FIRST, allow me to repost an advisory to member -consumer- owners of Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco). Please be advised to pay your electric bills at official collection centers at South Drive Beneco office, at the Maharlika Livelihood Complex, Baguio; Bonuan collection center at Salud Mitra, Baguio; at the Km. 4, Beneco office La Trinidad, Benguet; and at Bekes, Buyacaoan, Buguias, Benguet.

Please stop paying your bills at the Bank of Philippine Islands (BPI), Rang-ay Bank, Philippine National Bank (PNB), and Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) as your money will not be reflected as “paid” in your Beneco account. 

These banks have decided not to honor an agreement between them and Beneco anymore for reasons we as MCOs and payers do not know.

I want to find out if these banks do not consume electricity, but if they do, where do they pay their electric bills? If they have not been paying their electric bills at the collection centers mentioned in the Beneco advisory, then their electric supply should be cut off just like any other consumer.

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For the longest time that the pandemic was around, the situation has been a struggle between seeing to it that one’s body is not infected with the coronavirus that kills and opening the so-called tourism industry. The picture shows a government torn between reducing the movement of people to lessen viral infection and allowing activities to stimulate the economy.

Sadly, the latter which actually consists of activities in hotels, restaurants, public transport for mobility, the market and business establishments that the public goes to for essential needs; is partly liable for the transmission of COVID-19 and its variants. Certainly, dining and “malling” contribute to economic recovery. But the health sector twists and suffers.

In so many instances, the Department of Health tells the public to stay home if going to places is not important and non-essential, but in those many instances, the Department of Tourism in a chorus with President Duterte’s economic adviser advertises tourism and travel plans to “save” the economy.

We all have seen that the more people moved around, the more COVID-19 transmissions and infections reportedly increased. We knew that but we moved around because nobody wants to stay locked down in a house for weeks.

We love freedom, and so we are allowed by the government to tour Baguio, Boracay, and other destinations as long as we do not have the virus. It looks normal, as if the pandemic has disappeared. Then the virus transmission goes up again, and the tourism people are silent again while the IATF imposes travel bans, enforces lockdowns and checkpoints.

When COVID-19 transmission goes down, we see again tourism people and economic advisers telling the public to go visit selected tourism bubbles as long as they wear their masks and keep their distance. This leads to an increase in the number of infections so the government decides to reimpose restrictions. This flip-flopping approach is very costly.

The Philippines has been trapped in on and off lockdowns, leading to a loss of 4.3 trillion pesos last year, and an estimated loss of 37 trillion pesos in the next 10 to 40 years, a study from the National Economic Development Authority reported.

This was caused by lower consumption and investments during the lockdowns that would likely be lower in the next ten years due to the reduced demand in sectors that require social distancing, such as tourism, restaurants, and public transportation.

The estimated loss due to lower consumption is at 4.5 trillion pesos, while the loss in private investment and returns would be at 21.3 trillion pesos. As a consequence, tax revenues would be lower too because businesses cannot fully operate.

The NEDA study also reported that workers’ productivity will also be lower due to untimely death, illness, and lack of face-to-face schooling. The impact of these on productivity is likely to be permanent over the next 40 years, the average number of years a person is expected to work in a lifetime.

It also reported in the study that the resulting productivity loss in human capital investment and returns is estimated at 15.5 trillion pesos for the next 40 years. Of this amount, 4.5 trillion pesos are losses due to premature deaths, and the loss in productivity from sicknesses, and the inability to access treatment from diseases and illnesses associated with the recovery from the pandemic.

The pandemic lockdowns seem to have caused a domino effect on the country’s economy. The 11 trillion pesos representing the reduction in future wages and productivity is the result of the suspension of face-to-face classes in the school year 2020 to 2021, and the lost wages of parents who had to resign from work to assist their children in online classes.

Then the lower wages in the future are due to lower quality education from online and distance learning during the pandemic. NEDA estimated that online and modular learning in the Philippines was only 37 percent as effective as face-to-face learning. Prolonged use of distance learning would also lead to lower future productivity and consequently, lower wages.

To address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigate the long-term effects on the economy, the NEDA said the Philippine government must accelerate its vaccination program by adding more vaccination sites and of course, having more vaccines; opening the economy safely through localized lockdowns; opening more face-to-face classes, and fully implementing a recovery program.  

Meanwhile, at a time when we have yet to recover from losses, the COVID-19 had mutated to a new variant that the health authorities named Omicron, forcing tired and weary experts to find out whether the newcomer could penetrate through the vaccines. Wear that mask and keep your distance.