Reports about the country’s biggest businesses and wealthiest individuals heeding the government’s call for help in containing the COVID-19 pandemic are much welcome. The Duterte administration has prepared a P27.1-billion spending plan for those affected by the health crisis, but this is barely enough. The private sector is called upon to take on a bigger role and shoulder a sizable part of the cost to stem the impact of the crisis.
With the “enhanced community quarantine” shutting down factories, malls, restaurants, and shops and the economy grinding to a standstill, tens of thousands of Filipinos are suddenly out of work. Even before the government unveiled its stimulus package, many business owners took notice of the extraordinary hardships the lockdown imposed and immediately crafted financial assistance for their displaced employees.
Jollibee Foods Corp., for instance, has allotted P1 billion to pay for the one-month salaries and 13th-month pay of its employees put out of work by the month-long quarantine of Luzon. The Ayala group has promised a P2.4-billion relief package to employees and its business partners, mostly tenants at its malls that have been ordered closed.
To date, the Department of Labor and Employment has specifically commended the Aboitiz, Ayala, ICTSI/Solaire, JG Summit, Jollibee, Lucio Tan, Metro Pacific, San Miguel Corp., SM, and Udenna groups for providing full pay to their workers. Mall owners—mainly SM, Megaworld, and JG Summit—have similarly waived the rent due their tenants affected by the lockdown to help them cope with the crisis.
Others have resorted to repurposing their operations to help. Ramon Ang’s San Miguel Corp., Lucio Tan’s Tanduay Distillers/Asia Brewery Inc., and Andrew Tan’s Emperador Inc. are converting the alcohol intended for their liquor businesses to millions of liters of 70-percent ethyl alcohol needed by the Department of Health, the police, and local government units for frontline personnel fighting the COVID-19 outbreak.
Others offered help to directly address the coronavirus disease. The GT Capital Holdings Group of the Ty family pledged P200 million mainly for the production of test kits by the UP National Institutes of Health as well as the personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care staff. The Gokongwei Brothers Foundation also put up a P100-million fund for test kits and additional protective gear for health workers. The Villar family’s Vista Land, meanwhile, provided disinfecting tools, 200,000 face masks, and daily supplies of bottled water to nine public hospitals in Metro Manila.
Businessman Manny Pangilinan, through Metro Pacific Hospitals, has sent frontline workers to affected areas and has been importing additional protective gear for their use. Even the Belo Medical Group is donating its remaining stocks of PPE in its beauty clinics for the use of hospitals and health centers in need, and promised to donate more once additional supplies arrive.
Banks are also helping by suspending the collection of consumer loans—including credit card debt—falling due during the one-month lockdown. They have also kept some branches and most ATMs open to allow affected citizens to access their accounts and withdraw cash when needed.
Malacañang has commended all those companies for providing employees with salaries and benefits covering the entire duration of the quarantine. The Office of the President also lauded the efforts of transport groups and automotive companies for offering buses to ferry health workers and people exempted from the ban for free. The invaluable support of the country’s leading conglomerates, said the Palace, should inspire other companies to follow suit, and that “their sacrifices during this period are invaluable, and the services they are tirelessly rendering for the nation will forever be remembered.”
Indeed. May their tribe increase, and may they continue not only to help those risking their lives at the frontlines—doctors, nurses, health workers, law-enforcement personnel manning checkpoints, staff at supermarkets and convenience stores—but also to extend their compassionate work to other Filipinos left most vulnerable by the crisis: the poorest and most marginalized communities around their businesses.
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