‘Government needs to loosen reins’

Days after the President rejected easing quarantine restrictions nationwide, representatives from the three industries most affected by the move said the government needed to loosen the reins on movement and capacity of their sectors.

Rosemarie Ong, president of the Philippine Retailers Association (PRA) and executive vice president of Wilcon Builders’ Depot, said while retailers have tried to improve on merchandising and instill good practices, they continue to rely on foot traffic, which has been light given the quarantine restrictions.

Ong also reiterated the sector’s plea to the government to consider the retail frontliners in the essential list for COVID-19 inoculation.

The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, on the other hand, has adapted to varying levels of quarantine but maintains most of its workforce in a work-from-home setup.

“I still believe that we can go to a more advanced level of quarantine. There’s a high level of consciousness among our people already in terms of the safety protocols and other health protocols that needed to be done. And we can continue doing all of that in an MGCQ or more relaxed quarantine level,” said IT-Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) chairman Lito Taya.

The sector manages operations with about 60 to 78 percent of the total IT-BPM work force working from home.

Meanwhile, the tourism sector has been preparing to welcome a new breed of visitors while waiting for restrictions to relax further.

“We have already learned to live with the restrictions up to a certain point and we hope the government will improve it sooner. If they do not lift it on March 1 (2021), hopefully, later on,” said Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines chairman Eugene Yap.

“What we do now is we have many of the hotels and the restaurants starting renovation. We have spent so much in renovation preparing for a new market. And for those improvements we cannot afford, we plan them for the future,” he said.

The President has previously junked the proposal of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to allow areas still under GCQ to transition to MGCQ that include Metro Manila and few provinces, until the vaccine arrives.

In the House, Abay Rep. Joey Salceda pushed for proposals to amend the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution, saying this would address the “staggering” cost of the country’s inability to open its doors to foreign investments.

“We opened the fewest doors, so we were visited by the fewest opportunities,” Salceda said.

Comparing the country’s inability to attract foreign direct investments (FDI) to the success of Vietnam, its neighbor in the 11-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Salceda said that since 1987 when the Constitution was approved, the Philippines’ share of the net FDI inflows in the region has declined.

“In 1996, a decade after the 1987 Constitution, we were still taking 5.1 percent of ASEAN’s FDIs. Now, we are just taking 4.4 percent, less than half that of Vietnam,” he said.

Salceda also said keeping out foreign investment “spoiled” domestic market players.

“Shamefully, and once again, we are the most oligopolistic market in the region. The World Economic Outlook Global competitiveness index, from 2017 to 2018, shows that the Philippine market is dominated by the fewest business groups, among all economies in the region,” Salceda said.

Salceda also cited a World Bank paper which showed that with less competition, there was little incentive to make investments that improve the quality of services or the prices for consumers, or the efficiency of the business. “Why try hard, after all, if you have no competition from foreigners?”he said.

In trying to be nationalistic with the Constitution, the former finance analyst said “we have ironically fattened our domestic oligopolies at the expense of the people.”

Topics: quarantine restrictions , Philippine Retailers Association , Rosemarie Ong
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