Business representation in the IATF
Better late than never.
That best describes the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to allow officials of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) to act as resource persons in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Health Secretary Francisco Duque III at the helm, the IATF, which consists of members of the Cabinet, ordered in March a lockdown in Luzon and other parts of the country to arrest the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The abrupt imposition of the lockdown caught businesses in the region that accounts for 90 percent of economic activities in the Philippines flat-footed.
They were practically blindsided as they did not have the opportunity to plan ahead for the suspension of public transportation, limitation of movement of private motor vehicles and forced confinement of people, other than police and military personnel, in their homes.
Going into its sixth month, the longest lockdown in the world does not appear to have accomplished its objective of arresting the spread of the deadly virus.
The so-called curve has yet to flatten and health care workers have their hands still full attending to infected patients. And worse, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., the government agency tasked with providing the funds needed to fight the virus, is racked by corruption issues.In the meantime, some 7.3 million (and counting) Filipinos have been rendered jobless due to pandemic-related reasons, the economy is in a recession and the national debt is mounting.
The latest Social Weather Stations survey showed that among 18-year-old Filipinos, 30 percent do not see any change in the situation while 36 percent said life could get worse.
By giving a seat to the PCCI at the IATF table, the government would be able to hear comments or recommendations from a sector outside of its circle.Since taking the lead in managing the pandemic in March, the IATF hardly, if at all, consulted the country’s major business organizations on how to address the economic impact of the lockdown measures.
Although the business sector may (in a sense) be considered represented in the IATF by Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has limited hands-on expertise in the management of private businesses.
The DTI is a regulator, not a business manager that knows what is happening on the ground at real time.
With PCCI’s inclusion in the IATF’s deliberations, its members would have a nonpolitical and realistic appreciation of the effects of any actions it may want to take to make this pandemic history.Through the PCCI, the IATF can, for example, be persuaded to take a second look at its one-size-fits-all approach on the adoption of certain measures at the workplace.
As pointed out by PCCI president Benedicto Yujuico, requiring workers in the assembly area of a semiconductor company to wear face shields is impractical because that would prevent them from seeing clearly the items they are working on.The IATF’s efforts to arrest the spread of COVID-19 should not be made at the expense of the economy, or the worsening of the recession that has already shuttered many of the country’s businesses and rendered jobless millions of Filipinos.The PCCI’s participation in the deliberations of the IATF should be looked at by its members with an open mind. It should not be interpreted as an indirect rebuke of its failure to accomplish its mandate. There is no room for misplaced pride in the serious problem presently confronting the country.
The rapid spread of the virus was unexpected. In the face of this phenomenon, the IATF took some steps that it felt were necessary to minimize its adverse effects but, in the process, damaged the economy.
Hopefully, with the PCCI being given a voice in the IATF, the economy will be able to slowly get up on its feet and make life a lot easier for millions of Filipinos. INQ
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