Not just sweethearts

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - October 9, 2020 - 12:00am

Word from Secretary Karlo Nograles is that the IATF or Inter-Agency Task Force for the Managament of Emerging Infectious Diseases is currently reviewing requests or appeals for IATF to allow foreign fiancées or live-in partners to enter the country. As it turns out, even DFA Secretary Teddyboy Locsin has reportedly instructed his staff to find ways and means to get around the draconian if not ill-planned ban on inbound foreigners. It’s good to know that the romantic inclinations of Filipinos continue to play into government policies during the pandemic, but allow me to point out to the IATF and to anyone in government who would care to read and listen: Don’t limit the opening of borders to sweethearts only.

First of all the IATF should have done a long overdue review of their ban on foreigners based on their previous presumptions, aside from the fact that we are on the 7th month into the pandemic. What has changed and requires modifications? When the ban was first imposed it was to prevent foreigners coming from highly infected countries to come into the Philippines. Ironically, the IATF nullified any benefits or protection that the ban would have created because almost simultaneously, the government decided to let thousands of OFWs come back to the Philippines that created a one step forward/five steps backward sort of move.

When the ban was imposed we did not have thousands of cases, but now we have over 300,00 cases and 5,865 deaths. We are now top of the charts for COVID-19 cases in ASEAN, number 20 globally, so in terms of disease management and prevention the influx of foreigners is presently the least of our worries. When the ban started, we did not even have sufficient stocks of face masks, barely any supply of COVID-19 test kits and no clear idea about the virus and protocols. Since then there are now various types of masks, face shields, PPEs, various type of testing kits and procedures and the world has for several months developed procedures for inbound quarantine, protocols for testing and air travel, etc. In other words, if the IATF did not have its multiple heads deep in the sand or managing things anonymously they could have easily made adjustments merely by following the best practices around the world.

So why am I pushing for the IATF to relax the ban on all foreigners and not just for sweethearts? Well, just look at all the advertisements and promotions we are doing for Philippine tourism on cable TV where we entice people to “Wake up” in the Philippines. How is that possible if they can’t get into the Philippines? Of a more serious concern are the foreigners who are legitimate investors in the Philippines, expats who have homes or have relocated to the Philippines on or for business. Just do the math on rentals, utilities and salaries for service personnel such as maids, cooks, drivers, office staff, etc. Just like the pointless tourism promotion without tourists, it is pointless for government officials to talk about reviving the economy if we won’t let investors in, expats and foreign staff of banks, international agencies, embassies, etc. Last I heard a couple of teachers for an international school found themselves stranded – one in Hong Kong, the other in Japan – desperately trying to get back to the Philippines. Clearly we need to let foreigners back into the Philippines and not just sweethearts. The IATF also needs to review their policies more often and update or modify these at least every 60 days if not sooner. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, gentlemen; many countries and leaders are clearly doing a much better and faster job of dealing with COVID-19. Simply “do as the Romans do” and copy the best practices from abroad.

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My good friend “Albert” recently asked if we will ever go back to normal. Instinctively, I replied perhaps in two years. But in hindsight I should have said: I hope not. In spite of the draw backs, financial losses and difficulties of living in the time of COVID-19, there are so many obvious benefits that COVID-19 indirectly created but many people can’t fully grasp because they are essentially living in denial. If you are on Facebook, you might have noticed that so many people keep posting “Yesterday Photos” of travels and parties and always wishing or saying, “Hope to do this again” or “Maybe soon.”

While we all talk about the “longest and strictest lockdown in the world,” did you ever wonder why we have not held protests or civil disobedience marches? Because it is also the longest spare time we’ve ever had to do the other things we never had time to do and we don’t need to justify staying home. No one will call you lazy, worthless or an under achiever for gardening, doing carpentry, cooking meals, doing artwork and the like. You are now all caught up on every member of your family and getting a taste of what real Quantity time and Quality time mean and demand. We simply need to stop longing for the past or dreaming of the future but instead focus on today. Here’s a word from the book of Jeremiah along those lines:

To the exiles in Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in numbers there; do not decrease. Also seek the prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

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