Among happiest before, today we're worse-off
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - August 10, 2020 - 12:00am

From being among the world's happiest, Filipinos are suddenly worse off. The Philippines is now Asia-Pacific's COVID-19 pandemic hot spot. Too its economy slid -16.5 percent in Q2-2020. The one-sixth GDP shrinkage is worse than government's pessimistic forecast of -12 percent, and the worst among ASEAN's majors. It is the Republic's first recession in 30 years, and the worst in its history. "One for the books," economist Edson Guido rounded up Thursday's quintuple-whammy news. People are hungry, jobless, with no savings, Sen. Franklin Drilon said.

Pray that Filipinos do not also lose hope.

Much depends on balancing healthcare with economic revival. Rife is a lament that the world's longest-running C-19 lockdown to date was wasted. Allegedly the Dept. of Health fumbled on basics like testing and masking, and in adding facilities, supplies, and medical workers. Overwhelmed by infection surge, officials locked down the country, economist-entrepreneur Andrew Masigan recounted on Sapol (DWIZ) Saturday. Yet "ayuda" to 18 million poor families came only once, spotty at that. With the economy three-fourths consumption-based abruptly immobilized, businesses fell. Eight million lost livelihoods. Forty percent of the one million micro, small and medium enterprises can no longer reopen. Congress devoted time not on crisis policymaking. Instead it closed the widest reaching, highest employing broadcaster, revised the anti-terror law, and unconstitutionally let full foreign equity into telecom utilities. All the while coronavirus contagion spread.

Officials promised to review all that. But not before accusing 40 medical societies of plotting revolution and demeaning government in publicizing their call for re-strategizing.

Any new plan must be fact-based. Yet till last weekend propaganda echoed. On being C-19 epicenter, the health secretary trumpeted the Philippines' 109-million population and 123,000-infectee ratio, versus Singapore's six million people with 54,000 sickened. His point being, that rich Singapore was in worse shape, when actually it was testing more. The presidential spokesman in turn claimed Philippine contact-tracing superiority, versus 274 million Indonesians but only 121,000 verified cases. Yet the new contact-tracing czar, Baguio mayor Benjamin Magalong, has just reported that only four of 614 surveyed locales have working systems.

None deigned to mention the neighbor with closest population figure to the Philippines'. Vietnam's 97 million people had only 750 cases. The big difference is that Vietnam lost no time in contact tracing and street-targeted, not shotgun, quarantining, said Masigan, columnist of The STAR and BusinessWorld. Result: although Vietnam's economy too dipped, it still posted +.36 percent GDP in Q2-2020. Not to forget, Vietnam ably roped in many departing companies from China.

The Philippines always ranked high in Asia and global happiness indices. Foremost factors that make Filipinos happy are family, health, and religion, the National Statistics Coordinating Board reported in 2010. The three are entwined. Family includes home togetherness, celebrations with extended kin and friends, and children's assured schooling. Health meant family nutrition, along with comprehensive healthcare and social security benefits from the state and employers. Despite disasters, religion – faith – “allows us to hope for something better in the future," wrote De La Salle University management and strategy Prof. Reynaldo Lugtu Jr. in 2013. "We pray and attend worship services regularly in the company of our family, who again we want to take care of and provide life's necessities."

Surveys last June dramatized Filipino anxiety. Eighty-seven percent said they fear most the infection of a family member. Eighty-three percent said their lot has worsened. Those were the grimmest trends in Philippine polling history, Social Weather Stations said.

Political freedoms, state services, and public/community order and security are among other happiness factors cited in in-depth studies and random polls. Again all link to family, health, religion. All dovetail with anti-coronavirus strategies.

The plan cannot hang on vaccine from China alone. It must rely on Filipino capabilities. It must unite, not divide. It must inspire, not insult.

Lockdowns are to buy time to prepare. They cannot be forever. They give rise to other health and social miseries: increase in alcoholism, physical abuse, sloth, anxiety, psychosis, and suicide. Prolonged school closure will result in low aptitude, juvenile delinquency, rootlessness and meaninglessness, learning loss, dropout, and wider social inequalities.

Economically there's light. The Asian Development Bank forecasts slighter GDP contractions in Q3, -6.7 percent; and Q4, -1 percent -- although the sudden Mega Manila re-lockdown this August is not yet factored in. From there ADB is optimistic of +3.3 percent in 2021 and +4.5 percent in 2022.

How to get there? Masigan outlines four steps:

(1) Consumption stimulus through "ayuda" completion under Bayanihan Acts 1 and 2, with solving of bureaucratic kinks and theft ("Don't take these out of the allocations for education and public works");

(2) Judicious use of $7-billion foreign loans for C-19 response;

(3) Attract foreign investment and pass laws to make the country more competitive; and

(4) Save the micro, small, and medium businesses, the backbone of the economy.

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Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. (Proverbs 31:8)

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

My book "Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government" is available on Amazon:

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