Changing horses

Changing horses

Health is wealth: we’re seeing a dramatic manifestation of this as the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic cripples the global economy. Governments are grappling with the tough task of balancing the needs of public health and economic health. Around the world, governments are considering the gradual easing of unprecedented restrictions to contain COVID-19, weighing the risks to public health in the effort to rescue economies from the intensive care unit.

In the Philippines, as in much of the rest of the world, analysts are seeing economic contraction for the year – something that can have dire consequences for a developing country where millions have been pressed deeper into poverty by the pandemic.

In a manifestation of turbulence on the economic front, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia resigned last Friday, citing personal reasons and “differences in development philosophy” with some Cabinet members. He did not elaborate, but Pernia had been calling for a modified community quarantine to restart the economy and avert contraction.

The Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 has been studying the proposal, which echoes recommendations of the business community. The private sector has been pitching in to assist the hardest hit households, but resources for aid are not unlimited. The government also needs revenues from private enterprises to sustain aid to the neediest segments of the population as well as jumpstart the economy.

Not surprisingly, concerns were raised in the business community over the potential instability that Pernia’s resignation might cause. The country is confronting a crisis, and there is the admonition against changing horses in the middle of the stream. But the concerns were allayed by the immediate designation of a replacement.

Although serving in an acting capacity as Pernia’s replacement, Karl Kendrick Chua is already part of the team confronting the economic impact of the pandemic, as undersecretary of the Department of Finance. With this quick change, the government can continue focusing on the difficult balancing act between public health and the economy.