corporate social responsibility

[OPINION] Ayala Foundation and the pandemic

Tony La Viña

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[OPINION] Ayala Foundation and the pandemic
'Institutions, may they be public or private, for profit or non-profit, last not merely because of their funding sources or effective management, but because of their advocacies’ relevance and their ability to withstand tests of fate'

This is Part 2 of a two-part series. You can read Part 1 here.

The coronavirus pandemic has been dubbed as the worst global disruption of political, social, and economic activity since World War II in the 1940’s. Like all of us – individuals, schools, churches, businesses, and others – Ayala Foundation was not spared from it.

Ayala Foundation was not spared, not in the sense that it had to close operations, lay off employees, or cut ties with partners. In fact, the Ayalas, including Ayala Foundation, handled the economic impact of the pandemic on their enterprises well. It was not spared because it had to face the pandemic head on – again, in the name of service.

As its 60th year arrives, celebrations were put on the sidelines. Suddenly, the call of the times was at the foundation’s doorstep.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest challenge that Ayala Foundation has had to face, so far.

Pandemic as a test of fate

The COVID-19 pandemic is a milestone – not in any way as an achievement – but as a reckoning point for institutions, such as the Ayala Foundation, on their capacity to weather shocks and to adapt to what the situation calls for. Institutions, may they be public or private, for profit or non-profit, last not merely because of their funding sources or effective management, but because of their advocacies’ relevance and their ability to withstand tests of fate. As pillars of society, they are supposed to last for generations and live through disasters, political transitions, wars, and yes, even pandemics.

We can say that Ayala Foundation has succeeded this test of fate. 

The foundation stood by its vision and devised Project #BuyAni, a program for relevant partnerships within and outside of Ayala, among them the Macquarie group of Australia, that enabled the foundation to feed vulnerable sectors and at the same time, connect farmers directly to the market. This way, local farmers and enterprises continue to have a source of income during the pandemic.

In its partner communities, Ayala Foundation of course distributed “care packs” as aid during the quarantine to residents of El Nido, Palawan and the Iraya-Mangyan indigenous community in Oriental Mindoro. The foundation sourced some of the contents of its care packs such as essential food items from the partner farmers working in surrounding barangays, and were put together in bayongs by local weavers. It also launched a virtual market called the Lio E-Lengke, an online market that aims to support local farmers, weavers, and sellers of cooked food and local delicacies.

In the midst of all these, Ayala Foundation did not forget the call for nationalism. In partnership with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, it launched the Magiting Face Mask, which bears the colors of the Philippine flag and the eight-rayed sun. The face mask serves to honor our Filipino frontliners and essential workers who are making a huge sacrifice for the nation to contain the spread of the pandemic. 

This is besides all the contributions by the various Ayala-led companies in their own name. For instance, AC Health has provided testing kits and PPEs to various hospitals such as the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) in Davao, among others, to increase the testing capacity for COVID-19, while Ayala Malls waived rental feels to its tenants, majority of which are small to medium enterprises (SMEs), during the ECQ.

In addition, the Ayalas led the conversion of the World Trade Center in Pasay City into a designated quarantine facility called the “WTC We Heal as One Center.” For its continued operations, AC Energy committed to cover half of the facility’s electricity cost, and has donated critical supplies, for a total of around P24 million.

Valuing the spirit of cooperation, the Philippine business community organized Project Ugnayan through the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) in partnership with Caritas Manila, which raised more than P1.5 billion and has reached nearly 3 million families or more than 14 million individuals as of May 27, 2020. 

“This unprecedented assembly of so many of the country’s corporations and business families coming to the assistance of the most vulnerable in our society illustrates and speaks of the heart and generosity of the business community,” said Project Ugnayan lead Fernando Zobel de Ayala, who is also the president and COO of Ayala Corporation.

To cater to its own, the Ayala group allotted a COVID-19 emergency response package of P2.4 billion composed of wages, bonuses, leave conversions, and loan deferments to its employees early in the public health emergency when it was already clear that work had to be stopped.

Other emerging challenges

Like the coronavirus pandemic, we believe that any crisis serves not only as a test for institutions, but as a time of learning for them as well. Institutions learn more about the environment and society to which they belong and serve – and about themselves and their identities.

In recent years, and we expect them to be even more pronounced in the following years, contemporary problems – some have existed for quite some time, while others have just surfaced – will challenge the institutions of our society, such as Ayala Foundation. It is up to these institutions whether they will proactively respond to these or whether they will just maintain their established advocacy areas.

The problems of fake news, disinformation, the erosion of mass media’s reputation, and historical revisionism has plagued our country. These are then dangerously propagated through social media. Whether they are viewed from the perspectives of (mal)education or freedom of speech and of the press, one thing is for sure: if unabated, these can destroy nations as well.

Further, the attack on rule of law and constitutional processes and safeguards are felt in all sectors of society. The claimed extrajudicial killings have destroyed families and spread fear in communities; meanwhile, using the law as a tool of oppression and authoritarianism or “lawfare” has damaged institutions of democracy – or in some cases toppled them. Sadly, lack of accountability from those responsible more often than not lead to injustice.

Lastly, we will never get tired of saying that there is an ongoing climate emergency and that climate change is an imminent threat. The Ayalas’ commitment to exclusively use renewable energy sources, through AC Energy, which we hope to discuss in one of our next articles, is progressive and a direct response to this issue. Their good and effective response to the oil spill in Iloilo is also a model for others to follow.

It is in these critical areas, Media Literacy, Rule of Law and Justice, and Environment, where we hope Ayala Foundation will soon lead in integrating interventions into the communities that they help build. We have no doubt that these can be seamlessly tucked into its vision of building “communities where people are productive, creative, self-reliant, and proud to be Filipino.” Ayala Foundation: to the next decade and to a greater mission. –

Tony La Viña teaches law and is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.

Jayvy R. Gamboa is a student at the University of the Philippines College of Law and an advocate of youth formation.

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