‘Boomlet’ to spur the economy

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

At this point in time, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic will definitely continue to persist. The World Health Organization (WHO) itself conceded the COVID-19 pandemic will linger on much longer even as successes have been made to find vaccines and medicines against it. This is the reality that we are all facing despite the increasing number of people getting vaccinations to fight off the deadly COVID-19 infection.

This is happening not just in the Philippines but for the rest of the global community impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But in our country’s case, anti-COVID vaccination is not as wide and as fast as our government would have wanted it done. We depend much for anti-COVID vaccines supplied by richer countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and China. And while it is among the countries that have COVID-19 cases, India has at least many vaccine manufacturers that can supply them with the needed anti-COVID vaccines.

So it is indeed a welcome news that we received information from the Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) on the progress of its negotiations with international pharmaceutical companies for a potential joint venture undertaking to put up a vaccine manufacturing plant in the Philippines. MPIC director for government relations and public affairs Atty.Mike Toledo shared the good news with us during our virtual conversations at the Tuesday Club zoom webinar breakfast gathering.

Earlier, businessman leader Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP), chairman of the board of the MPIC, earlier confirmed the announcement made by a local vaccine distribution firm Glovax Biotech Corp. of their negotiations of the planned manufacturing vaccine plant here in our country.Toledo, however, clarified, the vaccine plant will not just produce anti-COVID vaccines but also vaccines that will immunize people against other infectious and deadly diseases.

Updating us on this project, Dr. Jeff Staples, chief operating officer of the MPIC’s Hospital Holdings Inc. disclosed, the MVP conglomerate is set to partner with an international pharma company to build a vaccine manufacturing hub here in our country. Joining us in our Tuesday Club webinar, Dr. Staples described their investment project as a “critical infrastructure” in the MPIC’s vision to enable the Philippines ­– the government in particular – to effectively address any future pandemic-proportion public health emergency like the COVID-19 infection through this vaccine-making factory plant here.

In the meantime, Dr. Staples welcomed the government decision, through the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), to no longer require the private sector to share or donate 50 percent of AstraZeneca anti-COVID-19 vaccines procured under a Tripartite Agreement. Private sector companies like the MPIC signed up for 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines that are scheduled for delivery starting next month.

The MPIC will also procure an additional 800,000 doses of Moderna anti-COVID vaccines, Dr. Staples disclosed, to participate in the government’s mass vaccination program starting this August. As part of its corporate social responsibility, he explained, the MPIC will be putting up vaccination centers to administer Moderna vaccines “at cost” or “no profit” terms as soon as the IATF gives them the go-signal.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda who was our main guest speaker at the Tuesday Club webinar welcomed the initiatives of the MPIC. Salceda highlighted the active involvement of the private sector companies as crucial in the country’s economic recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Regarded as the resident economist at the 18th Congress, Salceda noted with optimism the resiliency demonstrated by the private sector to help save jobs in our country in the aftermath of the lockdowns resorted by the government following the resurgence of COVID-19 cases. The surge affected largely the national capital region and nearby provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal, collectively called as the “NCR plus bubble.”

Salceda though does not see the need for another round of lockdowns in the country amid the reported incidence of foreign variants of the COVID-19 that caused the resurgence here in the Philippines.“Because that will only work when the variants are not yet inside,” Salceda pointed out. Salceda deplored the lockdowns are “inhumane” and caused major damages to our country’s economic growth due to so many jobs and huge income losses to Filipinos.

Salceda as well as Malacanang were thus not surprised at all after the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that unemployed Filipinos stood at 4.14 million in April, or up from the 3.44 million jobless Filipinos recorded in March. Thus, the unemployment rate increased to 8.7% in April, higher than and 7.1% in March.

The “NCR plus bubble” areas were placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), or euphemism for hard lockdown, last March to April 12. The IATF downgraded this to modified ECQ until April 30. It was eased further in mid-May until end of this month to general community quarantine (GCQ) with restrictions. Aside from contributing 60% of the country’s total gross domestic product, the bulk of jobs and employment are in “NCR Plus bubble.”

As the chairman of the House ways and means committee, Salceda credited the strong base of State revenues built up by the various tax reform laws. These funded much of the procurement of the vaccines and other anti-COVID measures of the government. Salceda shepherded the passage into laws of these tax reform measures from 2018-2019. Salceda noted with optimism the vaccination program of the government has since shifted to high gears following the delivery of larger amounts of anti-COVID vaccines.

“I think the (vaccination) jabs will create the jobs for our people,” Salceda punned.

Spurred by campaign spending for the May, 2022 national and local elections, Salceda bravely forecast what he calls as “boomlet” of economic recovery to kick off in the second half of this year.

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