MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is pushing for a shift to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in the National Capital Region (NCR) at the soonest possible time if no surge in COVID-19 cases prevails.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said yesterday that moving to MECQ from the strictest quarantine restrictions would allow government to better manage the economy with more business activities and people back to work.

“At the soonest possible time… to the extent we can, we really have to move down at least to MECQ and do more granular lockdowns. That’s our position,” Lopez told the Kapihan sa Manila Bay virtual media forum.

“If not, every time we have ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), we would have to set budget for cash aid, there would be big demand from government and many would not be able to work. It is better to bring back jobs, as long as it is safe,” he said.

While the DTI was against the imposition of the ECQ from Aug. 6 to 20 – given its impact on the economy – Lopez said the government reached a collective decision to proceed with the lockdown to prevent a surge in cases similar to those seen in other countries like India and Indonesia.

He said the DTI has proposed for the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to include the number of severe and critical cases in deciding the quarantine classifications to be imposed.

He said the number of severe and critical cases should also be monitored, whether these are going up or down.

“Assumption is with more vaccination, this will go down over time as we saw in other countries,” Lopez said.

The government has allowed a lot of sectors to operate even under ECQ in the NCR and these include exporters and business process outsourcing which keep the country’s exports growing.

Lopez said the DTI is targeting a 15-percent growth in total exports this year.

The country’s 11.8 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the second quarter has already given momentum to starting the country’s recovery process, said Lopez.

The focus now is to continue reforms that would allow the economy to bounce back from the pandemic and among these are legislative measures such as amendments to the Public Service Act, Retail Trade Liberalization Act and Foreign Investment Act.

Lopez said the DTI also wants amendments to the Consumer Act of the Philippines and Price Act, which include raising penalties, to be approved.

In addition, he said the DTI has identified the Pandemic Protection Act which seeks to support the development of domestic production of medical related products and promote preference for locally made health care products in government procurement.

Even without the law, he said the DTI is in talks with the Government Procurement Policy Board to give preference to locally manufactured medical products.

Go hails GDP growth

Yesterday, Sen. Bong Go praised the country’s economic resilience and how the 11.8 percent GDP growth in the second quarter of 2021 is a reflection of overcoming the slump brought on by the pandemic.

Go said the Duterte administration continues to carefully strike a balance between health and economic interests in order to sustain this growth, ensure that more lives are saved and no one is left behind toward recovery.

“Our economy grew significantly in the second quarter of 2021, as opposed to the same quarter of 2020. This proves that while we are fighting the pandemic, we are also trying to fight hunger and poverty,” Go said.

“It is also a sign that we continue to recover from the global crisis caused by COVID-19. The only important thing is to stop the spread of the disease so that we can focus again on the growth of our livelihood,” he added.

Go also acknowledged the dedication of President Duterte’s economic managers, who have worked hard to protect the economy despite the current COVID-19 restrictions.

“I salute the economic managers of our government because they have worked hard to ensure that our economy and the livelihood of our countrymen are not neglected,” said Go.

Nevertheless, Go warned Filipinos not to be complacent as the threat of COVID-19 continues to spread and evolve, especially with the emergence of a more contagious Delta variant.

He underscored the importance of vaccination and explained that once population protection is achieved through herd immunity, more economic sectors can open and prosper toward achieving full recovery.

As chair of the Senate committee on health and vice-chair of the committee on finance, Go had appealed for emergency financial assistance for low-income individuals, such as the Social Amelioration Programs and Small Business Wage Subsidies.

The senator also lauded the President for signing Executive Order No. 140, which officially adopted the National Employment Recovery Strategy as the Philippine government’s master plan for the restoration of the country’s labor market.

No outdoor exercises

Outdoor exercises are deemed prohibited and police have instructions to strictly enforce this during the ECQ, Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) chief said the directive banning outdoor exercises was issued by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) last Tuesday upon the agreement of all 17 mayors in the capital region.

He has directed police officers to conduct an information drive through the PNP’s social media accounts and Oplan Bandillo wherein policemen would warn the public through a megaphone or speaker system installed in some vehicles.

More aid

Meanwhile, workers are demanding additional financial aid if the two-week ECQ in Metro Manila and other areas would be extended.

“Additional ayuda should be provided before the government considers extending the ECQ,” militant labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said yesterday.

KMU said financial aid in the amount of P5,000 should be immediately given.

However, KMU reported that many Filipinos are yet to receive the promised ayuda as some local government units are not yet ready to distribute the aid due to manpower and logistical concerns.

KMU secretary general Jerome Adonis also claimed that many displaced workers have been complaining they are not listed as beneficiaries of the cash aid in past ECQs.

Adonis urged the Department of Labor and Employment to come out with a more accurate number of beneficiaries among workers and conduct a swift and efficient ayuda distribution. – Mayen Jaymalin, Emmanuel Tupas, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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