Business leader welcomes shift to MECQ as a positive signal to market

A prominent business leader welcomed the government’s move to slightly loosen restrictions in Metro Manila and two provinces in Luzon, even as he said the cycle of varying lockdowns is hurting the economy and called for further easing to allow workers to go to work.

Sergio Ortiz-Luis, Jr., president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (PHILEXPORT) and the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), issued this remark as the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force on August 19 announced that Metro Manila and Laguna will be placed under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from August 21 to August 31.

“What’s in a name? It’s the implementation that counts. What we recommend is to ease the lockdown enough for workers to be able to go to work. This includes facilitating mass transportation. We are not doing anything different anyway under any quarantine term,” said Ortiz-Luis.

“We will continue to adhere to health and safety protocols and try to live with the virus while gradually opening the economy and moving on with our lives,” he added.

The business community has consistently reiterated that lockdowns don’t solve the COVID-19 surge and only worsen the country’s health and economic decline, as it demanded implementing better containment measures.

Earlier this week, the PHILEXPORT and ECOP leader was also part of a meeting with two other major business groups that called for better containment measures against the pandemic, as they reiterated that lockdowns are not the solution to the surge in COVID-19 cases but the catalyst to the country’s worsening health and economic situation.

Heads of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and Makati Business Club (MBC) repeated their firm opposition to lockdowns during a dialogue on August 16 with testing czar Vince Dizon and the economic cluster at the House of Representatives led by committee chair Rep. Sharon S. Garin and vice chair Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda.

The business organizations lauded Dizon and the House economic committee for hearing out the business leaders, who expressed growing apprehension over the escalating Covid-19 cases and the worsening economy, as they slammed the continued lockdowns implemented in response to these.

They also demanded increased government assistance to hospitals by promptly settling the over P1 billion in outstanding Philhealth obligations to these hospitals to enable them to expand their facilities.

Stricter observance of health protocols such as masking, social distancing, and handwashing are also effective preventive measures, they added.

PCCI during the meeting said it is strongly against another extension of the current enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), which is the strictest form of lockdown imposed by the government.

“A lockdown is not the solution, it is part of the problem,” PCCI acting president Edgardo G. Lacson said. “In this year’s third lockdown, Covid cases continue to surge and cause more business closures and unemployment.”

Garin agreed and shared that the lockdowns have “hurt extensively MSMEs and livelihoods” in her constituency.

ECOP President Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis Jr. meanwhile urged health officials to focus on better alternative containment measures, such as ramping up vaccinations, implementing more efficient contact tracing by suspending relevant provisions of the Data Privacy Act, and increasing and fast-tracking testings.

“We should allow able people to work since employers have long implemented the proper health and safety protocols. We are throwing away P150 billion in economic loses per week of lockdown which is better spent fortifying our health system,” he said.

At the same time, PHILEXPORT Chairman George T. Barcelon also asked the government to look at the health measures Salceda has implemented in his hometown of Albay, including distributing masks to constituents and preparing more centers to cope with the surges, as these initiatives have been effective.

“The remedy is to flatten the curve during the onslaught of the Delta strain through what Rep. Salceda did—by following the contact trace, triage and targeted treatment—[and doing] whatever it takes to sustain economic activities and yet give focus to addressing serious Covid-19 cases,” he stressed.

MBC chairman Edgar Chua said Department of Health (DOH) data should also be used to identify areas with high health risks and high economic impact and prioritize them for vaccination programs given the current limited supply of vaccines.

“Philhealth should also review and streamline the reimbursement process for the healthcare community in order to significantly shorten processing time without sacrificing financial controls,” he added.

Rep. Weslie Gatchalian, for his part, suggested that the DOH analytics “would be meaningful if shared with stakeholders for clarification.”

In response, Secretary Vince Dizon said that while these suggestions are appreciated, the truth is that government is short of funds and people. The only urgent thing to do is ramp up vaccination. He cited that those recently effected by the virus and hospitalized are unvaccinated.

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