Laban o Bawi: Small Business Owners Left Scrambling After Sudden MECQ Extension

Metro Manila remains under MECQ until September 15.

MECQ extension
PHOTO BY Pexels ILLUSTRATION War Espejo

(SPOT.ph) Since the start of the lockdown in March 2020, Filipinos had to deal with undending cycles of a four-level quarantine classification: enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), general community quarantine (GCQ), and modified general community quarantine (MGCQ). GCQ can sometimes be "with heightened restrictions" or "with some restrictions"; while barangays can impose what they call a "localized lockdown." The phrase "granular lockdown" has also surfaced.

The back-and-forth has caused confusion especially among small-scale business owners; the very last-minute decision of the Palace to retract the lifting of MECQ in Metro Manila on September 8 was announced at nearly 7 p.m. on September 7. The government initially announced on September 6 that the National Capital Region would shift to GCQ on Wednesday.

If GCQ had pushed through today (or at least the version of GCQ that we know of), restaurants could have reopened for dine-in services, salons and barbershops could have accepted customers, and hotels could have started booking guests for staycations. Daily-wage earners would have an opportunity to put food on the table for the day after weeks of struggling to make ends meet.

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"Dear goverment, maawa naman kayo sa mga taong sobrang naapektuhan na nagtatrabaho nang maayos [...] Naaawa ako sa mga employee ko na hindi na makapagtrabaho nang maayos," said one Inchang Mendoza in a now-viral post. The samgyupsal restaurant was looking forward to reopening and had held a staff meeting and general cleaning. Mendoza also said that they purchased kilos of pork, chicken, and beef for the restaurant's supply.

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Spanky Enriquez of Resto PH also weighed in: "Imagine yourself in their shoes: the restaurant you work for has been closed for a full month and a week, and yesterday, you get the great news that you'd be able to get a salary once more, as restaurants in your city, finally, will be allowed to open. So you get together for a general meeting, clean up everything, and order inventory for the coming days. Great! But then, around dinner time, you get the news that it was all for naught. Reopening has been cancelled at the last minute, and you're sitting there, all optimism and joy lost. In shock. What do I tell my family?!?" He added that the last-minute backtracking was "worse than a slap in the face."

Twitter user @Ltyong_roses00 related to Mendoza's post. "My parents and their employees were getting ready to accept reservations na sa resort namin. They were cleaning the whole place last week to prepare our reopening, tapos MECQ na pala ulit. [Ang] ending, they declined all the requests and nag-close muna ulit kami."

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Swim school for adults Swim Central, which has had to deal with pool closures in the past year, was also ready to resume their classes. "Para sa mga umasa na at sa mga naghihintay po na makapag-resume ang swimming and freediving class. Abang na lang po tayo ulit at MECQ pa din pala tayo," they said in an announcement. Pre-pandemic, Swim Central employed many swimming coaches that regularly facilitate classes in their different partner venues all over Metro Manila. Some of them had to move back home and leave the Metro; while others had to turn to side hustles as they await regular operations, which hasn't happened for more than a year now.

For the entirety of 2020, about 4.5 million Filipinos lost their jobs—the highest in 15 yearsas the lockdown shuttered thousands of businesses. Employment figures are somehow getting better for 2021at least when compared to 2020. The Philippine Statistics Authority reported on September 7 that the number of jobless Filipinos eased in July, with the figure staying at 3.07 million compared to June's 3.73 million. Underemployment is at a record-high of 20.9% (or 8.7 million), which means that there are fewer Filipinos in more stable jobs.

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Visibly underemployed individuals, or those working less than 40 hours a week but want additional hours in their present job or to have an additional job, were estimated at 4.5 million or 10.8% of the total employed workforce. Those working at least 40 hours but still want additional hours were estimated at 4.2 million or 10.0% of the employed Filipinos.

The Philippine Statistics Authority, however, noted that jobless Filipinos could have increased in August given the reimposition of ECQ, and maybe even in September with the extension of MECQ.

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