So, where do we start?
From our perspective, it’s been crazy, these past couple of weeks. The sudden declaration of a community quarantine in Metro Manila meant we had to figure out how to keep our supply chains moving, a big ask considering how our distribution networks are configured. We spent the weekend going on many back-and-forths with government agencies, other associations and our members to figure out the new parameters we can operate in – and we have to operate, as the government mandated that groceries, drugstores and other essential retailers, as well as manufacturers, should remain open.
And then, when we felt we had an idea of what we’re operating with, the government declared an “enhanced” community quarantine. Suddenly the rule books were ripped up, and we had to figure our way again. A lot more back-and-forths, as there was more confusion on what is and isn’t allowed to pass. What counts as essential goods? What about the people who have to go to work (despite the mandate forcing everyone to work at home) to process these deliveries? What about the areas not covered by the Luzon-wide quarantine, and have declared their own lockdowns? What about the local governments and barangays who have imposed their own blockades despite assurances from the national government that all cargo must pass?
As I write this column, things feel a little more secure now. Our members have reported less difficulty across their supply chains than last week, the height of confusion. This would not be possible without the efforts of concerned stakeholders in the public and private sectors. The government acknowledges the importance of keeping supply chain moving amidst this crisis, and we thank the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Transportation, Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior and Local Government for leading the charge.
In particular, the DTI’s prior efforts to bring together supply chain stakeholders under the Logistics Services Philippines umbrella has meant we in supply chain – SCMAP and other industry associations, and the companies they represent – have had a stronger voice, ensuring that our collective concerns are addressed. What we have seen in the past few weeks is a true vision of collaboration, without which the systems in place during this lockdown – the IATF IDs allowing essential employees to travel, the clarifications on which kinds of cargo (all, in this case) should be allowed through – would be non-existent. The consequences of that, of course, would be great, and risks not just the businesses we represent, but, dare I say, the stability of the country as well.
Now, of course the COVID-19 outbreak is a global emergency, and slow decision-making could spell the difference between life and death for many. We understand that the decision to pretty much put Luzon under lockdown had to be made as soon as possible. But the guidelines also called for those under the lockdown to continue to have access to essential goods; since local governments aren’t exactly the best source for this (let’s be honest) it’s up to us in the private sector to keep our shops open. And we can’t keep them open if we can’t keep our shelves full. We can’t keep them full if our deliveries won’t make it. We can’t make deliveries at all if our products can’t be manufactured or imported.
It’s not ideal that the government took a while to understand the ripple effect of a lockdown – particularly its inconsistent implementation per city, municipality, and barangay – on businesses, on the people that rely on them for a living, and perhaps to the overall morale of the general population. Some agencies may have a grasp of one aspect of it, but in our experience there is some difficulty in having different government entities come together and paint a bigger picture from their collective knowledge. The past fortnight has seen us put that picture together – of how vital keeping supply chain moving is not just to the economy, but to the well being of the people it serves. It would be a waste to throw all of that away, only for us to rebuild it when another emergency comes.
Ideally, the mechanisms we have in place now would have been set in stone a long time ago. Think of it as a comprehensive crisis plan that all stakeholders are intimate with and have long made preparations for. So, when a lockdown is declared, or when disaster strikes, or when war breaks out, we can simply flip a switch and change gears quickly, rather than figure out how to adjust and cope. Businesses would already know who the skeletal workforce would be, and would have robust alternative working arrangements for the rest. The government – particularly those in the frontlines – would know whose guidance to follow, and hopefully that’d mean consistent implementation of the rules regardless of which barangay you’re in. (Of course, LGUs would not want to yield any of their power, but that’s a different discussion altogether.) If any adjustments have to be made, then go – but at least we aren’t starting from square one. It’s like a business continuity plan, but bigger.
How do we go about that? I personally believe the proposed Department of Disaster Response would be ill-suited to understand the multi-disciplinary nature of supply chain. Why not a multi-agency approach, in tandem with the private sector? But then again, it’s difficult to bring all of them together, especially once crisis has already struck. But that’s yet another discussion.
How we #keepsupplychainmoving: We at SCMAP will continue to monitor the situation and relay any of your concerns to relevant government authorities. We appreciate your support and input: please email us at email@example.com. Meanwhile, our office will remain closed until further notice (but we continue to work from home, and you can still email us at the aforementioned address) and we have postponed our General Membership Meeting originally scheduled for April 23. More updates on scmap.org and our social media channels.
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.