Businesses look for guidance on Metro Manila lockdown

Prinz Magtulis - Philstar.com
Businesses look for guidance on Metro Manila lockdown
President Rodrigo Duterte hosts a dinner with the members of Wallace Business Forum in the Malacañan Palace on December 12, 2016. Also in the photo is Wallace Business Forum Founder Peter Wallace.
Presidential photo / Ace Morandante

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 4:35 p.m., March 13) — Absent clarity on how the lock down in Metro Manila will be implemented, businesses are grasping for clues on how to manage their operations for one month without personal access to the country’s center of business and commerce.

The government itself is seemed to be scrambling to finish some job ahead of the community quarantine, which will start midnight of Sunday and end on April 14, a far-reaching measure meant to contain the spread of the virus causing coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) that has so far claimed five lives in the Philippines.

George Barcelon, president emeritus of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, an industry group, said there are “many issues that needs to be clarified” “Some of company staff are working outside Manila. They said they will be allowed but there will be checkpoints. That will cause undue delay,” he said.

Indeed, the public was left bewildered by President Duterte’s late-night announcement of a community quarantine in the National Capital Region (NCR), home to more 12 million Filipinos in 16 cities and a municipality, and account for 36% of the country’s economic output as of 2018.

Some estimates however showed that Metro Manila’s population balloons to 14 million at day time when workers from neighboring areas such as Cavite, Laguna or Bulacan travel to their workplace. In 2010 alone, the latest year on which data is available, 588,000 Filipinos from Calabarzon and Central Luzon neighboring NCR have traveled out of their provinces to elsewhere. 

On Friday, Cabinet members led by Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez were then left to explain that workers residing outside Manila will continue to be permitted, provided they can present an ID at check points to be installed on key entry points to the Metro. Lopez went as far as suggesting workers living in the outskirts to rent a home for a month while the quarantine is ongoing. That said, work-from-home is still very much preferred.

“We will be implementing work from home program for the work week March 16-20,” Ebb Hinchliffe, executive director at American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in a text message.

Supply constraints?

But the problem does not stop there. Beaver Tamesis, president of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines, said the group is concerned about the supply of medicines in Luzon, which are all coming from warehouses in Canlubang, Laguna. 

“We are very concerned about what exactly is going to happen,” Tamesis said in a phone interview.

“While the flow of goods are okay as they said, there is a question of who can offload the supplies, for instance. That will need to be worked out,” he explained. Typically, he said drugstores have about one a half months supply of medicines with them.

Supermarkets, where customers have recently swelled as Filipinos stock up supplies, are also looking for guidelines. “We are business-as-usual, but we want to make sure also who can move around,” said Steven Cua, president of Philippine Amalgamated Supermarkets Association.

Deliveries of toiletries like alcohol are still coming in, he said, but supplies in some areas are below normal, a direct result of people stocking up on cleaning agents as a protection against the coronavirus.

“We keep announcing that you can use soap and water and not just alcohol…Manufacturers say they can still get things done,” Cua said.

In the aviation industry, already battered by dismal tourism these days, AirAsia announced it is “cancelling all domestic flights to/from Ninoy Aquino International Airport” during the lockdown period.

“AirAsia is making provisions for guests affected by the flight cancellations and travel restrictions…,” the company said in a statement. 

Government scrambles

Even the government side is scrambling to get things done. Early on Friday, news swirl that the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority had lifted the number coding scheme for Metro Manila, allowing more people to go in and out of the capital ahead of the quarantine.

But MMDA traffic head Bong Nebrija said coding would only be suspended “maybe next week.” “The situation right now is very dynamic. Decisions are changing as coordination continues,” he said in a text message.

Payments are also being rushed to ensure liquidity of some firms. Budget Undersecretary Laura Pascua said DBM, whose office just underwent thorough disinfection on Thursday, are busy “paying accounts payables” to construction firms. 

She said the community quarantine of Metro Manila is only expected to have a “minimal impact” on state infrastructure spending plans, seeing no delays or worker shortages that can disrupt outlays. DBM data showed only 5.7% of infrastructure spending is allocated to NCR.

“The lockdown is only temporary and manufacturing sector has two months inventory as we were told,” Pascua said.

While confused with how the quarantine will be implemented, Nobuo Fuji, president of Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Philippines, said : "There are some points not clear, but we understand in general." -with Ian Nicolas Cigaral

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