Heroes of the economy

National, Opinion
(By EV Rieza)

The pandemic economy has defied people’s perception of ‘business as usual’ and trounced well heeded principles of commerce overnight. Ominous as it may seem, government and the private sector can only do so much, as they both watched the foundations of a bustling pre-pandemic economy crumbled down.

As we pray that Covid-19 finally trudges the flat curve, not without our best efforts, and with high hopes for a vaccine soon, however, economists see a flicker of something that looks hopefully precious down the road. Online firms have started sprouting like the proverbial mushrooms from the debris of the collapse. For certain, hope is not lost. After all, there’s still the internet.

“As people have been forced to work from home, avoid travel, refrain from shopping in retail stores, and stop eating at restaurants, huge swaths of the economy have ceased to be financially viable,” thus MIT Sloan Management Review pictured the economic landscape in April, this year.

Constrained by stringent health protocols, traditional face to face trading done in open markets went passé in favor of the digital buy and sell through the internet, ranging from small household bric-a-bracs, fashion and utility articles, and food items, and what have you.

Significantly, most of those who propped up this ‘new normal’ industries were themselves those whose livelihoods were shattered by the long lockdowns that brought down to the ground once labor intensive factories and private businesses of the vibrant pre-pandemic economy.

Realizing the futility of crying over what had been lost to the quarantines and complaining about government dole outs that came in trickles, the savvy and hard bitten turned to self-help, to survive. They traced the templates of the online giants that curiously grew fatter by the day during the pandemic by the sheer nature of their trade, but unlike Amazon, Lazada, and Shopee which are impossible to placate, this new breed of online sellers translate the sales pitch into the language of a backyard industry. Most of them are operating unlicensed, but they are now referred to as “saviors of the Covid-19 economy.”

The House of Representatives is currently poised to pass a legislation to give these modest online businesses a broad range of support from loans and grants to training and registration assistance, so they won’t continuously operate illegally.

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee has authored House Bill No. 7698, or the Online Small Enterprise Support Services Act of 2020, proposing that online businesses with less than P1 million in annual sales get cheap loans from government banks, free credit reports, grants, and training from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), among others.

“Small online businesses are the saviors of the COVID-19 economy. We would see far more unemployment and far more poverty if Filipino households did not turn to small online businesses,” Salceda said.

“Online businesses have sprung up over the past few months because of COVID-19. Unfortunately, many of them are still unregistered. Instead of punishing them for simply trying to make a living, my approach is to make registration worth it.

If you’re a small online business, you serve the economy, whether registered or not. We will offer generous benefits, however, if you register and pay taxes. It’s a fair and humane deal,” he added.

With this kind of government support, perhaps it won’t take long before these small online firms could break through the P 1 million annual sales and become a stronger force that could turn the wheels of the economy.

“The digital economy is the future. That is why we are already laying the building blocks for a strong digital economy. If we delay these reforms, we will face painful consequences as this segment of economy continues to grow,” the lawmaker-economist explained.

Salceda’s bill aims to provide adequate capital and credit access for individuals seeking to operate small online enterprises by mandating government banks to offer small business loans at competitive rates, and by providing small online businesses with free credit reports and credit scores.

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