Patience, patriotism and ‘Bayanihan’ spirit

There is no doubt the Philippines will survive this dreaded Covid-19 pandemic. The people’s patience, the Bayanihan spirit of the Filipinos, and our patriotism will carry us through these extraordinary times.

The Covid-19 numbers we hear and see everyday on radio and television are really depressing, but the discipline shown by every Filipino in coping with the lockdown, from the barangay to the provincial levels, gives us hope that all’s well that ends well.

The sight of our frontliners—doctors, nurses, medical staff, vendors, utility people and security guards, as well as grocery and drug store staff—tirelessly doing their job to serve the public is lifting our spirit.

Filipinos in an unprecedented gesture and on several occasions are expressing their gratitude to healthcare workers with simultaneous applause ringing throughout the Philippines—from villages, buildings, streets, hospitals to social media. Our unheralded health-care workers that include laboratory technicians and even the janitorial staff deserve the accolades for their hard work.

The private sector’s response to the health crisis is also admirable. Conglomerates and big companies have pledged billions of pesos to feed the hungry, fund the acquisition of protective equipment, or PPEs, and ease the plight of our jeepney, taxi and tricycle drivers and other informal workers whose livelihoods are disrupted by the virus outbreak.

The initiative of some local government units and the Department of Public Works and Highways to develop alternative hospital facilities to accommodate a sharp rise in the number of sick patients is another example of our bayanihan spirit at its best.

My company, the Villar Group of Companies, for example, is doing its share in helping the Duterte administration fight Covid-19. We are working with the Public Works Department and EEI Corp. to convert several halls of the Philippine International Convention Center into a health facility.

It will spearhead the conversion of Forum Halls 1 to 3 of the PICC into a much-needed facility to treat Covid-19 patients, and watch over those under monitoring and investigation. Once converted, the PICC Forum Halls will assist in the treatment of roughly 630 Covid-19 patients.

More converted facilities will rise in the next few weeks in anticipation of an increase in the Covid-19 cases, as the Philippines conducts mass testing. The Ninoy Aquino Stadium inside the Rizal Memorial Complex will be operational as early as next week, while those in both the PICC and the World Trade Center in Pasay City will be finished on April 11.

The virus outbreak, meanwhile, has taken its toll on the Philippine economy, with the Asian Development Bank now expecting the economic growth to slow down significantly this year to 2 percent from an expansion of 5.9 percent in 2019. This is a foregone conclusion. But I think the government must focus first on successfully containing the spread of Covid-19 before “restarting” the economy by the middle of May or early June.

I agree with the personal position of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno, who warns of an “enormous risk in restarting the economy prematurely.” The debate across the globe is should nations keep the lockdown measures without causing permanent damage to the economy.

A form of lockdown already covers half of the Earth. In the country, the quarantine as we all know restricted all nonessential movement of people and closed down businesses and government agencies in Luzon―which accounts for 70 percent of the gross domestic product.

The government and the private sector are now debating over a “selective lockdown” and gradual resumption of economic activity when the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon ends on April 14. Keeping the population away from harm, however, remains a tough task in the absence of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Perhaps, we should give way to the conduct of more extensive Covid-19 tests to keep the virus curve in check and preserve the gains during the quarantine period.

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