Commentary: Extraordinary collaboration in times of COVID-19 pandemic
In this March 24, 2020 photo, workers and volunteers help in repacking relief goods.
The STAR/Felicer Santos
Commentary: Extraordinary collaboration in times of COVID-19 pandemic
Paco Pangalangan ( - April 18, 2020 - 3:54pm

It has already been over two months since the country’s first positive case of COVID-19 was detected and over a month since Luzon was placed under an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). Still, our government’s response and emergency guidelines to the pandemic are evolving daily.

What appeared to be one of the well-defined aspects of the government response plan though was the immediate distribution of financial aid to low-income families, many of whom are daily wage earners whose income was drastically affected by the ECQ. This Social Amelioration Program (SAP) received the bulk of the funds re-programed by the new Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

Unfortunately, the roll-out of the SAP was much slower than many had hoped. According to data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), only 21% of the allocated cash subsidies were successfully distributed to beneficiaries as of April 13, 2020, two days before the original date the ECQ was set to end.

Surely many of us were disappointed but not entirely surprised by our government’s inefficient response to the crisis. As Filipinos, many of us have already gotten used to the inefficiency, red tape, and lack of transparency encountered when dealing with public institutions and officials.

However, there are still those that defend the government’s performance. Some of them argue that the task of distributing P200 billion worth of assistance to millions of families spread across Luzon is by no means easy. And that because of this, we should also understand if the government is slow to implement its programs and is less exact about where the funds have gone.

And it is true, the government does have a lot of money to spend on its crisis response. In fact, the P200 billion allocated for financial aid by the Bayanihan to Heal to as One Act does not yet include the 75 billion the law also allotted for health services. Besides that, the government can also tap into the Department of Health’s P100 billion and the PhilHealth’s P71 billion budgets for the year 2020 to improve its COVID-19 response and health services. 

Furthermore, the government will also have access to a P300 billion credit line with the Central Bank, to around P280 billion pesos it loaned from the World Bank, and billions more in pledges from the private sector. And though the Department of Finance considered all of these amounts when it announced the value of its latest economic package, P1.45 trillion is by no means an insignificant amount of taxpayer money.

So yes, the government is being tasked to distribute and spend an extraordinarily large amount of money to respond to COVID-19. And while it may make political sense for the national government to centralize its response, it does not make practical sense. Instead of politicizing the crisis, the government should focus on improving the efficiency program implementation.

The key to unlocking this improvement is for the national government to realize that it must stop with it political maneuvering and get on with the program. 

Hardworking and creative local government units (LGUs) are its partners on the ground. Tap into their granular understanding of the needs of their constituents and enable them to respond to their unique needs. 

The business community and civil society groups are its willing partners ready to mobilize their resources, knowledge, networks and time to help communities and frontlines. Maximize the passion, credibility and networks of civil society groups to launch information dissemination campaigns to inform people about important developments and educate them on how to keep safe and healthy during the pandemic.

Take advantage of the private sector’s specialized expertise and efficiency to more effectively implement government response programs. Just imagine if the DSWD partnered with initiatives such as Project Ugnayan to distribute aide to low-income communities?

If Project Ugnayan isn’t familiar, it is an initiative led by the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) in cooperation with the country’s top business groups. According to Project Lead Fernando Zobel de Ayala it is an “unprecedented assembly of so many of the country’s corporations and business families”, who, soon after the ECQ began, started to raise funds to provide aid to low-income communities in Metro Manila. 

In just over three weeks, the project raised over P1.6 billion and provided 1,522,569 families or 7,612,845 people from vulnerable Metro Manila communities with assistance in the form of grocery vouchers for food and essential supplies.

In addition to making the implementation of response programs more efficient, the collaboration between the government, private sector and civil society groups could also lead to much needed transparency in the disbursement and allocation of the crisis response funds. And with the government’s health, social and economic package worth over one trillion pesos, the increased openness, transparency and accountability that multi-sectoral collaboration can bring is very much needed.

Manuel V. Pangilinan, the co-chairman of PDRF, said that he was proud to be part of Project Ugnayan because it represented an “extraordinary collaboration between industries”. 

We will continue to need this extraordinary collaboration between the business community, civil society, LGUs and the National Government to rebuild the extensive economic damage of this pandemic.

As PDRF Co-Chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala said, “This is a movement we should nurture as we prepare to let people return to work and to re-start our economy in the post-quarantine period.”


Paco Pangalangan is executive director of think thank Stratbase ADR Institute.

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