'Ang tagal naman': Small businesses speak on Duterte forecast of 2023 return to normalcy

Warren de Guzman, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 02 2021 05:43 PM

'Ang tagal naman': Small businesses speak on Duterte forecast of 2023 return to normalcy 1
Pedestrians cross the intersection of Makati Avenue and Buendia Avenue in Makati City on January 28, 2021. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - As the Philippines received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines last Sunday, President Rodrigo Duterte provided a somber forecast on when the country could expect to go back to normal life.

"Early in the first, maybe first or second quarter of year '23, 2023, baka, tulong ng Diyos (maybe with the help of God),” Duterte said when asked about the when the Philippines could return to normalcy

Small business owners, eager for the economy and their earnings to return to normal, were confused by the forecast.

Isabel Sabio runs a canteen in Quezon City. She was forced to cut her staff in half because of weak sales during the pandemic. 

Even now, she only earns enough to pay her staff, her rent, and her other expenses. 

“Tiyaga lang kasi hinihintay namin maging normal,” Sabio said. 

(We carry on because we're waiting for things to go back to normal.)

When Sabio heard the President only expects things to return to normal in 2023, she balked. 

"Parang ang tagal naman. Di ba may vaccine na ngayon? Parang ang ine-expect ko na malapit na. Eh bakit ang tagal pa?," Sabio said. 

(That seems too distant. Isn't there already a vaccine? I'm expecting that it will be soon. Why will it take that long?)
 
Melda Serrano, who owns an agricultural store in Manila, also said 2023 was too far away a target for a return to normalcy. 

"Ay, masyado pong mahaba kung ganyan," Serrano said.

(That's too long.)

Serrano been getting by with online sales, but she was still forced to reduce the salaries of her workers. 

"Dapat po by this year ma-ano na po, para makaahon ahon ang ekonomiya ng Pilipinas.” 

(They should do it this year so that the Philippine economy can recover.)

Gilbert Sangalang, who runs a sounds and lights store in Manila, meanwhile gives a more generous interpretation of Duterte's statement. 

"Sa ngayon kasi, medyo bukas na halos lahat diba? Baka 2022 OK na yan, 23 mas OK na tayo. Baka sinasabi ng Pangulo, yun na yung pinaka da best natin, 23.” 

(Right now, almost everything is open, right? Maybe 2022 it's going to be OK. 2023 will be more OK. Maybe what the President is saying is that the best will be in 2023.)

Sangalang was forced to lay off workers and plead with his landlord for an extension on his rent. 

He also believes the vaccination program should speed up the return to normalcy. 

“Malaking tulong yan. Wala pa ngang bakuna, excited na tayo dumating yung mga yon eh. Ngayong dumating na, kailangan magpaturok, kailangan natin para bumalik yung dati," Sangalang said. 

(That's a big help. We were already excited when the vaccines had yet to arrive. Now that they're here, we need to get jabbed, we need this to go back to how things were before.)

An economist meanwhile has criticized Duterte's 2023 target, saying the President was "setting the bar too low" and warned that the Chief Executive's statement will also damage and delay the country's economic recovery.

Last year, the Philippines suffered its worst economic contraction since the end of World War 2. Economists expect the recession to extend to the first three months of 2021.

The Philippines is the last country in Southeast Asia to receive COVID-19 vaccines. 

A shipment of 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines donated by China arrived on Sunday. 

Another shipment from British drugmaker AstraZeneca was supposed to arrive last Monday, but the delivery was postponed indefinitely, officials said.

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