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We see the light at the end of the tunnel

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - December 13, 2020 - 12:00am

The world’s first historic and fully tested approved COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer, administered by a Filipino nurse to a 90-year-old woman in the UK, made it to front page news everywhere – including here in the United States.

No doubt, we are all proud of our nurses and health workers because they are among the best – if not the best – in the world, as exemplified by British-Filipina May Parsons, a nurse in the National Health Service of the UK for more than two decades.

The vaccine developed by the 171-year-old pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German partner BioNTech showed 95 percent efficacy, and other countries such as Canada and Bahrain are already rolling out following approvals from their respective health agencies.

It’s very unfortunate that Health Secretary Francisco Duque took so long in signing something as simple as a confidentiality disclosure agreement (CDA) with Pfizer that would have started the ball rolling, so to speak, for the potential acquisition of the vaccines – especially since as early as July, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin spoke with US State Secretary Mike Pompeo about our interest in acquiring the vaccine as we followed it up with the White House.

US pharma companies including Pfizer immediately reached out to us, saying they would be happy to supply our requirements, with the Pfizer country manager in Manila waiting for the review process to start through the CDA signing. But action was only taken in October – during which time other countries got ahead of us. FedEx was prepared to transport the vaccine on highly specialized refrigeration containers to Clark Airport where they established a big hub. Nonetheless, we are pleased Secretary Charlie Galvez has taken over the vaccine procurement process, taking action with dispatch and military precision.

All nations must have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines because we need to have at least 60 to 70 percent of the global population to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. In the meantime, people should continue to exercise caution and should not let their guard down, especially this Christmas, because the virus is still very much around. There is one biotech company developing a COVID-19 vaccine that is also planning a joint venture with a Philippine company. We are hopeful that deal will push through.

Filipinos have survived so many difficulties in the past because of our ability to bounce back no matter what. All that negative talk about equating resilience with helplessness is insulting to hardworking Filipinos because we are definitely a resilient people – adaptable, flexible, hardworking, able to adjust according to the situation instead of indulging in self-pity. Now more than ever, we have to tap our inner resiliency, creativity and innovativeness while maintaining a positive outlook because our recovery will also depend on our conviction that things will get better – because they will get better.

It’s not only the Philippines that is feeling the constriction due to this pandemic but the whole world as well. But one of the silver linings to all this is the private sector setting aside differences, stepping up and demonstrating innovativeness in order to stay resilient during this crisis. This was evident in the results of a study conducted by Microsoft that showed 88 percent of business decision-makers in the Philippines saying that “innovation is now a ‘must’ for them to respond quickly to market challenges and opportunities, and ensure business resilience.”

According to Microsoft Philippines country general manager Andres Ortola, the study showed that “having a mature culture of innovation translates to resilience and strength to withstand economic crises and recover.” That Filipinos are stepping up in terms of innovation is also underscored by the recent Global Innovation Index ranking of the Philippines that went up four notches to 50th – the country’s “best rank ever,” according to the report.

Despite the economic contraction – which is also experienced by many nations all over – the economy is seen rebounding with growth projected at 5.9 percent in 2021 and 6 percent in 2022, according to the World Bank. The Asian Development Bank also sees a 6.5 percent growth in 2021 – the second fastest growth projected among Southeast Asian nations.

The latest Consumer and Business Expectation Surveys from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas also showed consumer and business confidence going up in the last three months, with businessmen seeing better prospects next year as gradual recovery is seen with the availability of vaccines driving demand. Respondents also said they foresee hiring more people in the first quarter of 2021.

As expected, we have the usual suspects who enjoy projecting a doom and gloom Philippine scenario, propagating a pessimistic outlook, deliberately highlighting negative stories – some of them Filipino groups here in the US – thinking they are hurting the country but in reality only shooting themselves in the foot, hurting their family and friends back home. They should always remember that no matter where they are, they will always go back: “Babalik at babalik rin kayo sa bayan ninyo.” They can adapt to a new country but they can never deny their roots. As my father used to always say – “there will always be a Philippines” and “we have only one country.”

UK-based nurse May Parsons said she is “very proud to say to everyone, I am a Filipino-Briton making history” as she administered the first COVID-19 vaccine. Indeed, we see in Ms. Parsons, as well as the other frontliners and doctors working hard and sacrificing – the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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