Covid-19 is unprecedented. No one was prepared. Leaders melt or shine depending on how they took hold of the problem and communicated to assure the public that there is government and government will get things done. We can’t rely on solutions from the old school, but the new school is not even constructed yet. Strategic leaders embrace challenges, looking at these as opportunities.

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on May 5, 2020.

2020 is a year for all of humanity to just survive. There is no one country free from the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). The global pandemic is a public health crisis where those who act on the issue early on are able to wrestle with it, but there can never be any certainty that there will be no relapse. The second wave is a chilling prospect for all and it will come because we choose to be reckless and undisciplined.

Covid-19 is unprecedented. Political leaders, whether from the leading economies of the world or from the poorest, are all straining to make do with their capacities and protect the very people they took an oath to defend and protect. Chief executive officers were also blindsided because there can be no profits in fiscal year (FY) 2020. It will be a red tsunami on the spreadsheet. Where do you cut when cutting is laying off people?

Hard times call for hard truths, and only leaders capable of telling the truth and embracing science-based and data-driven decisions can save lives. Country to country, the counts are undercounts from positive cases, deaths, tests, the furloughed and the unemployed, among others. All are risk calculations until we have a cure. The science community is saying the cure may come, at the earliest, by end of 2020 or early part of 2021.

Covid-19 is unprecedented in several ways: personally, to ensure there is food on the table and employable persons actually have jobs; health wise, that we are able to contain Covid-19 and ensure that our families are intact; economically, that everyone moderates their greed and survives through the remaining seven months of the year; environmentally, that the earth is breathing well and we can be more caring and not destructive; and spiritually, that we become more tolerant and respectful of the beliefs of others.

Let us get it over with and move on because so much has been asked of us, probably just returning the favor because of how we have treated our earth, right? But in plodding on, there is no way we will get back to our norm. If you want to reopen your firms, you would need to first protect your employees (with shields, masks, alcohol/disinfectants, thermal thermometers, disinfection mats, etc.); then redo your work area while ensuring physical distancing, dividing the work force into those working from home and those physically reporting to handle day-to-day operations, and regulating the employees’ use of the pantry to ensure that there is space. Set up contact tracing and isolation protocols to protect the rest. These are not ordinary tasks for the huge corporations by sheer number of employees because it means additional costs. For micro, small and medium enterprises, although there are few employees, it is still the cost that cuts through the restricted cash flow.

There will be problems in terms of public transportation, ensuring people go home after work without much socializing and group gathering. The traditional office, restaurant, grocery stores, malls, classrooms, as well as loading and unloading areas for public transport, will have to undergo redesigning and retrofitting to comply with the needed protection mandated by local and national governments. From enhanced community quarantine to general community quarantine, it will now be an arena controled by local governments conforming only to minimum health standards of the national government. The campaign has already started with Covid-19 and this will define how things will shape up in the political landscape from national to local. The barangay (village) captains and kagawad (village councilors) who were elected because of sheer politics may be on the way out. We need barangay leaders who are capable in public management as well as logistics and supply chain operations. The days of “sabungero, babaero, lasinggero, sugarol” (cockfighter, womanizer, drunkard, gambler) barangay leaders are gone. We just cannot afford these kinds of community leaders because Covid-19 is proof of how inefficient they could be.

Congress reconvened yesterday. Both chambers will only have 15 session days before adjourning sine die on June 5. Though it is not the time for divisive politics, it is time for something to be done, for implementing and executing: ensuring there is no relapse, we get up and pursue economic recovery and we ensure that preparations for Election Day 2022 are made.

More and more decisions will be clouded by politics. The House of Representatives will see a replacement of its leadership under a term sharing arrangement brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte himself. The President, in turn, will deliver his fifth State of the Nation Address in July in which he will be submitting his FY 2021 budget, a preelection budget, under a heavy cloud if the world has not found a cure. Three milestones that will shape the 2022 elections are how we battled the pandemic; the budget, which signals the priorities in the remaining years of this administration; and how fast we can recover and get back on our feet.

By January 2021, where we are in the pandemic and the economic reset would determine how May 2022 will be played. Congress has not acted on the hybrid system of election. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is not ready to do an online general registration since it does not have its own business continuity plan. How would registration be? How about campaigning and the most important event is E-Day? Would we rely on ballots by mail? Comelec is a legacy institution. It moves heavily because of rules. Will we see a Comelec breaking from its institutional impasse? Lawyers fill the roster when it should be made up of data analysts, logistics and supply chain specialists and information and communications technology systems people.

Covid-19 is unprecedented. No one was prepared. Leaders melt or shine depending on how they took hold of the problem and communicated to assure the public that there is government and government will get things done. We can’t rely on solutions from the old school, but the new school is not even constructed yet. Strategic leaders embrace challenges, looking at these as opportunities.

Leadership is also about acknowledging mistakes, learning from these and not freezing because of these. Passing the buck is passé, and looking for someone to blame is a shameful act under the pandemic. Those who can think long term will have an edge. Those who are creative, innovative and adaptive will make the hurdle and have the chance to start laying new bricks to a foundational change for the future. Those who are prone to risks might just have a unique chance to build. No harebrained ideas, no right or wrong. In its being unprecedented, we just have to get all hands on deck and all available tools used to ride the wave and, hopefully, be ahead of the curve.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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