THE chairman of the House committee on ways and means on Sunday said the choice on the proposed two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) extension to defeat coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) is between “losing a lot of lives and saving some money” and “protecting many lives and recover economic losses faster.”
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, tpanel chairman, reiterated his call for an extension of the ECQ over Luzon, saying that “history and economics do not show that extension is a tradeoff between lives and economic growth.
“If anything, the more lives we lose and the more panic this virus creates if it gets worse, the less our chances are of any quick
recovery. Our people and our confidence – these are the two greatest resources in any economy, and they are the only irreplaceable ones,” said Salceda.
Salceda cited a recent paper by American economists Correa, Luck, and Verner (2020), which proves that, during the 1918 flu pandemic, American cities that had longer lockdown periods reduced mortality rate and also increased employment rates in the medium-term.
He said the paper suggested that “NPIs (no-pharmaceutical interventions such as lockdowns) play a role in attenuating mortality, but without reducing economic activity. If anything, cities with longer NPIs grow faster in the medium term.”
“The historical evidence says that if you take your time and use the time wisely to build capacity, improve your system of care, and avoid making mistakes such as premature lockdowns, you reduce mortality rate and you enable a recovery. I know that from experience because my zero-casualty doctrine in Albay enabled us to go from a poverty rate of 28.7 percent when I just took over in 2007, to 17.6 percent in 2015 just as I was about to leave as Governor. That’s the lowest in Bicol, and a full ten points below the regional average. And I was willing to sometimes evacuate barangays for several weeks,” Salceda explained.
“It wasn’t a hindrance to growth. If anything, our paradigm reassured people that their government values them more than anything. And human capital is the most valuable resource in economics,” Salceda pointed out.
As early as January, Salceda filed a bill creating a health emergency framework for the country that would have included the establishment of a Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the Philippines.
By February 4, Salceda had written an aide memoire to the House leadership on economic countermeasures to COVID-19, including the expansion of health facilities.
A week before the ECQ, Salceda called for a lockdown of Metro Manila, just as community transmission was discovered.
Salceda had also written President Duterte a 5-page report on how subsidies could be released to the public before the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act was passed, and a 12-page report on mass testing and post-ECQ measures.
“More often than once a week, we are submitting some detailed report to the government and the House leadership. Hindi naman po naming chinachamba ito. This is from the best available statistical models, from research, and from my experience as a crisis manager, both in 2003 when we were in very bad fiscal shape, and when I was Governor of the most disaster-prone province in the country,” said Salceda.
Based on his policy team’s monitoring, Salceda said infections are still accelerating. “Doubling time for the number of confirmed cases is currently at 4.7 days. That means we will see the number of cases we have doubled by Friday if things don’t slow down. That doesn’t look like a peak to me, or frankly, to any doctor, public health expert, or data scientist who looks at it.”
“Even some of the most credible voices in economics are saying we should go for an extension, and use that time to beef our efforts up. Former BSP Deputy Governor Guinigundo says ‘An extended lockdown precisely serves the cause of a more sustainable economic growth in the long run.’ The Economist magazine, arguing against preemptive lockdown liftings across the world, says ‘a government trying to privilege the health of its economy over the health of its citizenry would in all likelihood end up with neither,” said Salceda.
“I know that we will have to intensify strategies while in the extension period. That’s why we have submitted a 12-page plan to the President that highlights mass testing, increased isolation of confirmed and suspected cases, and boosting our health care capacity and protecting health care workers. Hindi po ito basta lang. We’ve studied it, and the studies have been submitted to our leaders,” Salceda pointed out.
“To minimize the economic costs, the most important thing is to keep the lights on. To maintain the pre-COVID-19 structure of the economy with as little loss in jobs as possible. That’s why it’s important to lend cheap credit to businesses, provide subsidies to the people, keep our logistics moving, and retool manufacturing towards essential goods. We have to rationalize our supply chain and our system of checkpoints and controls. I recommended to the President a coordinator for production and logistics to handle this – something like a Minister of Production during wartime,” he said. “Economic growth is always in the future. We have many economic tools to restore economic growth. But no economic tool has ever succeeded in bringing the dead back to life.”