We can’t afford extended MECQ – Palace

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
We canât afford extended MECQ â Palace
“Now, I would be lying if I will say that this two-week MECQ will not have a negative impact, because 67 percent of our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is from Metro Manila and Region IV-A, including Cavite, Rizal, Laguna, which are now under lockdown,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said at a virtual press briefing.

MANILA, Philippines — The economy cannot afford an extension beyond Aug.18 of the current modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said yesterday.

“Now, I would be lying if I will say that this two-week MECQ will not have a negative impact, because 67 percent of our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is from Metro Manila and Region IV-A, including Cavite, Rizal, Laguna, which are now under lockdown,” Roque said at a virtual press briefing.

“We are hoping this will just be two weeks since this is the recommendation of our frontliners, a brief timeout. Right now, two weeks of MECQ won’t affect (the country that much),” he said.

On Sunday, President ordered the placing of the National Capital Region and nearby provinces under MECQ in response to a request from the medical community that its workers be given a “timeout” in the face of surging COVID-19 cases.

The Philippine College of Physicians and Philippine Medical Association spearheaded the airing of grievances of doctors and health workers, which piqued the Chief Executive.

“Although the GDP has not been released, there is a serious setback already on our economy during the second quarter and we cannot deny because we locked down the economy,” he added in mixed English and Filipino.

Roque expressed belief that the country’s GDP growth would decline since the country was placed on lockdown last March 17.

“The projection is our GDP growth or decline will be made public by the economic cluster this Thursday. Even if we have not seen it yet, we know that there was a serious impact on our economy during the second quarter when we imposed a lockdown of the economy,” he said.

Economist-lawmakers said the 15-day MECQ is expected to cost the economy P180 billion.

But Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo and Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said the Chief Executive was correct in granting the request of doctors and health workers for a two-week lockdown in Metro Manila and nearby regions.

“Though we stand to lose P12 billion per day, I support the shift from GCQ to MECQ for NCR and others, given the recent spikes in new COVID cases. Our medical frontliners are in the best position to assess whether our health care system still has the capacity to care for our increasing number of COVID patients,” Quimbo stressed in a statement.

“When one’s family is safe, the community is safe and the nation is safe, then our economy can move forward and each worker can begin to earn a living again,” she said.

“We have seen that the supposed ‘tradeoff’ between public health and the economy is superfluous. These are correlated outcomes, with the abatement of the crisis being the leading determinant of market confidence. A stronger grip on public health outcomes drives market confidence, and confidence is everything in economics,” Salceda, chairman of the House ways and means committee, explained.

“The immediate strategy, to me, seems obvious: the economic managers should give the public health managers all the resources they need to improve health outcomes, and the public health managers should do everything they can. Congress is prepared to do this,” Salceda pointed out.

Both lawmakers suggested that the MECQ period should allow the government, especially the Department of Health (DOH), to recalibrate measures to address the pandemic.

“Let us seriously assess how to better collect, analyze and report data. We must use data strategically to reduce new infections. The DOH must clearly communicate to the public what each one has to do to keep their families safe,” Quimbo argued.

“I ask the DOH to shape up. They must disprove the impression that they are merely reactive to developments by demonstrating to the public that they are in control of the situation. This will entail an honest reckoning with current shortcomings, and immediate efforts to improve in those areas. Nothing less will do,” Salceda added.

The lawmakers, however, stressed that the implementation of MECQ would also require the government to provide financial assistance to affected workers.

“LGUs should ensure tracing and isolation of COVID-positive cases. But for this to be done, we should give financial assistance to affected families of these isolated individuals under quarantine. If there’s no aid, these COVID-positive individuals would be forced to work,” Quimbo said.

Workers’ misery

With Metro Manila and other regions now back under MECQ, thousands of workers are again forced to choose between walking to work and staying home with reduced income.

“It’s two weeks of misery for workers, drivers and health workers as the government plunges Mega Manila under modified enhanced community quarantine without the corresponding transport support and aid for workers, including frontline health workers, who continue to go to work even under the stricter community quarantine,” Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) secretary general Jerome Adonis said.

He said workers affected by the MECQ should be provided with financial aid, but President Duterte already declared there is no money left for the purpose.

“This does not make sense as the Philippines has incurred a total of P1.4 trillion in foreign borrowings in 2020 alone, not to mention donations from the private sector for pandemic-related spending,” Adonis said.

Adonis lamented that mass public transport is again disallowed despite the jeepney drivers’ and commuters’ long fight to regain their space on the roads.

“Drivers and operators were successful in bringing back close to 10 percent of their Metro Manila operations. Now they are back to zero,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bong Go is encouraging the IATF to consult more subject-matter experts from various fields and involve groups that are willing to share their expertise. He emphasized that a whole-of-nation approach is needed to overcome the ongoing crisis.

“We’re open to suggestions from doctors, economists because many are willing to help. Let’s listen to the concerns of different groups like the medical community,” Go said.

On suggestions from some groups for the implementation of the strictest ECQ, Go said officials must balance various national interests and consider the capability of the government to provide assistance to the poorest of the poor and other vulnerable sectors.

“Nobody wishes to go back to ECQ, but if we don’t help each other, we may have to tighten rules to prevent the further spread of the disease. Let’s consider first our financial capability to provide assistance to people who may have to stop working or to businesses that may be forced to close shop,” he said. – Edu Punay, Mayen Jaymalin, Pia Lee Brago

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