Q.1: During the past one month, is the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in your country increasing, or decreasing?
Last November, the country has experienced a steady decrease in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases mainly due to the recent ramp up of vaccination efforts and the continued tightening of international borders especially in countries with high number of confirmed cases. Towards the end of November and first week of December, the Philippine government has also initiated the National Vaccination Drive which yielded close to 10 million doses administered in a span of one week.
However, there are still cause for concerns since the 4th quarter of the year is also the Christmas season in the Philippines especially as December nears. Mass gatherings and celebrations are often observed during these times, which coincides with the announcement of the new Omicron variant. The past week, confirmed cases have been gradually increasing together with the drastic increase in the country’s positivity rate. The next few weeks of January will be crucial in terms of determining whether the trend of confirmed COVID-19 cases increase exponentially.
Q.2: In past several months, did your government declared and introduced strict measures to restrict movements or actions of general public? If yes, what were they?
Towards the 3rd quarter of 2021, the national government has introduced revised quarantine classifications aimed at slowly reopening the Philippine economy. This was primarily to allow businesses, investments, and the economy to restart and recover especially as the Philippines has so far imposed the longest lockdown since the COVID-19 pandemic started. There is also increased mobility as employees, both at the public and private sector, has been allowed to report back to their respective offices while also retaining a flexible work-from-home arrangement. In support of this, public transport has also resumed with increased capacity. Moreover, the national government has also periodically updated entry restrictions and quarantine rules for countries with high number of COVID-19 cases but has generally relaxed cross-border requirements for local and international travel.
Local governments are also empowered to determine the appropriate quarantine classifications depending on the local situation.
Q.3: How have your life and work changed because of COVID-19 pandemic?
When I returned to the Philippines towards the end of 2020, the country is in the midst of a strict lockdown which forced most offices to operate on a work-from-home (WFH) arrangement. It was challenging at the start getting used to the online platforms being utilized by the office and relying mostly on emails and online meetings for updates. Looking at my core task as part of the Center’s capacity building arm, travels and personal meetings with client national government agencies, local government units, and other government entities were put on hold as all capacity building activities are now done online which was unimaginable pre-pandemic time. With these personal interactions, which makes office work bearable and enjoyable at times, severely limited, it was a personal challenge to adjust right after I came back to the Philippines since I was somehow expecting more or less the same work arrangements upon reporting back to the office. At the same time, maintaining work-life balance also required some adjustments since the distinction between personal and office time and space were blurred by this WFH set-up. Our homes, which used to be our place for rest and time away from office concerns has now become the same office space where we try to juggle work and house chores. Fortunately, our agency has introduced better WFH measures (no emails and messages beyond office hours and weekends, no meeting Wednesdays etc.) to help bring back this distinction and ease the burden of WFH. Moving forward, I believe offices will now adopt more flexible work arrangements upon realizing that this opportunity to transform our work transactions online is also possible and considering that COVID-19 might persist in the next few years.
In terms of life during the pandemic, one of the main changes I really felt is the limitation towards mobility. I enjoying travelling and I spend a lot of time outside the house but with the ongoing lockdown, we were required to stay indoors to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Large gatherings and celebrations were also limited with respect to the national government guidelines so family events and celebrations with friends were either cancelled, limited to immediate family members or done online. We also have to get used to the minimum health standards in terms of sanitizing, physical distancing, proper wearing of face masks which are now becoming part of our daily routine.
Q4: What do you think are necessary for the society of your country to prepare for / to deal with another pandemic expected to happen in the future?
COVID-19 has become an eye-opener to governments and our society in terms of upgrading our healthcare system and in putting together the necessary institutional and systematic preventive measures for early mitigation of various virus and infectious diseases. There is much to be said about the response of the Philippine government in this current pandemic and a lot of the approaches have borne lessons that are vital to be considered so we will not experience the same mistakes we had the past two years. In addition to demanding a better public healthcare system and electing leaders that can respond and lead during times of calamities, disasters and similar pandemics, there will be times Filipinos can only rely on themselves in order to survive pandemics like COVID-19 so embedding the culture of minimum health standards from here on will really be helpful in curbing the spread of future infectious diseases. Adopting Japan’s face mask culture where citizens who are feeling ill but are still required to go outside have the courtesy to wear mask in order not to infect other people will be a good practice here in the Philippines. Physical distancing, respect for other people’s personal space and proper hand washing will also be a good practice moving forward.
Q.5: How are you taking advantage of the experience with Meiji University? What do you think are the "growth" or "progress" that you made through the 2-year study?
Through my stay in Meiji University, I was afforded an opportunity to fully focus on my research regarding urban rail transport PPPs. The analysis and findings from my research were shared to my colleagues at the PPP Center which opened possibilities of applying my research framework to different emerging sectors as a way of continuing the discussion towards ensuring better PPP projects are implemented in the Philippines.
In addition to this, the mindset of establishing a problem before recommending policy reforms or actions was a good lesson imparted by my sensei which resonates to me until now. He pointed out that civil servants often undermine this step and move forward to thinking about possible solutions before finding out the main problem we are trying to solve. This has been a revelation to me as I reported back in my office and this great realization is something that I always bring with me every time and a lesson that civil servants should also be aware even the future students that wish to study in Meiji University.