By: Rodolfo T. Azanza, Jr., MURP
By now, many of us are already aware that there are 2 kinds of crisis we are facing: a public health crisis and an economic crisis. And there is an inverse relationship between the effects of available solutions to combat Covid19 as a public health crisis and the looming economic crisis. That means, obvious public health solutions such as social distancing, total lockdown/community quarantine, etc., may be the right medicines to resolve the public health crisis, but they will put a lot of pressure on the economy as these measures slow down the whole economic machine. The dilemma lies in the fact that government needs to keep collecting taxes as it needs to fund with cash the social amelioration package that it needs to effectively roll out to keep people out of the streets. But as there are no economic activities, what is to tax? It can of course borrow from the public through a bond flotation for example, or from Bangko Sentral and/or IFIs. It can also simply resort to expansionary monetary policy, i.e. print more money at risk of inflationary effects of such a move. Whatever government does, it has to somehow try to keep the economic engine running lest it grounds to a full halt.
While on lockdown, people will still need to eat, so they need to buy food, medicines, and other basic needs. In addition, they will continue using various utilities. With the social amelioration package they will have some degree of purchasing power. But will there be food to buy? The problem is that the lockdown’s physical dimension cuts off food producers from consumers, for one. It also cuts off raw material suppliers to food manufacturers, and prevents medicine and other basic stocks from reaching the shelves. In the case of utilities, it can also prevent coals from reaching power plants, although the renewables will keep producing power albeit intermittently, i.e. hydros will keep running as long as rivers do not go dry come summertime. There is also an effect on mobility of workers in food production, manufacturing and in the various utility subsectors. So, the efficiencies will also suffer.
The key to break the impasse is for government to be more creative. That is, to try to impose the public health solutions but creatively keep the economic machine running even just on low gear. Now, it easier said than done, so I will try to give a few concrete examples:
- Create “food highways” out of the armed forces. One of the scares often cited by exponents of full lockdown is that our citizens do not have the discipline. But the soldiers are our most disciplined lot. They will wear PPEs when told. So let them be our transportation backbone. Anyway, this is, by all definitions, a war. Utilize their vehicles for moving food products, raw materials, medicines, etc.
- Healthworkers should work and many if not all are willing to work, but they need mobility in order to work. Moreover, suppliers of PPEs need to also keep making their products continously and get them to hospitals. Government can utilize the PNP capacity towards a P2P transport system for these requirements. Let our cops drive police vehicles and motorbikes to ferry healthworkers (wearing proper PPEs). And also transport PPE supplies and donations from point sources to the various hospitals.
- Supervise private food/medicine/basic goods manufacturing companies in the creation of “sterile” workers enclaves. These enclaves are like free accommodations for workers that are shielded from possible viral contamination by ensuring no interaction with the “outside world”. This concept can be done also for construction camps so infra projects can continue especially in places that are far from Covid19 hotspots.
- Government should focus on cordoning off hotspots so the public health policy can slowly shift from full lockdown (keeping the virus out) to trapping the virus transmission within enforceable borders (keeping the virus in) so that the rest of the country can reclaim normalcy.
- Needless to say, supermarkets, groceries and banks need to be open. So workers/employees for these services should continue to work. But government needs to give guidance to supermarkets and grocery stores to hire people based on closest proximity to avoid long commutes. Hire people from next door. Banks should shuffle staffs so that they are reporting to the branch closest to them.
- A friend who was formerly with the Department of Agriculture also suggested that DA should roll out a program that will help urban dwellers make use of any patch of land (or balconies) for planting edible plants for personal consumption. The idea is to bring food production closer to consumption, so other iterations of the concept should be explored.
There should be a lot more ideas that could be considered. It might be a matter of the IATF being more open and inclusive.