Lawmakers call for 'resilience plan' against COVID-19, company closures
Ruben Carlo Asuncion, chief economist at Union Bank, said the impact of the virus outbreak from Wuhan, China would be similar to the severe acute respiratory syndrome that broke out in 2003.
STAR/Miguel De Guzman

Lawmakers call for 'resilience plan' against COVID-19, company closures

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - February 26, 2020 - 9:30pm

MANILA, Philippines — Two lawmakers have raised concerns over the possible effects of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on the country's economy, urging the importance of projects to alleviate the virus' impact.

Sen. Sonny Angara, in a statement, bared the urgent need for the government to craft a "resilience plan" to address the COVID-19 outbreak along with the downsizing of companies in the country like Honda Cars Philippines Inc., Wells Fargo and Nokia. 

"There is no vaccine yet against the virus. But in terms of protecting our economy, in increasing its defenses, I believe that government must have a contingency plan," Angara said.

Malacañang later Wednesday confirmed that a ban would be imposed on travelers coming from the North Gyeongsang province of South Korea, the latest travel restriction caused by the COVID-19 scare after President Rodrigo Duterte extended his earlier travel ban to include all of mainland China along with special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau. 

The initial travel ban only included Hubei province of China, where Wuhan, the epicenter of COVID-19, is located. Duterte initially opposed the idea of a ban on China, saying this could adversely damage diplomatic relations. 

“The epidemic, especially the travel ban imposed by the Philippine government, would inevitably have negative impact on the Philippine economy,” Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian said last week at a forum in Ortigas, Pasig City. 

READ: Chinese envoy warns of economic impact of travel ban

South Korea is among the country's largest source of tourists.  

Duterte on Wednesday said he is not inclined to ban all arrivals from South Korea.

"No, I cannot do that. No country can do that. If the guy is healthy, why would you? You cannot do that. There cannot be a total travel ban and you do not allow anybody to enter... You are going to lock down the entire Philippines for that. It ain't that way," the president said in a chance interview in Malacañang.

"For those who are healthy, they should come in. And for those who have been identified from other countries, then that is the time that we can raise objection of his entry. But for those without previous...or cured, and they have passed 14 days, 15 days, I think it's OK," he added.  

"But me personally, if you ask me now, we cannot do it. I will not allow travel ban." 

Economic, infrastructure team urged to expedite projects

For his part, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano (Taguig) specifically called for the administration's economic and infrastructure team to expedite the government's existing infrastructure projects in order to cushion the tourism industry against the effects of the virus scare. 

“Yung appeal ko sa economic team at sa infrastructure team, habang ‘yung uncertainty ng COVID-19 nandiyan, at habang maaapektuhan ang international tourism, agahan niyo ang pag-release at pagpapagawa ng infra projects,” said Cayetano in an interview with House media this week.

(My appeal to the economic and infrastructure team is that while COVID-19 is causing uncertainty and while international tourism is affected, release funds and build infra projects faster)

READ: Gov’t sees ‘short-term’ impact of novel coronavirus on Philippine tourism

“Kasi ‘pag ‘yan inumpisahan ng November, peak season naman natin ng tourism until December. God willing, after the second half of this year, wala ng COVID-19 or under control na, so dagsa na naman ang tourists. So, in the meantime, itong first two quarters, sana Build, Build, Build tayo."

(Because if you start the projects in November, that is peak season for tourism until December... during the first two quarters, let's 'Build, Build, Build'.)

In an earlier press briefing in January, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said that the impact of the virus was projected by economists to be short-term.

'Create, protect jobs'

"So in addition to the agenda of creating more jobs within the next decade, we are now faced with the challenge of protecting jobs within the next weeks or months," Angara said.

READ: Contagion fears amid coronavirus outbreak seen hurting consumer spending

"We have to map out all our underutilized assets and use this as a springboard in prioritizing sectors, places and industries that can create wealth using Filipino talent."

In response to news of the workers displaced by Honda's closure, the Palace, too, pointed to the infrastructure projects generated by the "Build, Build, Build" program. Labor groups slammed this pronouncement, saying it downplayed the plight of those possibly losing their livelihood. 

On Tuesday, Sen. Joel Villanueva said that the Senate committee on labor and employment, which he chairs, was ready to conduct a probe into the closure of the Honda facility in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. The senator's office told Philstar.com that the 387 jobs estimated to be lost with the car manufacturing shutdown were based on figures from the Labor department. — with reports from Prinz Magtulis and The STAR/Alexis Romero

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