Tuesday, September 21, 2021
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A Seat At the Table

Personally, I don’t like the term “Imperial Manila”. It’s not because, as a person who lives round these parts, I am offended by the term. It’s because it implies that we want everything for ourselves, at the expense of every other part of the country. It definitely is a result of decades of socioeconomic planning that’s biased towards the capital, for some reason – something that we’re only recently trying to rectify. That, and, whenever I go to other cities, I always feel like we could use some of their lack of traffic.


But during this enhanced community quarantine I can’t help but think of that term. Perhaps it’s long-ingrained biases, how we unknowingly equate what’s happening in Manila with what’s happening across the Philippines. I always have to remind myself that the national government’s declaration only covers all of Luzon. But whenever government officials make pronouncements about how, say, unhampered movement of cargo should prevail during this period, I always ask, “does it cover Visayas and Mindanao too, or do they get to have their own rules about this?”


Take the two other major cities in the country. Davao was quick to follow the national government in imposing travel restrictions in and out of the city. It would later mandate a lockdown that meant anyone can leave, but nobody can enter, unless they are covered by existing exceptions, like if you’re medical personnel. For us in supply chain, this means only truck drivers can enter the city; their helpers have to get off the vehicle and wait at the checkpoint. Once the truck reaches its destination, the driver cannot get off, and others must unload the cargo.


On the other hand, Cebu took a longer while to declare its own enhanced community quarantine. Perhaps learning its lesson from the delays and disruption we experienced across Luzon in the early days of the lockdown, it reiterated that cargo can move freely in and out of the province. Our members haven’t told us of any major disruption on that side of the country as of yet.


It’s one thing to have inconsistent application of guidelines in the areas covered by the ECQ declared by the national government. The varying rules that apply on a per-municipality (and sometimes even per-barangay) basis is enough uncertainty one can handle. We can work around it, but it causes delays and higher costs as trucks are forced to look for alternate routes, or wait longer to return to their origins. But the uncertainty over whether local or national guidelines take precedence in areas outside Luzon takes this disruption to a different level. Let’s face it: these provinces don’t stand on their own. Even Cebu, which has a strong manufacturing presence, brings in some of its goods from other parts of the country. One cannot expect to close its borders and hope for zero disruption in its store shelves.


The government’s pronouncements may help us when it comes to making sure our shipments make it from, say, Manila’s ports to, say, Bicol, but it says little when it comes to bringing our goods to Cebu, or Iloilo, or Cagayan de Oro. In recent weeks our members have encountered checkpoints in other parts of the country trucks and employees aren’t allowed to pass through despite presenting the right documentation. These issues stand out because nobody is sure whether the guidelines that govern the Luzon-wide ECQ covers this.


Again, we appreciate that the COVID-19 crisis needed decisive and swift action if we are to mitigate its impact. The extension of the ECQ in Luzon, to the end of this month, suggests not that the actions are failing, but that we are seeing some results, and that we shouldn’t throw them away. But for the most part, we have had to adjust and figure things out as we go along, which isn’t ideal. I don’t think many have considered the impact of this quarantine on other parts of the country which relies on the ports and factories of Luzon for its goods. So, when the dust has settled, perhaps it would help if we can also have stakeholders from Visayas and Mindanao on the table, especially if we’re mapping out our supply chain capabilities to make sure the movement of goods aren’t hampered in good times and bad. Not just a token presence, but a constant, collaborative one. This will help decision makers also consider the rest of the country in policy making. At the very least, we can go one step further in shaking off that unfortunate “Imperial Manila” branding.


Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications executive of SCMAP. A former board director, he is also editor-in-chief of the organization’s official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.


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