In the recent GoNegosyo Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Conference, three of the country’s biggest business leaders delved into the nitty gritty of the COVID-19 economy: CEO and chair of Ayala Corporation Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, co-chair of SM Investments Teresita Sy-Coson, chair and president of International Container Terminal Service Inc. Enrique Razon. They were also joined by AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes. 

For Ayala, to be a catalyst of change means to understand the value of cooperation. Common sense, instinct and, most of all, empathy will enable the industry to work as a unit. 

“This is the moment when we all should be holding hands and riding this together. I think what this crisis has shown is that we’re all part of a system that is much more integrated than ever before. This is a time when cooperation is far more important than anything else,” says Ayala.

Collaboration between the public and private sector is crucial and necessary, he says, adding that resources may be depleted deliberately for us to survive the crisis. He notes that there might be stimulus on the table, but demand has to kick in as well. There’s no way around it: Balance sheets are needed to kickstart the economy, says Ayala.

Sy-Coson meanwhile, believes that it is inevitable for a leader to be out there in times of crisis. Looking inward to one’s core strength is key to surviving the pandemic. She’s delighted to see many industry players step forward and handle the situation without leaving employees behind and sacrificing consumer engagement. Sy-Coson also expresses hope that more areas would  open and movement restrictions would be less stringent to stimulate a freer flow of goods and services.

Razon shares Sy-Coson’s sentiments about leaders stepping forward. He emphasizes the importance of being prepared as well, since the next crisis might be lurking round the corner. Entrepreneurs must hold on to the mantra of expecting the worst but hoping for the best, he says. Recalling a book he had read when was young, he quotes: “There are no desperate situations, only desperate men.”

According to Razon, being the largest consumer economy in Southeast Asia, the Philippines can expect that the pandemic would specifically attack consumers. The government would have to pump up the economy with a stimulus equivalent to at least 20 percent of the gross domestic product, he adds. 

What’s more urgent now is for MSMEs to keep their head above water and focus on survival and opportunity instead of growth, Razon notes.

“I think 2020 is absolutely written off. I suspect the situation won’t stabilize until the end of 2021. (But) 2020 is also the year I expect (when) people will recover, and you will see a lot of pent-up (consumer) demand in the world,” he adds.

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