ARISE from the virus
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - July 8, 2020 - 12:00am

“We have to face the new reality. The reality today is that the virus is not going to go away and we will have to live with it for a long period of time…

“You put NCR, Calabarzon — that is where the economy is based, about 60 or 67 percent of our economy is based in that area. That should move more to the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) as quickly as possible because people have to start working.”

At last we are getting some sensible thinking from our government on our way forward with this Wuhan virus pandemic. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez is finally speaking for all of us.

Up until he spoke, the government superbody tasked to manage the epidemic had disregarded the economic harm their lockdowns are causing most Filipinos. The easiest thing to do is to impose lockdowns, an emergency measure that might have been necessary at the start because they were caught unprepared.

It is unfortunate that the administration thinks the problem is just a law enforcement issue which the police and the military should handle. After over a hundred days of this approach, we are still far from seeing the virus dealt with. Indeed, the number of COVID cases continues to rise.

The world may not see the end of the virus for a few years. This is also why Duterte is wrong to declare that schools cannot hold in-person classes until a vaccine is available. That vaccine may take two years and even then, there are indications that the immunity from this virus is short-lived.

We simply must resume our lives in the meantime by taking necessary precautions. Lockdowns will kill our already very much weakened economy and cause more pain and death among our people.

Unfortunately, lockdowns are unable to slow down the virus as we are now seeing in Cebu City. Congested living conditions in our urban areas are excellent for spreading the viral infection.

Closing down schools may also be too drastic. My grandson in Singapore is now back in school. For us here, children may be safer in schools that provide proper sanitation and social distancing. It is impossible for children in slum areas to have those at home.

So, yes… we need to be more creative and hopefully our health officials who seem to have failed us so far, can shift gears… get more help from trained and experienced professionals. The police and military must realize the epidemic is not primarily a peace and order problem.

Experts all over the world are saying that simple things like washing hands, wearing cloth masks and social distancing have significantly reduced the spread of the virus. If we can enforce rules that will mandate these things in public places, we can recover as much of our lives as we reasonably can.

Of course, those who are more vulnerable to the virus should take more precautions. But it is about time to let our people be responsible in protecting themselves and the people they are in touch with by following the call of experts to wear masks, wash hands, do social distancing. 

There will always be people with strong antisocial tendencies who will insist on not wearing masks or refuse to do social distancing. That’s when law enforcement should step in. And if a person decides to go to a bar and party as if the pandemic is over, the virus should be allowed to cull him from the face of the earth.

There are other things that the finance chief has brought out recently that deserves more public discussion.

The finance secretary has expressed doubts on the constitutionality of the P1.3-trillion economic stimulus package called ARISE, which was quietly passed by the congressmen. It should be funded by government savings, not by new borrowings, Sec. Sonny said.

“The Constitution says, we cannot have a supplemental budget that is not supported by additional revenues, or savings,” Dominguez said, as he clarified that “loans do not qualify as additional revenues or savings.”

The Bureau of Treasury currently has zero savings following the emergency spending for the government’s coronavirus response, the finance chief admitted.

“Right now, we have no savings because we have used them all up and we have no additional sources of revenues on the horizon…

“Let me just tell you that this administration has borrowed the most amount of money in any five-month period compared with any administration in the past,” Sec. Sonny said.

ARISE also has a questionable provision that would virtually castrate the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC).

“The PCC (for a period of six months from the lifting of the community quarantine (CQ) which may be extended for an additional period of six months thereafter), shall desist from requiring any submission by parties to any proceedings before it, including fact-finding or preliminary inquiries, and from issuing any show cause order, cease and desist order, subpoena, statement of concern or similar statement and other similar issuances...

“Mergers and acquisitions involving enterprises engaged in essential businesses entered into 30 days prior to and during the CQ, and for a period of one year thereafter, shall be deemed to promote continuity and capacity building, and are hereby declared exempt from the compulsory notification and related requirements under the PCA.”

In layman’s terms, the PCC for a period of six months to one year, cannot prevent anti-competitive conduct. The congressmen did not define what “essential businesses” are.

It looks like some people are taking obscene advantage of the pandemic to use ARISE Philippines to undo the gains of the Philippine Competition Commission in one fell swoop.

The need for healthy competition did not go away just because of the pandemic. And yet, Congress seems intent on ensuring that competition becomes a victim of COVID-19.

Hopefully, the Senate recognizes the danger and blocks this bill. Otherwise, monopolies and oligopolies will arise from the COVID pandemic, causing greater harm than the virus could have inflicted on all of us.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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