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Ever since I started Go Negosyo, I stayed true to my commitment to help the country’s small and medium entrepreneurs. Part of the advocacy is working with different groups to come up with programs and support services that help businesses, which ultimately helps the economy.
Since the start of the pandemic, we have strived to help in whatever way we can. We started by giving assistance at the height of the lockdowns. Eventually, we focused our efforts to help keep businesses, regardless of sector and size, afloat during these trying times.
We started with specific activities that are a collective response from the private sector, with Go Negosyo at the forefront of these efforts. We first helped companies and LGUs identify cases by testing. Today, we are helping with vaccinations so that our economy can open up and fully vaccinated individuals can have greater mobility.
I went out and represented the private sector in meetings and interviews. I stuck to my personal mission of fighting for the entrepreneurs, even as there was pushback when we advocated for stricter lockdowns and the bakuna bubble.
Though I was not personally affected, I persisted because I knew everything would pay off. Together with our advisers from OCTA Research, we looked at the data and based our actions on their analysis and predictions. They have not let us down. Almost all the things they recommended were proven right.
They were key in asking Metro Manila mayors to consider locking down in August to save the fourth quarter of the year, when consumer spending would be high. Secretary Charlie Galvez was very supportive and he was behind us when we made this call. We were persistent and eventually, the national government agreed. As OCTA predicted, there came a deceleration; the past week’s average of new cases is proof that the data was read correctly.
Today we are at Alert Level 3 and OCTA’s data prediction helped us lobby for increased capacity of indoor businesses for the fully vaccinated. This will have a major impact in the recovery of businesses operating in the NCR as they now have a maximum of 60 percent capacity when they have a safety seal. The additional 20 percent capacity was an incentive by the national government to some areas with high vaccination rates. Hopefully, more provinces in the Philippines will ramp up their vaccinations, especially now that vaccines are arriving almost every week.
Because of OCTA Research’s valuable contribution, I decided to make our partnership official. We signed a memorandum of understanding, which will allow us to collaborate and make use of COVID 19 data analysis to try and influence policies for reopening the economy. Together with Prof Ranjit Rye, Dr. Guido David, Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, and Dr. Michael Tee, we hope to collaborate and hopefully, convince government to move down to Alert Level 2.
In the travel sector, we celebrated another win. The IATF finally considered our call for shorter quarantines for fully vaccinated passengers. Just when we thought that was it, after a few days the IATF eventually removed the quarantine requirement for international travelers coming from Green countries, as long as they test negative in their RT PCR tests within 72 hours before their flight. This will surely encourage more travelers to consider coming and visiting their loved ones during the holidays.
Unfortunately, the US and Canada are not part of the Green country list despite their vaccination efforts, so I persisted again. We initiated a meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin, Ambassador to the US Babes Romualdez, Transportation Sec. Art Tugade, OCTA Research, and the representatives of the airline companies, led by Philippine Airlines.
I think the US and Canada should be part of the Green list because they have very high vaccination rates. They are opening to the rest of the world and we should do the same. The US is accepting us fully vaccinated Filipinos without need to quarantine upon arrival.
PAL was able to show that fully vaccinated passengers from North America have a very low positivity rate. This was based on their arrivals data on flights from the US, and was supported by Fr. Austriaco’s data on America. Fr. Nic also added that the contribution of confirmed positive cases to the overall daily COVID 19 numbers is very minimal.
In the meeting, Ambassador Romualdez, Sec. Locsin and Sec. Tugade, and the rest of the attendees agreed to look into the idea floated, which was a pilot run of no quarantine for arriving fully vaccinated passengers from the United States. As we have discussed, some reciprocity must be extended to the United States as it has required from passengers arriving from the Philippines only a negative RT PCR test and a signed document attesting to their vaccination status. This is on top of the vaccine donations of the US to the Philippines.
OCTA Research made a commitment to monitor the impact to our COVID situation in the coming months. Along with that is to continually support ideas that would allow Filipinos to spend Christmas back at home.
We are also looking to help local economies through tourism. I met with the bus sector and LTFRB chair Martin Delgra to consider allowing more capacity for point-to-point travel for those who are fully vaccinated. I believe that, as cases go down, we can boost local tourism in areas in Luzon accessible by bus travel, such as La Union and Baguio.
Lastly, I called Gov. Joeben Miraflores of Aklan and Malay Mayor Fromy Bautista to meet with the different airlines that fly to Boracay. The island is a source of pride for the Philippines and it needs to get back to normal and help the locals with their livelihood. We are asking the mayors to support the removal of the test requirement for tourists so more people can spend their vacation in Boracay.
Gov. Joeben and Mayor Fromy asked for a special allocation of vaccines for the tourism workers on the island and also for their citizens. This is the only way to protect Boracay and pave the way for the removal of the costly RT PCR tests. I called Sec. Charlie Galvez right away and within the day, his team was able to confirm the delivery of 30,000 vaccines for the island of Malay.
All this hasn’t been easy, of course. But when you’re in a fight whose outcome will resonate for years to come, you have no choice but to keep getting up and pushing as hard as you can.