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A different ‘monster’

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EVEN IF the late Levy P. Laus were alive today, there’s probably not much he could do for Pampanga business because COVID 19 is a different ‘monster‘ according to Architect Nestor S. Mangio, current president of the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PAMCHAM).

On a range of 1 to 10, Pampanga business is rated by Mangio at 5, not very bad but not very good either, and most operating at 40 to 70 percent capacity, he said in an answer to the written questions emailed to him by the author.

“How we wish he’s here and I am sure he will be visible in fighting the pandemic and keeping the citizens’ safe,”  he said, echoing a common yearning of  many in  the local business, given Laus’ outsized leadership role when Pampanga was facing devastation from the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo more than 25 years ago.

PAMCHAM was born in the crucible of the volcanic disaster, rising like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of the Save San Fernando Movement that confronted the adverse factors of the worst natural crisis of the century with Laus at the helm.

After lahar flow was contained through the construction of the multi-million FVR megadike, PAMCHAM focused on priming countryside business, driven by its self-propelling agenda as catalyst for countryside business. Now a longer vision for economic growth could be pursued with a volcano silent again, and not expected to erupt again in another 600 years.

But the virus is no volcano in its existential threat.

The pandemic virus is entirely different. For one, while the volcano remained in its place while spewing destruction, it was, at least, predictable.   The COVID 19 virus and its new variant, Delta, are omnipresent. They seem to be everywhere, sometimes ahead of health authorities, way past the default checkpoints that government put each time there is a noticeable sure in infection.

Lockdowns prevent economic activities and stop workers from earning, Mangio  observed.  Many micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) have lost their customers. The banks are hesitant to take the risks and  support larger enterprises to bounce back. On the other hand, vaccine roll out is slow, and so is vaccination. Inefficient contact tracing and testing continue to hound the government health system. Government red tapes are still around, if not more so.

In such an overwhelming landscape, PAMCHAM  stays on the cutting edge of technology. “LPL was very strong in its support for members,” Mangio said,“ but our engagement with members today  has been greatly constrained by the pandemic.   Mangio said PAMCHAM stays relevant by reaching out to the members through zoom meeting and virtual platforms.

“No such thing in LPL’s time,” he said.

Mangio put a stress on adaptation to the new realities brought about by the pandemic, an idea that is publicly espoused not just in our neck of the woods but  far and wide. The other night, the Australian Prime Minister urged his countrymen to live with the virus and not live with fear of the virus, after Australia was hit again by the COVID surge.

“We have to take a balance on health and the economy,” he said. He’s on the same page as Presidential Adviser Joey Conception that business establishments must operate with vaccinated people and cater to vaccinated citizens. Granular lockdowns must be implemented only in critical communities. And faster roll out of vaccines, please. For a change, why not encourage the manufacture of vaccines in the Philippines to ensure that?

Like most businessmen, Mangio can’t wait  to get back to the old times. We have to hurry, he said, to go back to the pre-pandemic time or the new normal so life can go on. Like the existentialist Albert Camus who likened lockdowns to virtual exile, the feeling of being stifled or circumscribed by the pandemic isn’t lost on Mangio. Laus, always on the move, could have felt the same way.

“A sad soul can kill you faster than a germ,” John Steinbeck wrote in his book “Travel with Charley: In Search of America. Steinbeck saw the havoc wrought to his country by the great depression.  Disasters anywhere, whether natural or man-made, disrupt the natural order, bringing chaos to relationships, families and communities. Or as one documentary by CNN put it,“ the human cost of COVID 19”.

The local governments  can help alleviate the situation, according to Mangio. He’s inspired,at least, by two: Delta, the governor, not the germ, and Mayor Pogi”  of Angeles City  “Pampanga” he says, “is far better than other provinces when it comes to vaccination. Pogi? “He went house to house in a bus with his team of health workers to vaccinate the residents,” he praised. Mangio, of course, was a great admirer of the older Lazatin.

Now, if only other LGUs can replicate Pogi’s example. There are other things LGUs can do, apart from faster vaccination. Providing ‘ayuda’ to workers, low or no interest funding to MSMEs, free quarantine facilities and medicines to their constituents, ensuring peace and order in their respective communities.

With his hands full where the buck stops at PAMCHAM, you can’ blame Mangio for  wishing LPL were around to help in this difficult time.  It’s still an outsized job.

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