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Private sector initiative

For the second year in a row, the country observed Labor Day in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Truth to tell, there really wasn’t much to celebrate that day considering that, as of February, 4.2 million Filipinos were unemployed and 43.2 million others were underemployed. And these figures are expected to rise as the virus continues to rage unabated.

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Two laws had been enacted by Congress to ease the adverse economic effects of the pandemic on the people, but the jury is still out on whether that objective has been met.

On the occasion of Labor Day, the Department of Labor and Employment announced that President Duterte would issue an executive order on “National Employment Recovery Strategy 2021–2022” with the aim to, among others, “create a policy environment that encourages the generation and improved access of employment, livelihood and training opportunities.”

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Since that strategy would be crafted by several executive departments that have their own ways of doing their assigned tasks, it may take a while before the recovery agenda is completed.

That’s the easy part. The devil is in the details on how the departments would undertake their respective assignments in coordination with each other. Knowing the way our bureaucracy moves, that is not going to be a walk in the park.

Until the nuts and bolts of the recovery program are made public, we will not know if they are workable, or would result in the creation of employment opportunities that approximate prepandemic levels.

But we cannot hold our breath for that agenda to be in place and produce its hoped-for results. The government had organized task forces in the past to attend to certain problems and they have not lived up to expectations. History has an uncanny way of repeating itself.

Considering the government’s limited resources and the constraints imposed on it by law, the private sector has to continue to help the government meet the challenges of the pandemic as it has been doing since.

Recall that when the lockdown was imposed early last year, several business conglomerates spent billions of pesos of their own funds to, among others, subsidize the food, transportation and personal protective equipment requirements of health front-liners.

The assistance of those companies and other donors was timely because the government was still fine-tuning the mechanism to cope with the social and financial consequences of the lockdown.

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Although the government granted some form of tax benefit to those donors, it is evident from the timing of the donations that was not a consideration in their action.

Last month, a private person, Ana Patricia Non, put up the Maginhawa Community Pantry to help impoverished Filipinos in her community meet their daily food needs.

Her effort, which was replicated in different parts of the country, addressed a problem the government failed to take into consideration when it discontinued the grant of “ayuda” (or financial assistance) to Filipinos who lost their jobs due to the quarantine measures it imposed.

The government’s economic advisers probably thought giving P5,000, once or twice, to unemployed Filipinos would suffice to provide for their daily sustenance during the lockdown.

Sadly, after the private sector had stepped in to solve a problem the government failed to anticipate and address, two of its minions described the effort as communist-inspired.

Despite that unfortunate incident, however, other community-based acts of charity, i.e., giving free shoes, nonprescription medicines and medical services, arose.

Except for requiring the observance of COVID-19-related health protocols and providing security, the government played a minimal role in those civilian-initiated efforts.

For now, the private sector’s enthusiasm to help the government meet the challenges of the pandemic is on a high level. But for how long that would last is a big question mark because “donor fatigue” is an unavoidable phenomenon.

After all, generosity has its limits. INQ

For comments, please send your email to [email protected]

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