockdown. And, above all, our doctors, nurses, health workers, and priests who selflessly give of themselves.
Which kind of Filipino are you, Reader? On your answer depends whether we win the war against COVID-19 or not.
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