The Private Sector United in War Against COVID-19

Last Friday, I was one of the speakers for the Davao Chamber’s 4th general membership meeting. The group conducted a webinar on the vaccination rollout for the private sector in Davao and I had the opportunity to share our experience on procuring the vaccine, planning the execution of the vaccination program when the vaccines arrive, and some insights on how to defeat this pandemic as one.

Here are some highlights of what I shared during the meeting:

I would like to acknowledge all the efforts of the public sector, especially Secretary Galvez who I believe is the right man for the job. Being a general in the military, I credit his effort for helping us achieve the ability to secure our vaccines. So how did our program started? I work as an adviser for entrepreneurship for our President and that has been ongoing for the last five years. This is basically our last year in this administration and we face one of the most serious problems of this gravity which is affecting the whole world. Compared to other problems and wars that we have faced in the past, the difference here is that you cannot see the enemy, and this has been taking its toll on our economy since March last year.

We are hitting May 1 tomorrow. It is Labor Day, which reminds us of the challenges that many of our laborers go through in life. This pandemic has really created so many problems for our micro and small entrepreneurs. So my role really for the past 15 years when I started Go Negosyo is to focus on helping MSMEs and the challenge is to create prosperity for all—leaving no one behind. That has been ongoing for so many years and today we continue to perform that role.

Now with the pandemic, however, many businesses are closed, and I am sure here in Davao, you felt the same thing. Your tourism is greatly affected and many of your restaurants are also affected. At the beginning of the pandemic, what we provided was visibility, COVID-19 was invisible and testing made it visible. The private sector ramped up the testing capability of the country and even donated equipment to government hospitals.

Saving lives and livelihoods, we have come to realize that the balance is almost impossible to happen. You cannot strive for the perfect balance, when you shift to lives you affect livelihoods, when you shift to livelihoods you affect lives. Social distancing and wearing of face masks and face shield only buy us time, but it will not eliminate the virus. So as we were buying time early in the pandemic, Secretary Galvez, myself, and Lotis Ramin of AstraZeneca crafted the first tripartite agreement, which was joined by over 500 companies—also became a model for all the private sector purchase of the vaccine from Moderna, Novavax, and Covaxin.

At this point in the pandemic, the real strategy here is focusing on the real weapon that would eliminate this virus, remember we put our set in a warfare. Sec. Galvez knows this better because he was a military general, and me as an entrepreneur, we focus on our business model. So, assuming that we are at war, our strategies to win this war is, first, creating visibility. With the next part, eliminating the virus, the virus can only be eliminated by the vaccine, nothing else.

Facing some challenges with accessibility along the way, we are now ready to implement. The private sector in June will start its implementation—upon the arrival of the bulk of the vaccines between June until the end of the year. So as the vaccines keep arriving and with execution on the table, the next step is vaccine confidence. Execution and confidence are two very important components because if you don’t execute well and are unable to convince the public of why vaccination is important, our vaccination program will falter—we will lose the war and have all our money wasted. So we must put our mindset that we are in a real war and that we must take the vaccine to protect ourselves and the people around us, that is the key to winning this war.

Just today, we have launched the “Let’s GO Bakuna” which is a private sector initiative showcasing all our employees that want to take the vaccines. That’s going to be published on social media, television, and other media outlets. It’s a major effort from the part of the private sector to really launch this Let’s GO Bakuna campaign. With execution as the next big thing, and the plan of Sec. Galvez for the vaccination centers and all of that, it’s good that the private sector is good in execution. Being in the business sector and with execution as the main determinant of our success or failure, we are good at strategizing.

Right now, in the private sector, we have to do our best to convince our employees to take these vaccines or else our businesses will continue to flounder. The success of our vaccine plan will restore the confidence of the banking community. Seeing that many of our employees are vaccinated, we will start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the banking community will also see that and they will start lending to those that lost their money, will extend payment terms considering the pandemic, and keep interest rates low so that businesses will survive.

The private sector needs to step up now and convince our employees to take the vaccine. Let’s encourage them that there is hope for the Philippines, especially in the last quarter. We will execute well, and we will bring back the confidence of our country. I am a very optimistic person, but optimism must come with careful planning and a great strategy, and it’s great that we have that. We want to bring back the life of normalcy and we all play a significant role to attain this, and I hope we all succeed. Again, thank you very much.