MANILA – The Philippines could have avoided the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic if had practiced "serious and rational" governance, world-renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs said on Tuesday.
"If we were rational and well-governed, we would actually find a way through this without massive pain and suffering. The epidemic, for example, is itself controllable through rational policies," Sachs said during a virtual conference organized by a Philippine business group.
Sachs noted that other countries in the region have already kept the novel coronavirus "essentially under control."
"In almost all of Southeast Asia, other than the Philippines and Indonesia, the virus is essentially under control. Because very serious public health efforts were made in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and these have kept the transmission of the virus to a very low level," Sachs told the audience at the Management Association of the Philippines' (MAP) CEO Conference 2020.
He said the Philippines can learn from its surrounding neighbors in addressing the health crisis.
"So the good news is it's possible to control this pandemic. And I very much hope that the Philippines could very much learn from the neighbors all around you."
Despite implementing one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world, the Philippines has seen the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia.
It also suffered a deeper economic contraction that its neighbors in the second quarter.
For economies to quickly recover, Sachs said digitalization has also become more crucial.
"The digital age is upending the way the world economy works, those who are in a strong position to be in the digital era are getting ahead," Sachs said.
Digitalization however “requires a serious program of action to ensure digital coverage for all people,” he said.
“We don't have that in the United States and, I'm afraid the same is true in the Philippines and other countries as well. It's a matter of governance."
Sachs also asserted that the pandemic stems from the environmental crisis that the world is facing.
"The fact that we have this epidemic disease is itself part of the environmental crisis, because as you know we're having wave after wave of newly emerging diseases that result from the way human beings are intervening in the environmental systems."
He also urged the Philippines to quickly shift into renewable energy.
Meanwhile, Sachs scored US President Donald Trump over his handling of the pandemic. He warned the US is losing its status as a world leader.
"The complete incompetence of the US government, however, shows that the United States cannot lead anymore," Sachs said.
"And the nationalism and selfishness of the Trump strategy of 'America First' show that the United States is not worthy of the leadership anymore."
"Once again, if we had serious, rational, consequent governance in our countries, we would be making a steady transformation in the right direction," he admitted.
Sachs is the Director at the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He teaches economics at Columbia University is a bestselling author, and an acknowledged global leader in sustainable development.
Time magazine listed Sachs twice in its 100 most influential world leaders, and called him “the world’s best-known economist.” The New York Times has also called Sachs “probably the most important economist in the world.”