There are two serious problems the Philippines faces today at this time: first, the politicization of this serious health crisis which affects counter-measures to contain the spread of the virus and second, the realization that the main problem is basically of supply chain management. Rising numbers of health workers being infected and some even dying from the disease highlight this problem, as most health frontliners do not have adequate protection against infestation. Early on, health authorities and even President Rodrigo Roa Duterte have assured the public of the readiness of the government in dealing with this virus but as human-to-human transmission rates rose, so does the realization that the health system is incapable of addressing the medical needs of a potential 75,000 infected individuals.
The Duterte administration has shown that it still has the funds to at least ameliorate the conditions of the people during this national emergency situation. President Duterte has just signed a 270 billion peso program which essentially gives the President emergency powers to re-align the 2020 budget so that funds may be used to address the contagion. But as numbers rise, with new cases breaching the 300 mark every day, the question is now shifting from resource availability to actual governance quality.
What Duterte fails to account is the fact that when he signed that law which, for many Filipinos, involves a big amount–270 billion pesos– the people now expect to be treated more properly and things to improve particularly on addressing the issues that affect medical frontliners at the foremost, which involves the lack of preventive suits, etal. The unusual rise in numbers of health care workers getting themselves infected show how inadequate the health care system is now, and this does not surprise us since other governments encounter practically even those with more advanced medical systems.
Yes, Duterte early on, recognizes that this problem can be solved because basically, as what Cabinet secretary Nograles realized, this is a supply chain management issue. That explains why government shifted the leadership of the inter-governmental agency from the Department of Health to the Department of National Defense (DND) as a sign or recognition of this.
The problem lies on the availability of these medical equipment. Every other nation of the world would now be scrambling to get access of ventilators and more protective suits. Yes, we are close to China and other countries which manufacture these things but the huge and enormous demand from other parts of the world, like the United States and Europe may prove it difficult for us to gain access to these equipment. Government must persuade manufacturing firms to assist it in producing these medical equipment locally in anticipation of this. It is correct for this administration to allocate these funds just to address the immediate needs of the medical frontliners and finance the daily survival needs or requirements of Filipinos now affected by this virus.
Another correct thing which the Duterte administration did in addressing this crisis is when it extended its hand on the private sector and encouraged it to closely cooperate with government to fight the spread of this lethal virus. Rent payments have been suspended so have utilities, loans and credit cards.
The problem is the banking system has given the government only thirty days. Meaning, bankers are optimistic that economic stability would resume after 30 days. The thing is, basing on estimations made by other countries encountering this viral crisis, they consider at least two-to-three months before they finally open their economies, even partially. Employees and even large members of the middle class may not be able to address their loan payments by then given the economic situation.
Duterte gave everybody until April 12, which is just two weeks from now. I don’t know who gave Duterte these calculations and what models they use in determining that this period of time is sufficient and enough for the country to contain the virus spread. Of course, the short period of lockdown speaks of this government sharing the same concerns with economic players and is sensitive also of public opinion. But the reality is, normality would not happen instantaneously the minute government lifts the lockdown declaration. The economy would still be behaving rather in a sheepish manner in April. Prospects of a rebound would surely not be assured.
Since it is just now that they passed this bill, it is extremely doubtful if suppliers are fast enough to deliver what medical frontliners need to confront the virus head on. Basing on the SIR model, the “peak” which the country expects to happen within a few more weeks would not happen. For one, there is an admission from the Department of Health itself that they haven’t really completed tracing and are just testing a fraction of the patients under monitoring and investigation. The lack of empirical field data harms or affects contagion models. Our health authorities haven’t even identified Patient Zero or the very first person who carried the virus here. This is most essential since it affects the accuracy of predictive contagion models.
Without this essential knowledge, it would surely be hard for this government especially the DOH to really declare the country COVID-19 SAFE come April. Even if they do this in May, this will still surely be totally premature. This lies the problem.
A normalization of economic and social life in the Philippine come June would severely cause instability in the economic system. Government will be unable to provide a stimulus package given that it has already spent 270 billion pesos and even more by this time. Duterte’s economic managers may again opt for the short-cut which is rely on local and foreign loans but with the extremity of the problem affecting most if not all segments of the world economic system, it would actually be difficult for the Duterte administration to get a fair deal.
And even if government do secure some foreign loans, this will not be infused into the economy not until the fourth quarter of this year. By that time, several hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses would have closed or would have declared bankruptcy, which would bloat unemployment rates. This will put the Philippine economy into a deep freeze which would require three quarters of continuous economic activity before finally, recovery, because by then, the government would not be able to sustain the subsidies it was able to give now.
The solution really is for government to encourage more spending. Again, given the re-alignment decision, government spending would not be bigger than 2019 as what was initially expected. The Build-build build program will suffer the worst hit, which will, again, impact on SME’s and even big firms. By this juncture, government would realize how crucial natural economic activities are compared with encouraging artificial economic spurts which do not affect the economy on the long term.
The resultant social reprecussions from this economic deep freeze may destabilize the Philippines in the political front, as massive numbers of people may spill into the streets and may demand government accountability. This will drastically change the political configuration come 2022, as public trust will slow down significantly as the Duterte enters into the last quarter of its rule. The worst case scenario looms, with political destabilization reaching crisis, even revolutionary levels.
These kinds of crises all contain the ingredients for what conflict observers describe as a revolutionary situation.