FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - July 28, 2020 - 12:00am

This week, as July ends, yet another decision point will be reached about quarantine arrangements for the National Capital Region. After the tally of new cases in Region VII subsided, Metro Manila is uncontested as the epicenter of the pandemic in this country.

With new cases hovering around 2,000 several days the past week, several medical experts have asked the IATF to revert Metro Manila to MECQ. There are only so many active cases we could handle before contact tracing becomes an exercise in futility.

Over the last two weeks, several neighborhoods and one entire town were subjected to “hard lockdown” to quash clusters of infection. This is part of the more “granular” strategy adopted by the IATF to fight viral outbreaks without having to freeze the entire metropolitan economy.

We have yet to arrive at an assessment if this new strategy is a suitable replacement for the widespread quarantines enforced before. Already the Philippines established a record for the length and severity of its lockdowns.

Metro Manila and the southern Tagalog region account for about two-thirds of the national GDP. Should quarantine restrictions be maintained (or even tightened) in these two areas, a deeper recession is assured.

Already, one investment think tank has forecast an L-shaped recovery for the Philippines. That means the recession will continue on for some time before we are able to muster some growth.

Many small businesses are unlikely to survive that. High unemployment will produce untold misery for millions of Filipinos.

Even before the July 15 decision was reached to keep the NCR in general community quarantine status, business associations were clamoring for more relaxation of restrictions. This will have to include restoring all forms of mass transport to enable workers to get to the factories.

The suspension of public transport last March caused the phenomenon of “locally stranded individuals.” Last week, thousands of them crammed the Rizal Coliseum in the desperate hope of getting a ride to their home provinces. Many of them lost their jobs in the city and are trying to go home to try and carve out a new life there. Nothing illustrates the grimness of their plight than the sight of hundreds huddled at the port in the hope a ship could take them home.

The end-July decision point will be a vital one. A decision to move towards more relaxation or a reversion to tighter restrictions on movement will depend principally on the outcomes of “granular” lockdowns. If these highly localized lockdowns fail to stem the tide of infections, then the rest of the year will look a lot dimmer.

We cannot risk a large spread of infections that will overwhelm our health system.


Last Friday, news broke that MMDA Chairman Danilo Lim had ousted Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) Chairperson Liza Dino from the executive committee of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). The basis for that news is a social media post by MMDA spokesperson Celine Pialago.

The showbiz community was surprised by this sudden development. The MMFF this year was cancelled because of the pandemic. The FDCP’s Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino is not happening this year for the same reason. The film industry in the country is basically in induced coma because of the health crisis.

It turns out Lim had written a rather lengthy letter to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on July 20. This letter went through a detailed discussion of the legal basis for the MMDA chairing the film festival (under President Marcos’ Proclamations 1459 and 1533). Those presidential proclamations had the effect of law. Therefore, any attempt to recast the management of this popular festival needed legislation.

The same letter likewise went into some detail about the effectiveness of the MMDA chairing this annual event, the general beneficial effect this festival brings to the local film industry and the robust earnings they even made the past few years. Those earnings helped local producers recover their investments. From Lim’s viewpoint, no other agency was better positioned for chairing this festival than the MMDA.

Lim’s letter submitted last week was addressing a proposal made by Dino back in 2017 that the MMFF be turned over to the FDCP. The proposal apparently pointed out a film festival was beyond the scope of the MMDA’s mandate and well within the mission of the FDCP.

We will have to go back into history to understand what might appear to be the oddity of the MMDA being put in charge of a film festival. When the 1975 presidential proclamations declaring a week reserved entirely for Filipino-made movies, the Metro Manila Commission was headed by then First Lady Imelda Marcos. At that time, she appointed herself patroness of culture and the arts. She pushed for the establishment of the Cultural Center as well as the ill-fated Film Center.

At any rate, it appears that Lim was offended by a claim made by Dino in her earlier letter that the MMDA’s handling of the film festival was marked by “controversies.” In his letter to Medialdea, the MMDA chair underscored the glowing auditor’s reports of the film festival’s earnings and expenditure.

Having made the proposal to transfer the festival to the control of the agency she heads, Lim now considers Dino conflicted. This was the reason given for removing Dino from the MMFF executive committee.

Dino says she made no further effort to advance her 2017 proposal. But she should have known the matter requires legislation – not Palace intervention.

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