In a country where the government’s response to any crisis is often, for one reason or another, inadequate and found wanting, the responsibility for marshaling resources to bridge the gap between what is available and what is needed often falls on the shoulders of the private sector.
And the current pandemic—arguably the biggest public health and economic crisis the Philippines has faced in modern times—is no different.
Over the past 10 months, the country’s business community, from the largest conglomerates to the smallest entrepreneurs, have responded rapidly and ably to the COVID-19 crisis.
Not only have they donated critically needed materials like personal protective equipment and sanitizing agents, they have also reoriented their business operations to adapt to the changing needs of the market.
This was even more important when considering the fact that, at the start of the pandemic, shelves of supermarkets and drugstores were being emptied of basic items by a panicked population faster than they could be replenished.
Chief among these firms is the country’s largest conglomerate San Miguel Corp. which, three days after the government imposed a lockdown in March, got the private sector’s ball rolling by announcing that it would divert the output of its Ginebra production facility in Cabuyao, Laguna province to manufacture 70-percent ethyl alcohol.
At a time when disinfectants like rubbing alcohol were in short supply (as health authorities had informed the public that this was effective in mitigating the spread of the virus), the decision to up production quotas to 100,000 liters per day helped reassure the public that its supply would not run out, whether for use at home or by medical front-liners in hospitals.
Other conglomerates which followed this path were the Lucio Tan group, which converted some of its Asia Brewery output to produce the same kind of 70-percent ethyl alcohol, and more recently, the Gokongwei group, whose Universal Robina Corp. recently launched its line of rubbing alcohol to respond to the growing need for disinfectants.At around the same time in March—when basic food items were becoming a rare sight in groceries, and some retailers had begun to ration sales—San Miguel president Ramon Ang issued a statement that the country’s largest food and beverage company would continue producing meat products, both fresh from the farm as well as those of the canned variety.
“We have enough supply buffers for food production for six months,” he assured in March, as fears mounted that the government’s restrictions on movement of people and goods would result in supply bottlenecks. “We will run our production facilities 24/7.”
Of course, its easier to mobilize resources for a conglomerate with P1 trillion in annual revenue, but the pandemic has shown that smaller companies, too, can do their part in helping alleviate the impact of the crisis.Over the summer, food kiosk operator Fruitas Holdings Inc., which had debuted on the stock market only a few months earlier, unveiled an innovative way of helping the country’s overworked medical personnel.
To help the country’s medical front-liners against the COVID-19 pandemic, Fruitas customers were given the option of pledging bottles of the company’s fresh juice products to benefit health-care workers. Fruitas has committed to match every pledged bottle with another bottle as its way of giving back to these front-liners. The goal was to donate at least 1,000 bottles of fresh buko juice every day.
Fruitas’ senior management also agreed to release a pro rata portion of the 13th month pay of its employees to support them during this challenging period.
“In this critical time, we commit to fulfilling our responsibility to all stakeholders,” company CEO Lester Yu said. “We have quickly adapted to the current situation and adjusted our business model to protect the interest of our shareholders and widely distribute our products to our customers. We will continue to give back to the community and do our small part in the fight against COVID-19. We will also take care of our employees, who have been our constant partners to successfully grow our business.”
Among other corporations who responded to the crisis with their own initiatives were the SM, Metrobank, Aboitiz, Ayala, DoubleDragon and PLDT groups, and the businesses of tycoon Enrique Razon Jr., all of whom donated personal protective equipment, disinfectants, health-care equipment and food supplies to government agencies, public and private hospitals and local government units in need.
One business sector official estimated the total value of local firms’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives during this pandemic to be “at least P20 billion”—no small amount when juxtaposed against the massive revenue declines they’ve experienced this year.
But the most important initiative from the business sector is yet to come. Last week, the country’s captains of industry—over 30 of them—announced a joint initiative to procure at least 2.6 million doses of an upcoming COVID-19 vaccine for an initial amount of P700 million.
Barring unforeseen hiccups, these vaccines are slated to be delivered to the Philippines later in the first half of 2021.
Given the bureaucracy that the government has had to struggle against in procuring these critically important supplies, it looks like the business sector will once more play a critical part in ending this pandemic, the way they helped the country survive its onset.