Business leader warns total lockdown can reverse growth momentum for very small impacts

Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) president Sergio Ortiz-Luis, Jr. reiterated the business sector’s proposed measures to help government suppress COVID-19, including suspending the Data Privacy Act and allowing public utility vehicles (PUVs) on the roads again.

In a recent webinar, Ortiz-Luis Jr. decried the prolonged lockdown, saying there is “justified need” for the calibrated reopening of the economy. Reopening will save countless jobs and allow business resumption while strict implementation of basic health and safety protocols will help contain the spread of the virus.

He warned that the new lockdown will translate to further huge economic losses. “This will cost billions because we are reversing the growth momentum just for very small impacts,” he said.

Ortiz-Luis, who is also the president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (PHILEXPORT), said reopening the economy remains the firm stand of business organizations even as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, and Metro Manila and surrounding provinces have been placed in an “NCR Plus” bubble.

The business leader said quarantine restrictions have only served to plunge the Philippines into its worst recession since 1947. Exports, a major economic driver accounting for some 30% of the country’s GDP, continue to nosedive. More than 4 million Filipinos have lost their jobs, and the unemployment rate of over 10% is the highest in 15 years.

He reiterated the call for government to consider the business sector’s proposed “concrete, practical, less costly measures” that aim to help both government and private sector beat COVID-19.

Among these is to suspend the Data Privacy Act to facilitate contact tracing, reverse the process of finding infected people, and promote voluntary disclosures. “With this information, they can immediately be isolated while the rest of the family and community members can go on with their lives,” he said.

There should also be medical-grade quarantine centers in strategic barangays where those infected can be isolated and treated. This, he added, will lead to confidence building, prevent further infections, and allow economic activities to continue.

Ortiz-Luis also cautioned against hyping on the growing number of positive cases, but clarified that this is not meant to downplay the gravity of the situation. Instead, he urged that these data be turned over to government that will process and use them as needed.

He further underscored the deployment of sufficient public transportation as “a very critical requirement to increase economic activities.”

This was reaffirmed by the results of a PHILEXPORT survey in January this year showing that insufficient transportation is the reason many exporters and small businesses are not fully operating, he pointed out.

“We believe that government should just allow all health-compliant and road-worthy PUVs to ply their routes again. We can attend to the modernization program later,” he declared.

ECOP, in a joint statement with three major labor groups, has also espoused service contracting to ensure some take-home pay for transport workers, prevent passenger competition, and “help the government enforce public health standards for the millions of our workers who risk unsafe travel to reach their workplaces.”

Ortiz-Luis said the business community also supports the amendments to the Public Services Act, Magna Carta for MSMEs that will free the SB Corporation from its regulatory accountability, and Warehouse Receipts bill that aims to expand MSME lending with the use of movable collaterals.

He also favored amendments to the charters of agencies such as the Philippine Ports Authority to help reduce the cost of shipping.

Finally, Ortiz-Luis repeated the business community’s appeal to ease protocols for the procurement by the private sector of COVID-19 vaccines, adding that the private sector could handle this matter faster and better.

On March 29, President Rodrigo Duterte finally gave orders to government to ensure that private companies can quickly bring in COVID-19 vaccines they secure from manufacturers amid an alarming surge in transmissions.

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