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MGCQ

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2021 - 12:00am

After nearly a year under ECQ/GCQ, many of us in Metro Manila might have developed what is called the Stockholm syndrome. Although the concept is still in dispute, the syndrome applies to a condition where hostages fall in love with their captors – and, eventually, the condition of captivity.

When community quarantines were imposed last year, many of us thought they would last only a few weeks. I recall family members making plans to gather for Easter Sunday last year.

I welcomed the quarantine orders, thinking they provided an airtight excuse to avoid meetings. With the imposed isolation, combined with Lent, I looked forward to a quiet episode when I could finally clear my shelves and sort out my files, with an eye to getting rid of half the clutter that engulfed my living space.

Today, that clutter remains untouched. The past year was a blur of chasing deadlines and joining Zoom meetings. I am afraid I have grown comfortable with this condition.

Last week, NEDA chief Karl Chua stuck his neck out, advocating the entire country shift to MGCQ status. Earlier this week, the Metro Manila mayors, by the narrowest margin, voted to shift the metropolis to more relaxed restrictions by the beginning of March. Small businessmen, staring down the abyss of bankruptcy, are likely supportive of the proposal.

Health workers are a little unsure of this bold move. After all, the infection figure still hovers at just under 2,000 each day. The World Health Organization warned government against relaxing restrictions too quickly. The independent research group Octa warned against lifting GCQ early. After all, two new virus variants were detected in Cebu and we do not yet know if they are more transmissible or more fatal.

Even the leftist groups that earlier denounced the “militarization” of government’s response to the public health emergency now condemn the possible shift to MGCQ. But then their default response to any government decision is to oppose it, whatever it might be.

For the life of me, I do not really know the substantial distinction between GCQ and MGCQ. What I do know is that the domestic economy will still be contracting during this first quarter because of the restrictions on movement.

Independent of the way the quarantine restrictions are called, it should be important to get as much of public transport operating. That will mean less congestion in the units allowed to operate.

The IATF’s silly decision to allow movie theaters to open distracted the public debate on what might be done to get our small businesses back on their feet and more people employed productively. There is great pain in this stratum.

The lockdown restrictions put the entire weight of containing the infection on government enforcement. It is time now for individuals to take more of the responsibility through observance of personal health protocols.

Abrupt

A segment of our steel industry, manufacturers importing steel coils and processing them into roofing material, was caught off-guard by the DTI’s recent order altering technical specifications and import procedures. The manufacturers are warning of possible shortages and price spikes of roofing material that could delay housing and infrastructure projects.

The DTI order took effect on Jan. 13. Most of the importations, made under the old specifications, are yet to arrive in the coming months since no consultations with industry stakeholders were conducted before the specifications were changed. It was an abrupt shift in policy and the changes in specifications are debatable, considering impact on costs.

To deal with importations coming after the new policy took effect, the DTI prescribed a more laborious process of certification and clearance. An import commodity clearance certificate needs to be filed per product, per shipment and per bill of lading. In addition, importers are now required to provide documentation to prove the date they placed their orders.

In total, importers of roofing materials are now required to submit 24 documents before their shipments are released. In a word, the DTI lengthened the red tape instead of cutting it as President Duterte ordered all of government to do.

All these changes in procedures and documentation will add to the costs of the imported commodity. Processing imports will take longer. The new technical specifications laid down by the DTI will make the products significantly more expensive.

Surely there must have been a way for the DTI to transition a whole industrial sector to a new product regime without inviting the consternation we now see among our manufacturers. The transition should, at the very least, have been less abrupt. An entire supply chain will be disrupted here and that chain may not adjust as quickly to the haste of our policy changes.

One might grant that the DTI feels our consumers deserve higher quality products. But our consumers will also be paying more for thicker roofing with better coating.

The market might have been warned we are shifting to a higher price regime for roofing materials. Housing developers might have been forewarned so they may work their budgets accordingly.

Consumers must now be warned that roofing materials will probably suffer supply and price shocks in the coming days. We do not produce coiled steel locally. All the roofs over all our heads are imported. This hurried shift in policy will feed into the elevated inflation rate we now endure.

Among the reasons our manufacturing sector has hollowed out is the volatility of policies. It sometime seems we have an imperious bureaucracy for which consultation is but an added chore.

The recent DTI order reinforces this impression.

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