Modified ‘lockdown’ proposed

Czeriza Valencia - The Philippine Star
Modified âlockdownâ proposed
In a televised interview, Pernia said restrictions on the entry of cargoes of fresh produce and other agricultural goods from the provinces should be eased to support agricultural activity and ensure sufficient food supply while a quarantine aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 is in effect.
Miguel De Guzman / File

IATF extends Luzon quarantine to April 30

MANILA, Philippines — As Luzon braces for an extended enhanced community quarantine, a “modified lockdown” should be considered to ensure smoother delivery of basic goods and allow some businesses to reopen and serve communities, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said yesterday.

In a televised interview, Pernia said restrictions on the entry of cargoes of fresh produce and other agricultural goods from the provinces should be eased to support agricultural activity and ensure sufficient food supply while a quarantine aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is in effect.

“In areas like Calabarzon and Central Luzon and certain areas in the upper north of Luzon, many of them are agricultural provinces. The transport of goods from Benguet, the movement is still restricted. And so that can be eased a bit,” Pernia, director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), said.

Businesses crucial to the manufacture of essential goods should also be allowed to resume operations to satisfy demand.

“Some manufacturing industries need to come back to life in terms of production and other retail businesses that would be useful in this time of limited consumption on the part of the population,” said Pernia. “Also, manufacturing for export. We need to revive that particular sector.”

Businesses that would be allowed to reopen should have shuttle services for their workers. Rule on social distancing should be strictly enforced.

President Duterte has approved the extension of the quarantine until April 30.

This was meant to further contain the spread of COVID-19, as the health sector steps up efforts to increase its capacity to embark on massive testing beginning on April 14.

Pernia said earlier that there must be balance between the health and economic objectives of community quarantine to prevent further damage to the economy and stave off a social crisis.

The prevailing Luzon-wide quarantine, which began on March 17, has forced numerous businesses to shut down, displacing hundreds of thousands of workers.

The government’s decision to extend the community quarantine by two more weeks has been generally welcomed.

Senators said they are in favor of Duterte’s decision but emphasized the emergency cash assistance to the poor and other vulnerable sectors must be extended to three months.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the government must immediately roll out the national ID system, whose implementation has been delayed for a year, to greatly help speed up the delivery of cash grants to the poor.

Sotto said under Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the social amelioration programs can be extended from two months as envisioned by the law to three months.

“If our economy does not appear to be recovering in three months, the amelioration program may be extended to another month. The National ID System has been there since over a year ago, they should do a fast break,” Sotto said.

Budget ‘no problem’

Some 18 million families from the poor and the informal sector  – including those already receiving benefits from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) –  are supposed to receive anywhere from P5,000 to P8,000 monthly to help them cope with the COVID-19 crisis.

“Budget is no concern or problem at all. The President knows that,” he said, adding the 2020 General Appropriations Act remains intact except for “the usual first quarter expenditures.”

“We have to support the extension of the (quarantine) for the general welfare of society, but hand in hand with the health measures we should now prepare for an immediate economic recovery program as a pillar of societal resuscitation,” Sen. Francis Tolentino said.

Sen. Joel Villanueva, chairman of the Senate committee on labor and employment, said the government must also hike its projected subsidies for displaced workers, particularly those in the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME).

Economic managers are reportedly looking for P35 billion for wage subsidies but the figure was based on the list of members of the Social Security System.

Villanueva’s calculation for the cost of wage subsidy for MSME workers based on a 2018 list of establishments from the Philippine Statistics Authority, National Wages Productivity Commission and Department of Trade and Industry, is P53 billion for a 100 percent subsidy.

The amount can go down to P39.7 billion under a 75 percent wage subsidy scheme.

“I am for the extension of the enhanced community quarantine. Mass testing will start only on April 14, we should really extend quarantine if we really want to make our effort against COVID-19 effective,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said.

“While we support the extension of enhanced community quarantine, the government should ensure that the people, especially those affected by the crisis, will be given the necessary assistance,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the government should be prepared to sacrifice some projects, even of flagship infrastructure, if it wants to generate funds for COVID-19 response.

Drilon also called for greater government intervention to ease the impact of the pandemic on Filipinos.

“Tough times call for tough decisions. We are now seeing the far-reaching effects of COVID-19. It is not only the poorest that are affected but also the middle class, as well as small business owners. Sadly, the government’s wallet is depleting as the rest of the Filipino people,” he said.

“If the government is finding it difficult to find funds now, what more for ordinary Filipinos who lost their jobs, small businesses that sustain losses,” he added.

Unfunded items

Drilon claimed there are items in the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act that remain unfunded.

“Perhaps our financial managers would be able to free up some funds that would not be utilized for the intended purpose and realign it to the amelioration programs,” he said.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said, “I believe the critical period of time to deprive the virus of a human host is more than 14 days. It may be better to peg it at 21 days. Hence I agree with the extension subject to earlier lifting if warranted.”

He said he has seen the list of enterprises allowed to operate and agrees that is correct. “We’re allowing what are only ‘essential activities.’ One more round of support for the people affected may be needed and I hope the government can still afford it,” said Pimentel.

P1-trillion loss

Expect the economy to lose P1 trillion in revenue with the extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), Rep. Joel Salceda said yesterday.

Salceda, chairman of the House ways and means committee, said the economy is already expected to incur some P640 billion in revenue losses by the end of the current enhanced community quarantine on April 12.

“If we extend the (quarantine) for two more weeks, that will be another P320 billion for a total of P960 billion or almost P1 trillion,” he revealed to The STAR.

He said the enhanced community quarantine is also expected to significantly cut the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth by 2.4 percent this year.

“Forgone economic activity is expected to be 4.6 percent. If we can boost domestic demand because of the emergency subsidy, we can cut that loss down to 3.6 percent, but we need to deliver the subsidy as soon as possible,” he explained.

The Albay representative stressed he is in favor of extending the enhanced community quarantine, saying it’s a choice between “losing many lives while saving money” and “protecting many lives and recover economic losses later.”

“History and economics do not show that extension is a tradeoff between lives and economic growth. If anything, the more lives we lose and the more panic this virus creates if it gets worse, the less our chances are of any quick recovery. Our people and our confidence – these are the two greatest resources in any economy, and they are the only irreplaceable ones,” he pointed out.

“Economic growth is always in the future. We have many economic tools to restore economic growth. But no economic tool has ever succeeded in bringing the dead back to life,” he said.

Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero and Minority Leader Benny Abante also voiced support for the move to extend the enhanced community quarantine.

“We have to support measures being implemented by the government. There are sacrifices to make for most of us, but this is for the benefit of our people and our nation,” Romero said.

Abante believed that the government considered both scientific and economic factors in coming up with the decision to extend quarantine until April 30.

“Containing this outbreak should be our number one priority, and data from all over the world shows that measures such as the enhanced community quarantine are effective in reducing the transmission of the virus. So let us continue doing this until the data shows it is safe for us to life the (quarantine),” Abante said.   

Militant groups said that while an extended lockdown may be necessary, the government should make sure the basic needs of communities are satisfied.             

“The biggest concern right now is if the government can sustain the needs of the people during the extended lockdown. The longer the lockdown, the greater the number of people needing assistance. Even the middle class is feeling the increasing burden,” said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary-general Renato Reyes.

“Human rights should be respected at all times and freedom of speech guaranteed. The people should be heard not silenced.

“These issues need to be addressed during the extension. These are the same issues that government failed to address during the first phase of the lockdown,” he added.  – Paolo Romero,  Cecille Suerte Felipe, Edu Punay, Rhodina Villanueva

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