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We’re in for a long ride

/ 04:10 AM April 03, 2020

The developments and events in the past two weeks have been overwhelming. Just days after a “general community quarantine” was declared, an “enhanced community quarantine” (ECQ) was imposed on the whole island of Luzon. Several days later, President Duterte sought for and was given “special powers” to facilitate and enhance the country’s efforts to combat COVID-19 and mitigate its impact.

Mr. Duterte signed into law Republic Act No. 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, last March 25. Before the passage of the law, the government was cognizant of the daunting challenges brought about by the pandemic, and that the government couldn’t do it alone. During the President’s announcement of the ECQ guidelines, he appealed to big businesses to lend a hand in providing assistance to sectors most vulnerable to the disease.

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In a display of goodwill, socially responsible business groups heeded the presidential call for help. In cooperation with civil society organizations, they have contributed to and initiated the raising of funds, with the aim of distributing food vouchers to more than 1 million poor households in Metro Manila communities.

This is what we call bayanihan in action, a real cooperative endeavor. Dubbed as “Project Ugnayan,” it is a private sector initiative of over 20 top business groups that “has raised more than P1.5 billion to fund the distribution of grocery vouchers to urban poor residents in the Metro Manila area,” according to the group’s statement. “The project is a collaboration with business groups, in cooperation with the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation, to raise funds in support of ongoing initiatives to help poor families that were economically displaced by the ongoing enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila.”

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As the battle against COVID-19 rages on, every sector of society is enjoined to lend a hand. Such cooperation is critical. Only through a whole-of-society approach can we effectively complement government efforts; adopt a comprehensive strategy that will isolate, test, treat and trace as many cases as possible as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO); and alleviate the suffering of many.

Urgency is the order of business, and speed is key. The faster we can contain the spread of this contagion, the more relief can be afforded to the population. But the longer we wait to take action, the harder it would be to sustain our efforts. Indecisiveness may eventually spur lawlessness and widespread disorder.

At the end of the day, the sorrowful lesson we have to live with is that the spread of COVID-19 could have been avoided. First detected in November 2019 in Wuhan in the province of Hubei, the unusual new strain of pneumonia was reported by China to the WHO only on Dec. 31, 2019. The one-month lag, during which China suppressed information about the outbreak and punished whistle-blowers, deprived the people of Wuhan the necessary medical attention and information on critical measures to prevent the virus’ spread. These measures could have included the issuance of a global warning about the disease, the imposition of national and international travel restrictions, and the carrying out of massive testing.

With Beijing’s suppression of vital information on the seriousness of the contagion, Philippine officials saw no need to at least restrict air and sea travel, and even welcomed hundreds of Chinese nationals in, some of them even treated as VIPs for a price. Also, government abetted, without restrictions, the shadowy operations of Philippine offshore gaming operators, and even vouched for their integrity and economic value.

The Philippines’ economic growth has been abruptly interrupted by the disastrous impact of COVID-19, the magnitude of which has yet to peak. We are in for a long and bumpy ride.

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Dindo Manhit is founder and managing director of the Stratbase Group.

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
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