Now that Alert Level 1 status has become a reality, I’m beginning to make sense of why Presidential Adviser Joey Concepcion kept telling government to put together an exit plan from our COVID siege mindset. Two years lived in various stages of detention and non-productivity has a way of dulling the senses and drive of individuals and businesses to the point that “re-entry” can be daunting. You’re not quite sure where to start and how fast you should do it, given the many false starts in the past and re-runs of COVID-19 surges. False starts can be a waste of money and discouraging to organizations already running on fumes.
Restoring public transport and customer capacities to pre-COVID levels is easy but will the public respond with equal vigor and sustainability? Yes, we can count on revenge shopping, travel and splurges to make up for the oppressive COVID surges but there is no denying that many people learned the hard lesson of saving for a “COVID Year” and not just a rainy day. In fact, at least a third of the “market” or consumers are probably not participating this year after losing jobs, closing shops or getting buried in debts. Others have discovered an alternative lifestyle in the realm of D.I.Y, Tiny Homes and mobile camping as local tourists, as well as living on less and with less.
Further complicating matters are global events where rising fuel prices, disruption of the global supply chains, cutbacks on demand and international conflict almost makes it irrational to operate any business or produce any product that has a “foreign” factor in the equation. Simply put, businesses would be safe staying local in terms of materials and customers.
Even political uncertainties are playing into the decision-making process of CEOs as well as Mom & Pop businesses. It’s so bad that some people I spoke with are actually entertaining exit plans and countries of choice to temporarily migrate to if the Philippines goes from bad to worse or if politics after May takes a retaliatory nature between winners versus losers and their supporters.
All this talk is strangely reminiscent of the time when a handful of journalists up and left the country before or when martial law was declared in 1972. What’s interesting is finding out how many upper and middle-class Filipinos already have dual citizenship, even in unfamiliar countries.
So, what now? How do we reboot or refresh ourselves and our economy, given everybody’s preoccupation with the May elections and now the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Mad Man Putin’s threat of nuclear war? The government, not necessarily just the elected politicians at the moment, need to quickly formulate a re-entry plan as well as a transition plan from one administration to the next so that our economy does not stall like a plane that’s still trying to take off.
The Philippine economy is not just about malls and restaurants and tourism. The government needs to ensure that we don’t have a free-for-all restart that ends up causing problems for our power generation and supply. Given the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on global prices of crude oil and the reduction of Indonesia’s coal export, what will the Department of Energy do to ensure that power producers can provide affordable electricity to manufacturers?
If they can’t, what adjustments or trade-offs can the government make in terms of “jobs for taxes” while the private sector carries the burden of generating their own power or paying ridiculously high prices? If the government cannot provide the necessary support or environment for the conduct of business, then the government should at least be the first to sacrificially waive taxes or give them as incentive to businesses to produce what is needed.
We need to ensure that industries reboot in an environment where electricity, materials, manpower and logistics are streamlined and don’t end up stuck somewhere for whatever reason, especially in terms of transport or mobility. In some ways it’s almost like being on a war footing, where someone has to decide on the order of priorities due to limited resources.
We, of course all know that the first priority is food security or the availability and access to affordable food. In this regard, it is about time that government comes out with a plan that begins with training and education of current and future producers regionally. Many Filipinos boldly get into agriculture armed only with a hope and a dream. That has to end. Put up regional training facilities for piggery, poultry and crop production. Then set up the breeding centers and seedling banks in order to supply the national requirement of producers and back this up with a national resource center for feeds, grains as well as marketing of produce at both the barangay level and national stores.
As we set up food security, we then rebuild our health care system including barangay-level clinics or primary care facilities.
Third would be our network for digital connectivity in partnership with all telcos and not some useless department with no money or technology, so that students at all levels and in every locality will have access to online education.
Fourth would be development of renewable energy sources both for residential, commercial and industrial applications. By spreading out the accessibility we spread out the generation and consumption. Power companies and cooperatives should be weaned away from their household customer base and focus on commercial and industrial clients.
Then of course we need to seriously develop real mass transit such as trams, MRTs and high speed rails to replace limited capacity vehicles that are heavily dependent on fossil fuel and highly polluting. Alongside, it is high time to liberalize or incentivize the maritime industry and remove protectionist government policies.
Last but not the least, we embark on a modest national housing program in partnership with active developers and not corrupt contractors. Work with those who have reputations to protect and expertise to bank on. There’s a plan!
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