"Stay calm, stay safe, give more."
Yesterday was the start of the Holy Week with empty churches and millions of Catholics hearing Palm Sunday Mass broadcast or live streaming in their homes, minus the traditional palm branches.
As we begin the fourth week of the Luzon-wide lockdown, what used to be a traditional exodus to provincial homecomings and vacation resorts has taken on the form of an imposed staycation for all of us. We are now confined to endure what might feel as the longest week of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) within the limited confines of our domicile.
Unavoidable is a feeling of uncertainty because of the catastrophic risk of being infected by this unseen specter. The mortal danger of this contagion threatens all, but the sudden halt of economic activities imposed by the lockdown is hitting hard on the poorest sectors of our society and has ignited a parallel crisis that must be addressed with urgency.
Giving to the poor is a tradition of the season of Lent that now has extraordinary relevance. Millions of daily wage earners and countless more who are living hand to mouth in the underground economy are now trapped in this predicament. They need to be rescued.
Speed and efficiency are key, and speed and efficiency are what the private sector is good at. The day after this ECQ was declared, a rare aggrupation of top business groups quickly organized Project Damayan and raised enough resources to give P1,000 grocery certificates for some 1.6 million families in greater Manila’s most vulnerable communities. That’s over P1.6 billion immediately committed for the cause.
Project Ugnayan is in collaboration with the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation and the Caritas Manila network which includes the Dioceses of Manila, Antipolo (Rizal), Cubao, Imus (Cavite), Caloocan, Malolos (Bulacan), Novaliches, Paranaque, Pasig, and San Pablo (Laguna) covering 628 parishes.
The project’s first two channels are Caritas’ Project Damayan plus ABS-CBN’s Pantawid ng Pagibig. Add to that the recent linkage with the Asian Development Bank and the Government to further expand reach.
As of this writing, Project Ugnayan has reached 985,000 families benefiting approximately 5 million people in less than two weeks of door-to-door distribution. This is an impressive feat by any standard and a shining example of the nimble, efficient and developmental culture of the private sector. The private enterprises provide the much-needed employment and together with its interlinked allied industries, are the core drivers of our unprecedented economic growth, until the Wuhan virus stopped everything.
On the government side, the Bayanihan Act signed by the President commits to distribute P5,000 to P8,000 for 2 months to 18 million households whose livelihoods were lost because of the ECQ. Unfortunate but not surprising is some delay, because of the need to fix the database of those qualified to receive the cash assistance. Yesterday’s news update reported that the DSWD has started distributing the cash grants in some parts of Manila and more areas will be reached in the coming days.
According to the President’s report, the database will be derived from the existing beneficiary list submitted by the government agencies and local government units. This is well and good–but what about the affected workers who are not registered in the databases of DOLE, SSS or DSWD? They are many–those self-employed or are “gig workers” like carpenters, painters, barbers, therapists, freelancers, multi-level marketers, Transportation Network Vehicle Service (TNVS) drivers, street vendors, laborers, production crews, golf caddies, your weekly cleaning lady/lavandera, fitness trainers and many more in the informal sector. Their families are among the poorest who lost their daily source of sustenance. With no work, they don’t get paid. Only 77 percent of the population are estimated by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to have bank accounts. This is an indication of how many Filipinos don’t have enough savings for emergency situations.
The first waves of relief from the outpouring of support and cooperation from so many individuals, companies and pro-active measures of the LGUs has been instrumental in averting what could have been a scary breakdown in peace and order. To be fair, nobody can expect perfection in a situation where there are no playbooks to guide our leaders. Creative solutions should be encouraged, and restrictive regulations should be set aside while maintaining transparency and intolerance to corruption.
The lockdown has forced all offices to conduct business online and to quickly adapt operations to comply with ECQ guidelines. The disruptive shock of the pandemic should radically accelerate the pace of digital transformation of all governments and industries. Access to reliable connectivity has become an indispensable lifeline of the world’s population. This is a strategic lesson that our policy leaders should remember to focus on after the crisis.
The raging global rampage of this virus from Wuhan is seen by some thinkers as a pivotal moment in human history that will profoundly change society. An area of transformation creates new opportunities such as surge in demand for digital technologies that will make the world more prepared for a novel emergency. The economic disaster experienced by all economies has clearly established the symbiotic relationship of the environment and human survival. Any extreme tipping of the balance is disastrous with the poorest communities first to suffer. A balanced, holistic but determined approach is still valid. Governments must ensure the health security of its population. Economic systems, the way we work and live will change.
Our outlook as individuals cannot be limited by parochial attitudes. We must all step up our level of discipline and contribute the best we can in not just surviving but in getting back on track.
Stay calm, stay safe, stay healthy, pray for divine intervention and most of all, as much as we can, let us give more.