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My father, Jose “Joecon” Concepcion Jr., believed that our country was destined to be great. Even in the worst of times and the most challenging of situations, he continued to be an optimist. This was a trait that he believed and shared with the average Pinoy. Perhaps it was what inspired him to serve in various organizations and set up a Citizens League for Good Government and NAMFREL, and what fueled his optimism and gave him foresight when he took over RFM Corporation, even as he often sang “The Impossible Dream”.
In every calamity he was there to help and wanted to improve the lives of Filipinos. It was the reason he accepted the post of DTI Secretary in Cory Aquino’s cabinet; he felt that our small entrepreneurs needed his help.
It was this kind of passion that drives me to this day to work and build the Go Negosyo mindset. Sixteen years ago, former president Gloria Macapal Arroyo asked me to become her adviser for entrepreneurship and work with her Cabinet secretaries toward a common goal of helping our MSMEs. Members of the private sector also believed that MSMEs hold the key to our country’s progress, and wanted to do their part in helping them. These ‘big brothers,’ as we now refer to them, helped build the foundations of Go Negosyo.
Then COVID happened. When it became clear that the health of the population was key to opening up the economy, I had to refocus my attention to helping with the pandemic response. First was to create visibility of the infections, to which Go Negosyo and the private sector responded with Project ARK, to provide accessible testing and innovative solutions. Next, as the vaccines became available, we had to find ways around regulatory roadblocks that prevented the government from buying vaccines. The result was the world’s-first tripartite agreement, A Dose of Hope. We became the first to bring in the vaccines, thanks to the help of AstraZeneca, IATF chief implementer Sec. Charlie Galvez, and the more than 400 corporations who participated in the project.
I myself wonder how divine Intervention led me to do what I had to do, how it gave me the courage to speak my mind in countless interviews, the patience to keep reminding people to get jabbed, and the stamina to keep up with the experts, even as I myself am not a medical doctor, least of all an epidemiologist. It was a stressful time for all of us, and even more stressful to the MSMEs who had to tread water to survive the lockdowns.
It has been more than two years of being deep into the pandemic response, and to this day, it amazes me how far we’ve come. From zero test kits and vaccines, we now see molecular laboratories being set up, vaccines in abundance, and Filipinos ready to go back to normal. The CDC has classified the Philippines as a low-risk country, and we are doing much better than countries in Europe and even the US. We are ranked #33 in Nikkei Asia’s COVID-19 resilience rankings, up from #57 in December, and #103 in October. A large part of the credit goes to the IATF and the private sector; it was a great partnership.
I realize that sometimes, I tend to throw ideas that sound crazy at first, but I believe I am eventually vindicated. I hope this will also be the case with my proposal to remove the state of public health emergency. Having recently traveled to America and Europe, I have seen first-hand that their economies are now in full swing. There is no state of emergency here, no siege mentality; just health protocols being enforced when cases go up. I think the discussion should now shift to pinning down a timeline to removing this state of emergency our country remains under. I think, under the Marcos leadership, it is time we work together to make our economy a more inclusive one.
Government knows it cannot anymore afford to take the financial cost of this pandemic. It needs to continue the Build Build Build program to help the economy grow at a faster rate. It needs to grow so it can maintain the trajectory at which it can repay its debts. I think the government has spent enough money and manpower on the pandemic. It is time to share this responsibility with its citizens. It should now set the path clear for vaccine manufacturers to apply for their Certificate of Product registration so they can sell these in the drug stores to people who are willing to take them.
All around the country, people are already living with the virus. The fear no longer paralyzes them. This is very apparent in a poll we did over the Go Negosyo Facebook page, which showed an overwhelming 16,000-plus users saying, yes, we should move out of the pandemic mindset, over the around 1,000 who said no.
We had some help along the way. Omicron, in my opinion, was a big factor. I would even dare say it is the miracle variant that had the right combination of being mild and highly infectious. People benefited from acquired immunity without being subjected to the worst of symptoms.
Filipinos were, in general, compliant with public health and safety protocols, and only a fraction remain hesitant to get vaccinated. The private sector banded together under the Public-Private Sector Task Force T3, and it made possible a pandemic response that would have made my father proud.
Joecon has Alzheimer’s, but how I wish I could tell him that we continue to light that candle, that we still refuse to curse the darkness. Looking back at our victories over COVID, he would probably say that, yes, the Filipino can.