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Duterte’s Confidence Reassuring to the Public

A leader should inspire his people in the face of this growing pandemic to clear the cloud of pessimism hovering in the Philippines. President Duterte is playing that role. He remains confident the Philippines will overcome the current health crisis, and even offers himself as the first man in the Philippines to test the Russian vaccine.

 

The availability of an effective vaccine against Covid-19 will certainly lead the way to the full reopening of the Philippine economy this year or early next year.

 

With Russia recently approving Sputnik V as the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine, other nations such as China and the United States are soon expected to announce their own progress in the search for the Covid-19 cure.

 

It only means we are a step closer to finding a solution to end the pandemic, which has infected over 20 million people worldwide and claimed the lives of over 730,000 individuals as of August 12, 2020.

 

President Duterte’s bold offer to become the first person in the Philippines to test the vaccine shows his resolve to find a solution to the health crisis and boost the public’s confidence. Initial reports said the vaccine can offer two-year immunity against Covid-19 based on the studies approved by the Russian Ministry of Health.

 

The news that Russia approved its own vaccine is like a breath of fresh air, providing us hope that we will survive this health crisis that took the lives of more than 2,400 Filipinos, including Filipino statesmen like former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, former Senator Heherson Alvarez, former Commission on Elections chairman Sixto Briliantes Jr. and Senior Citizens Party-list Rep. Francisco Datol Jr.

 

It is sad to note that these distinguished Filipinos spent their last days fighting the virus in ventilators while scientists around the world are in a rush to find a vaccine. How we wish that an effective and safe vaccine were formulated soon enough to save them.

 

While we are excited that the Russian government approved the first vaccine, it is important to note that it will still take several months to test the vaccine developed by Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology on a select group, before the Philippine government can endorse it for public use. Our own Food and Drug Administration is tasked to make sure that any vaccine is safe and effective, with no serious side effects, before being made commercially available.

 

In its own timeline, the government which held discussions with Gamaleya representatives, said the Phase 3 clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccine would be conducted in the Philippines and other countries from October 2020 to March 2021 prior to its registration for commercial use by April next year. Phase 3 involves large-scale clinical trials to check for the efficacy of the vaccine. In Russia, authorities are conducting Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials of Sputnik V until September and plan to administer mass vaccination by October.

 

The long process aims to make sure the vaccine is indeed safe and to erase the suspicion of health experts from other countries, particularly the US, which are developing their own vaccines against the coronavirus.

 

Once approved by the FDA, the Philippines may reproduce the vaccine in the country, with the consent of Gamaleya. President Duterte has thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for offering to supply the Philippines with doses of the vaccine.

 

Other vaccines on clinical trials are those being developed by Sinovac, Sinopharm and Fosun Pharma in China; AstraZeneca and University of Oxford in the UK; Pfizer, Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US; and BioNTech in Germany.

 

FDA Director-General Eric Domingo expressed hope that with more than 100 vaccines being developed across the globe, one will become available by the end of the year or early next year. Alongside the search for the vaccine, the Philippines is joining the clinical trials of medicines such as Avigan and Remdesivir as possible Covid-19 treatment. This gives us hope that we can fully reopen the economy sooner than later, and allow Filipinos to go back to work to be able to earn and feed their families.

 

The impact of the border lockdown and quarantine restrictions has decimated thousands of business establishments in Metro Manila and other parts of the country, as evidenced by the 16.5-percent contraction of the gross domestic product in the second quarter. The recent return of Metro Manila and nearby provinces to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), for example, reduced power demand in the Luzon grid by around 700 megawatts, which means a lot of factories and commercial establishments halted operations.

 

Fortunately, we have solid economic fundamentals that continue to shield our financial system from the crisis. 

 

The peso, for example, breached the 49-per-US dollar level last week as our gross international reserves climbed close to $100 billion as of end-July.

 

 A survey by the Department of Finance among businessmen shows that some industries are beginning to recover, including real estate, telecommunications, and water and energy sectors. The businessmen, however, favor a further opening of the economy, subject to health and safety protocols, to allow the movement of more workers and consumers.

 

We may not see substantial recovery in the third quarter, but the onset of the fourth quarter may shore up demand and consumer confidence as long as we stay on the course of economic reopening while containing the spread of the virus and making the necessary preparations for mass vaccination.

 

Critics of the administration, or the doomsayers, meanwhile, are running out of ideas in their bid to put down the Duterte administration.

 

The economy may have faltered in the second quarter, but it remains fundamentally sound and strong.

 

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno correctly reminded the economic pessimists that the 16.5-percent contraction in the second-quarter gross domestic product was just temporary. I share Mr. Diokno’s sentiment. Our economy has strong fundamentals: falling interest rates, an appreciating peso, a sound external sector with international reserves close to $100 billion, and a low debt-to-GDP ratio.

 

The economy slumped because of rigid, nationwide lockdowns that impaired the movement of people and goods. But the lockdowns will soon ease. We should look forward to better days ahead.