Ayala Corporation Chairman and CEO Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala conveyed his appreciation to lawmakers led by Congresswoman Sharon Garin and members of the House Committee on Economic Affairs for extending the invitation for him to participate in the discussion on “A Private Sector Perspective in Build Back Better After Covid-19”.
Zobel said that the IATF’s implementation of community quarantine has given the country more time to boost healthcare capacity, formulate proper policies, and implement the necessary infrastructure to curb the rise of COVID-19 cases, which the University of the Philippines projected would have reached 3.5 million cases or 171,000 deaths if no lockdown had been imposed.
“The private sector supports the government’s initiatives to safeguard the nation’s collective health and help restore our people’s confidence through appropriate health-related guidelines and measures,” he said as he highlighted areas where the private and the public sectors can work together even more closely for a “better, more resilient normal.”
Zobel also highlighted the initiatives of the economic managers and monetary authorities led by Secretary of Finance Carlos Dominguez and BSP Governor Benjamin Diokno, to proactively mobilize the resources needed to fund public health investments, subsistence support for the most vulnerable, and liquidity for the financial system and job preservation, thus laying the foundation for building back better.
Testing, Tracing, Treating, Teaching
In his speech, Zobel thanked Sec. Carlito Galvez and Sec. Vince Dizon, Chief Implementer and Deputy Chief Implementer of the COVID-19 National Task Force, for onboarding the private sector in the whole-of-nation effort led by the IATF and the Department of Health against COVID-19.
In particular, he cited the private–public coalition Task Force T3 (Test, Trace, Treat), which includes private companies, the Asian Development Bank and Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation, and has helped to increase the country’s testing capacity by 13-fold—from 4,500 tests pre day on April 24 when T3 was launched, to approximately 60,000 by July 15. The country has set a target of completing a cumulative total of a million tests by the end of July.
To support the governments’ initiatives, many in the private sector such as Aboitiz group, DM Consunji, EEI Corporation, Filinvest, Manila Bulletin group, Megawide, Megaworld, MVP group, Razon group, SM group, Udenna and Vista Land helped to rapidly convert sports arenas and convention centers into dedicated COVID-19 quarantine and treatment facilities and Mega Swabbing Facilities. With the ICCP Group and Manila Exhibition Center Inc. (MEC), and with
support from the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) and the government, the Ayala group converted the World Trade Center into a 500-bed quarantine facility.
Private hospitals such as Asian Hospital, Chinese General, De La Salle Medical, Makati Med, Medical City, Mount Grace and Saint Luke’s, are also playing a key role in supplementing the COVID-19 treatment capacity of the Department of Health’s hospital system.
Many in the private sector have also contributed significantly to the country’s RT-PCR testing capacity, notably LT group, MPIC, Red Cross, San Miguel and Unilab. Furthermore, in partnership with Qualimed, Aboitiz, Lopez group, JG Summit, Metrobank Foundation, Razon group and the Yuchengco group , the Ayala group is building out 4 BSL-2 laboratories and has helped to capacitate 3 existing laboratories (the Tropical Disease Foundation in Makati, UCMed in Mandaue City and the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City). Zuellig Pharma has also been assisting with supply chain management.
Meanwhile, the Ayala group also joined 300 private companies in Project ARK led by Sec. Joey Concepcion. ARK is leading the way in complementing the government’s testing initiatives and has already helped procure almost 2 million test kits, with 65,000 tests already administered at the LGU level. ARK and Congresswoman Janette Garin, who is the ARK-PCR private sector chief implementer, have also donated RT-PCR machines to 12 hospitals nationwide and are supporting a study to validate the accuracy of pooled testing for RT-PCR.
Zobel also highlighted the importance of the fourth T (Teach) in T3. Beyond establishing sanitation protocols in workplaces, private companies should also rollout educational campaigns that would guide the public in adjusting to the “new normal.”
“There is a strong need to highlight the significant positive impact that adhering to stringent minimum health standards can generate and complement this with strong measures to protect our vulnerable population segments,” Zobel said.
Zobel also said there is a need to provide safe, affordable, and convenient mass transportation for the workforce.
He cited as an example the strict health and safety protocols being implemented in LRT-1 for a safe re-opening of the train line. Plastic barriers have been installed to allow for physical distancing. Thermal scanners have been deployed in all stations, and UV disinfection technologies have been developed in collaboration with the UP Engineering Center, to disinfect trains after every roundtrip, while common areas are cleaned every 30 minutes. An emergency disinfection
response team that is trained and equipped can also be immediately deployed should there be a suspected case in a certain station. Contactless payment systems are also in place to facilitate a seamless and safe travel experience.
Meanwhile, with the rising demand for digital platforms for the delivery of basic goods and services, Ayala entered the telemedicine space through HealthNow, an all-in-one digital platform that serves as an alternative channel for patients to access primary healthcare without leaving the safety of their homes. During its April to June pilot run alone, the platform had over 11,000 patient consultation requests.
Zobel also noted that the community quarantine brought on a significant increase in consumer engagement on digital financial apps, such as Globe’s GCash and BPI’s mobile banking app. From March to June, GCash experienced a 138% increase in daily active users and 157% jump in daily active transactions. Transactions on the BPI mobile banking app, on the other hand, accounted for 90% of all bank transactions as of mid-April compared to only 70% prior to the quarantine.
Helping the Vulnerable Segments
Zobel also acknowledged the synergy between the business community, Caritas Manila, and the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation, where over 270 private entities united to raise funds for Project Ugnayan. The project was able to efficiently distribute in a direct, timely, and efficient manner, food and grocery relief to over 14 million individuals in the Greater Manila Area.
Furthermore, Zobel highlighted the challenges faced by micro, small, and medium enterprises that have been badly hit by the pandemic. MSMEs, he said, account for 99.5% of the country’s registered businesses, 63% of employment, and 35% of the national gross domestic product.
“It is unfortunate that these concerns have led to many small businesses ceasing operations over the last few months,” he said. “We recognize the many initiatives of the Department of Trade and Industry to help our entrepreneurs withstand this crisis through financial support. Private sector groups, such as Go Negosyo, have also been critical partners in this effort, providing mentorship and online training to businesses.”
For the Ayala group, apart from waiving of rental fees in malls and extending grace periods for loan payments, the group has been actively supporting its network of over 250,000 MSMEs via the Ayala Enterprise Circle, where MSMEs can access training modules, networking opportunities, and support services to help them during these difficult times.
To prepare for a safe re-entry of its workforce, the Ayala group has set up its own testing facilities for its employees, which combines Rapid Antibody Testing as an initial screening protocol, with RT-PCR confirmatory tests. As of July 14, a total of 53,399 employees have already been tested as Ayala implements a group-wide workforce re-entry effort.
“As we navigate the uncertainties of the New Normal, we trust that the government will provide us in the private sector with guidance and support as we work together towards a better and more resilient Philippines after the pandemic,” Zobel concluded.