Refocus on the pandemic, please

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I believe that one key to resilience is our ability to see the silver linings, the opportunities that become evident as we pursue efforts to overcome disasters and crisis.

Phinma Education’s president, Dr. Chito Salazar, just recently on this same column concluded that “we shouldn’t waste this opportunity to recreate education not only for the pandemic, but also for a whole new world.”

Recent articles by McKinsey & Company have been encouraging companies to recognize the need for continuing innovation in these challenging times, as failure to innovate will lead to almost certain demise.

While there are indeed exciting developments and initiatives already igniting sparks of hope, I will not talk of these, but rather would like to put the spotlight on how this crisis is also being abused in insidious ways.

How the anti-terrorism bill was passed recently by Congress and now awaits only the President’s action or inaction to become law is one glaring example of abuse of the pandemic.

While I agree that we may need a more effective law to counter terrorism, a law like this deserves more scrutiny and should benefit from more constructive dialogue.

However, while many groups were busy trying to save our nation and our people from the virus, our Congress leaders saw it fit to railroad its passage, instead of rushing much more urgent laws needed to save the country’s economy and create jobs.

Malacañang has said it is reviewing the law before the President makes a decision. Although the President certified this as urgent, I appeal to him to veto the law in its current form and urge Congress to also focus first and foremost on saving the nation and the people from COVID-19.

All over social media today are pictures of jeepney drivers begging along the streets, because they are still not allowed to ply their routes to make a decent living.

Instead, only the modern e-jeepneys are being allowed to start operations. It seems some of our officials in government saw the pandemic as the opportunity to wish away all the old and inefficient jeepneys by simply denying our drivers any chance to rise from this crisis.

While this seems like a very efficient way to realize the objective of transport modernization, doing so now when most people are barely surviving and jobs are quickly disappearing is heartless and just plain anti-poor. Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, I am sure, is now aware that this may not be the right time to push the modernization. Secretary, please save our jeepney drivers.

Another program that has been made to ride on the pandemic is the “Balik Probinsya.” I have for decades seen this program come and go.

It has its merits, but the current program was clearly too hastily rolled out with not enough consideration for unintended consequences.

Without first addressing the lack of opportunities in the countryside, not to mention the weak social services and the poor infrastructure development, our kababayans sent back to the provinces may very quickly find themselves with little choice but to return to the cities again, or worse, become victims of illegal overseas work recruiters always preying on the desperate in the rural areas. And with lack of planning, the program just became another vehicle for the virus to spread even to previously safe zones.

Our very popular senator and presidential adviser, Bong Go, has been the lead champion of this program, and he can withdraw support for the program pending more thorough planning and dialogues. An essential first step, which again brings us all back to our worst enemy today, is to address the weaknesses of health care in the countryside.

Since the pandemic brought never-before-imagined conditions all over the world, I have always echoed the call for an all-of-nation approach to save our economy and our people. For the three cases cited above, the President, a senator, and an esteemed secretary have a unique opportunity to make everyone refocus on beating the pandemic and be the leaders we need. May I thank you in advance?

Peter Angelo V. Perfecto is former executive director of the Makati Business Club.

Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club.

Posted on 20 June 2020 under Business Matters section of The Philippine Daily Inquirer