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It’s in the nature of an entrepreneur to take calculated risks. He understands that nothing is certain, but he gathers as much information as he can in order to temper his expectations and measure his steps. An entrepreneur also takes it upon himself to make things happen and not stand by the sidelines, depending on good fortune to deliver to him the results he wants.
When I called for an early lockdown to be implemented in the National Capital Region (NCR) in the first week of August, not everyone was happy. They said it was not the remedy, and that it would cost the economy and result in the loss of jobs.
The Philippines then was logging a rolling average upwards of 7,000 cases a day, which went on a steady, upward climb to 10,000, 12,000 and 14,000 cases by the start of August. We were admonished not to “fixate on the numbers”. But I believed the projections of OCTA Research, a group that has proven itself when it comes to data analytics. And if their projections ever needed vetting, the NCR mayors knew the situation on the ground and the consequences of not acting swiftly. They came on board, and it was enough to convince the decision to put NCR under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in the first two weeks of August.
We knew that a lockdown was needed, and I knew it would be necessary if we are to save the fourth quarter. I have always had my eye on the fourth quarter; it is when Christmas spending will be in full swing, and some election spending will have started. I knew that businesses had to make their plans early so they can stock up on supplies and start rehiring manpower. Banks needed to see a clear path so they can be confident enough to lend out capital and be assured that it will be paid back. Everything depended on making sure everything was set for people to go out confidently and resume some semblance of normalcy during the fourth quarter. And so, I stood my ground and said we needed to put NCR into ECQ by early August.
I paid the price for making such a bold statement. There were some who said outright that we were wrong. But business groups such as the Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Foundation for Economic Freedom, Philippine Retail Association, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce, Philippine Retail Association, Bankers Association of the Philippines, and the Philippine Franchise Association supported our call. This proves that the private sector is looking after the total welfare of everyone, not just their own.
As cases climbed during the last weeks of August and peaked in September, we held our breath and finally released it in relief as cases started on a steep decline by the last week of September. Last I heard, we are back to pre-Delta levels and at levels not seen so low in months!
Was it luck? Did we have a fortune teller on our side who told us the future? Were we reckless in calling for a lockdown? Some may call it fixating on numbers, I just call it trusting the data.
So, yes, I feel vindicated. The decision to lock down in early August was counterintuitive. By nature, all businessmen must be for taking every opportunity to do business. Any event that prevents him from doing so must be considered a loss and resisted at all costs. But real life tells us that the way forward is not always a straight line. Sometimes you have to double back in order to go forward and move even further than you would have, had you stayed stubborn and insisted on forcing your way in that straight line.
Fortunately, my next call should not be as contentious as the August lockdown. I believe it is time to move down NCR to Alert Level 2 and start giving businesses more capacity to operate. We have to start trusting not only the numbers (OCTA Research is saying that another surge is unlikely), but also the vaccines. We have to trust that vaccines work in preventing severe infections and death. We have to trust the experts who say that increased vaccinations will prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. We have to trust that another lockdown is unlikely to happen when enough people are vaccinated, and our hospitals are able to care for those who need their help.
Today is when I take that advice and not fixate on the numbers. If infections do go up in the NCR, we should not panic and start screaming the I-told-you-so’s. If the LGU has vaccinated 70 percent or more of its citizens, there is no cause for worry that it will result in ambulances piling up outside hospitals, oxygen tanks running out or ICU beds filling up. Vaccines work. Observing health protocols work.
I do have two numbers to mention, and I will leave them here: P 3.6 billion and 16,000. According to NEDA, P 3.6 billion is what the Philippines’s GDP stands to gain every week if we move to Alert Level 2. Some 16,000 jobs can be created every week if we allow businesses more capacity, as outlined under Alert Level 2. We must move to Alert Level 2 by Nov. 15 if we are to make all this sacrifice worth it. Let us not hold back now. We have gone through too much and given up too much to now end up dulling down our resolve. We have to take this one final leap of faith and save the livelihoods of our countrymen.