Let us just work together

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - April 14, 2021 - 12:00am

“We cannot look forward to reopening the economy if the DOH keeps shutting the door… The DOH should instead be giving incentives to private companies to vaccinate their rank and file so that businesses can again run smoothly and recover swiftly,” Sen. Imee Marcos complained.

The senator said employees who do not fall under the new DOH priority classification will not be able to quickly use the vaccines their companies imported for them.

“Companies will now be required to issue a so-called Certificate of A4 Eligibility, which will exclude certain employees from priority vaccination, even if their company’s products or services are considered essential, such as food, pharmaceuticals, and transport,” Sen. Marcos said.

The DOH requirement, she claimed, would only cause confusion, resentment, and disorder within companies. DOH officials have yet to explain themselves.

This is reminiscent of a DOH plan to ban companies in the liquor, tobacco and infant milk industries from importing vaccines for their employees. The DOH backtracked on this plan.

It is sad that the Duterte bureaucrats seem allergic to being helped by the private sector. That would have been alright if they are competent. But they have bungled the country’s COVID response. Today, one of every two active COVID cases in ASEAN is from the Philippines.

Towards the end of last year, the Management Association of the Philippines gathered some of our top business leaders, as well as leaders of foreign chambers, and there was support for helping out with the crisis.

Ayala Corp. chair and CEO Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala took the occasion to declare that this is a time for capitalism to evolve… to recognize a sense of duty towards the larger community… the bottom line isn’t everything.

Hans Sy of SM Prime Holdings explained in the same MAP Forum why working together during this COVID period is essential.

“No amount of work can be successful if we try to do things ourselves,” Sy said. “The success can only come when it’s both the government and private sector working together.”

Hmm… there it is clear as day. Only power-hungry Duterte bureaucrats will insist working with the private sector is not essential.

The lockdowns resulted in massive job losses. Many companies kept employees on their payroll for as long as they could. But small and medium enterprises suffered severe damage. As much as 90 percent of employment is accounted for by this sector. Hunger is real.

That’s why San Miguel placed its One World feeding program on overdrive to address massive hunger among the poor in a Tondo community. Over a thousand meals a day are served. A drop in a bucket of problems, but a start.

Noticing how the government had been fumbling the ball on vaccine procurement, the private sector offered to help import vaccines. A private sector group led by Joey Concepcion, also made arrangements for competent handling of the vaccines from airport arrival to vaccination centers.

It is difficult to understand why the Duterte government’s response to private sector offers of help had been lukewarm. Working together is not only feasible, but like lugaw, essential.

Vice President Leni Robredo showed how this is done. She launched a mobile antigen testing program called “Swab Cab” in areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates.

VP Leni’s “Swab Cab” enables LGUs like Malabon to identify asymptomatic persons so they can be isolated and treated. This helps quell rising coronavirus cases in crowded communities.

Robredo noticed the gap and moved to fill it.

“Existing RT-PCR tests usually are for those with symptoms or have been contact traced. We will do antigen testing to target those without symptoms and no known exposure to COVID-positive cases,” said Robredo.

The Swab Cab was made possible when the OVP partnered with the Kaya Natin! Movement and Ube Express, the same bus company owned by Bert Lina that they worked with for their free shuttle service for medical frontliners.

But there is a hesitancy for people to get tested. To encourage people to present themselves for testing, Robredo offered gift packs and other incentives from private donors.

Then Robredo rolled out the Bayanihan E-Konsulta program. They got more than enough volunteer doctors to work for free.

“The number of requests that were sent to us is overwhelming. This is proof that we need this kind of service.

“One of our realizations was that most of our patients who are COVID positive and doing home isolation are relieved that they get to talk to a medical doctor. But when doctors start asking them to monitor their symptoms and report them, they do not have thermometers and oximeters to check their temperature and oxygen level.

“We thought it would be best to send them a COVID kit with medicines and medical supplies, a monitoring sheet and instructions…”

The COVID kit from the OVP contains a thermometer, pulse oximeter, medical supplies, medicines and vitamins, face masks, disinfectant, as well as a monitoring sheet and a guide for what each item is for.

The private sector and the OVP are showing what can be accomplished if the government is willing to hear fresh ideas and doesn’t mind sharing the platform. Duterte administration officials keep on talking about a “whole-of-nation” approach to the crisis, but are too jealous to share credit with anyone else.

On the other hand, the OVP does not mind teaming up with interested private parties to give help where it is most needed.

The government can also help private hospitals handle the overflow of COVID patients by immediately paying the mounting receivables with PhilHealth. Our hospitals will collapse not just because there are too many patients and very tired doctors and nurses, but also because they are running out of funds.

We are living in the worst human crisis of our generation. We can make life easier if everyone works together to alleviate our pain.

Working together is not difficult so long as we are willing to set egos and politics aside. Vice President Leni showed how it is done and I am sure she is even willing to work with this government for the greater good.

The ball is in Duterte’s court. Hopefully, he doesn’t fumble it again.



Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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