The effect of ECQ/GCQ on people’s lives
THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - June 17, 2020 - 12:00am

Our village tennis coach is at the end of his rope. Unable to work for 93 days, he made ends meet by working as a part time gardener and relying on subsidies from the government. His wife, an inventory clerk, was laid-off in the second week of the ECQ. With gardening gigs dried up and subsidies from government now depleted, our coach has resorted to asking (begging) the villagers for financial aid. The father of two is facing eviction from his apartment and is finding it hard to provide three meals a day for his family. Nowadays, a meal consists of a pack of instant noodles and an egg. His situation is tragic considering he has a degree in physical kinetics.

I was one of those he texted for financial assistance. I helped in whatever capacity I could. This man is no longer the healthy, cheerful athlete he was three months ago. He is broken – beaten by despair and crushed by his circumstances. He must have lost 25 pounds as the tendons in his neck are now protruding.

His eyes turned glassy when he received my ayuda. I could tell it was from feelings of gratitude, shame and fear. With desperation, he told me that his family would not survive if the quarantine continues. If malnourishment wont kill them, then depression will. He mentioned suicide in the course of our conversation. The man’s back is against the wall and for as long as the quarantine lasts, there is no way out for him.

Meanwhile, inside the confines of our village, a neighbor (and friend) has a different problem. He invested in boutique hotels to cash-in on our booming tourism industry.

Over the last seven years, he built three hotels in Manila and Calabarzon with two new projects underway in Cebu and Boracay. His expansion was financed by internal capital and bank loans.

My neighbor planned to grow his chain to ten hotels, operate them to maximum profitability and sell them to a bigger chain for 12 times its annual profits. The proceeds would be enough to pay off his debts whilst providing him with a handsome sum for his golden years.

The new Cebu and Boracay hotels were due to open last March. But due to the pandemic, the opening is postponed indefinitely.

My friend faces serious financial problems. The three existing hotels have an occupancy rate below 10 percent and its revenues are not enough to cover payroll, let alone other expenses. As for the two new hotels, he can no longer count on a healthy influx of guests considering the absence of foreign tourists and the continued restrictions on domestic travel. He must now support the overhead expenses of five hotels without the revenues to back it up.

Making matters worse is that bank amortization for his loans are now due. Even with extreme cost-cutting and loan restructuring, my desperate neighbor will bleed cash. If nothing changes, he faces insolvency in three months.

Government has not helped. While it boasts of a multi-billion rescue package for businesses in distress, it has chosen to rely on the banking system to dispense these loans. Problem is, banks shy away from SMEs and industries deemed high-risk, like the tourism sector. They grant the lion’s share of available funds to the conglomerates, particularly those who owe them hundreds of millions. It serves the bank’s best interest to keep these conglomerates alive.

My tennis coach and neighbor belong to different worlds, but they share the same despair. Millions of Filipinos are going through the same experience.

All these put to question whether government’s harsh prescription to curb the pandemic is worth it.

With its extreme quarantine measures, the IATF needlessly destroyed whole industries. It caused more job layoffs than necessary and caused enough bankruptcies among MSMEs to destroy the very backbone of the economy. And the worse is not over – the economy will contract by four percent this year and this will trigger even more layoffs and financial catastrophes among private firms.

The tragedy of it all is that despite its draconian prescription, the IATF still can’t claim victory over the Wuhan virus. Infections are still up and now migrating to cities like Cebu. It can’t even determine where we are in the infection curve since its base data is inaccurate. Even at this late stage, the IATF has yet to achieve 30,000 COVID tests per day.

The IATF mistakenly thought that militaristic quarantines would be enough to arrest the virus. As such, it did not embark on a program of intense testing and tracing until mid-April. Worse, it failed to consider that we have a young population with a median age of 23.5, who are able to resist the virus.

The IATF solution, the ECQ and GCQ, were overkill. It gave little consideration to its effect on the economy and its effect on people’s lives. It has caused more anguish and despair than called for.

I said it before and I’ll say it again – if the IATF had included economists and real scientists into its fold (not only military men and a doctor/politician), it would have adopted a more balanced strategy. Perhaps a strategy where testing and tracing were the priority and the lockdown only applied to the barangays where those infected reside. Not the whole Luzon and key cities.

The IATF failed to calibrate the consequences of its strategy versus its benefits. It bulldozed its way with its militaristic quarantine which is not only failing, but also causing hunger, desperation, malnutrition (and deaths) of our countrymen, not to mention driving 200,000 MSMEs to bankruptcy. Meanwhile, New Zealand, Australia and Vietnam have flattened their curve and saved their economies with much milder measures.

While it may be true that the economy may recover in a year or two on the back of infrastructure spending, it will not restore the livelihood of all 4.9 million Filipinos who have lost their jobs. That will take at least a decade. It will not restore the businesses and life’s work of our hardworking entrepreneurs.

There is nothing we can do about the damage wrought by the IATF’s quarantine. The best it can do, as we move forward, is to open up the economy with the necessary safety protocols. Stop using fear to control our people into submission because fear is the foil to our consumer-driven economy.

Lets be honest – the fumbles of the IATF put to question the competence of this administration.

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