Philippine economy

Vaccines important, but other measures needed for economic recovery – Zobel de Ayala

Jan Cuyco

ECONOMIC RECOVERY. Tycoon Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala.

Rappler file photo

'In the absence of a massive stimulus initiative, perhaps we can explore alternative avenues that may lead not only to accelerated recovery, but also a solid platform for growth and resilience,' says Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala

COVID-19 vaccines are finally on Philippine shores but business magnate Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala said other measures are still needed to make headway against the economic slump.

“Most countries – ours included – are looking to the vaccines as the lasting solution or, at least, the prerequisite to solving the biggest health and economic ailments that we are facing today,” the Ayala Corporation chief executive said on Wednesday, March 3, in a forum by the Ateneo School of Government.

“However, as we await the rollout of our vaccination program, it is imperative that we find measures to support the economy and our people,” he added.

Zobel backed the importance of stimulus programs in jump-starting the economy but acknowledged that the budgets of the government and the private sector are “not quite geared for long periods of welfare support.”

There are no funds for cash aid under the P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021. In the House of Representatives, majority of lawmakers support the proposed Bayanihan to Arise as One Act or Bayanihan 3 bill to tide over Filipinos.

However, Bayanihan 3, which proposes a P420-billion fund, would seem like an empty promise until the government can pinpoint funding sources.

“In the absence of a massive stimulus initiative, perhaps we can explore alternative avenues that may lead not only to accelerated recovery, but also a solid platform for growth and resilience,” Zobel said.

He added that startups and micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) “need significant and meaningful support” from the government, policymakers, and business groups. According to government data, MSMEs make up over 90% of registered businesses in the Philippines.

Zobel also recommended improvements in the quality of healthcare systems and equipping the youth with skills for the post-pandemic world. The acceleration of digital technologies, he said, is the “highway to the future.”

The Philippines’ official vaccine rollout began on Monday, March 1. It is the last among Southeast Asian peers to receive its initial supply of vaccines.

‘Gov’t can’t do it alone’

In the same forum, testing czar Vince Dizon acknowledged that the national government needs the help of the private sector to combat the pandemic.

From testing to vaccine procurement, the private sector has so far done heavy lifting to get the efforts rolling.

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“Our healthcare infrastructure is clearly not where we want it to be and we saw that in our capabilities to test early on in the pandemic,” Dizon said.

“Obviously, the government can’t do this alone. We have to work with the private sector for best practices and that’s the only way forward.”

Bill Luz, chief resilience officer of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation, pointed out that private hospitals could also play a role in the vaccination program.

“We don’t have to lean entirely on the public health system to do it. We can lean on private hospitals to help…. We can be able to push and go to a mass vaccination program if we combine the efforts,” he said.

To make this possible, Luz suggested increasing private sector involvement in decision-making.

“I would add the private sector involvement in some of these [decision-making] councils, because I think the private sector point of view has helped. If we didn’t have that mechanism, we would all just be guessing blindly what to do,” he said. – Rappler.com

Jan Cuyco is a Rappler intern. She is a journalism student from the University of the Philippines Diliman.