Staying put, looking forward


The year 2020 may very well be the longest any of us has ever experienced. Filipinos of all walks of life were faced with new adversities, many of which remain unresolved as we approach 2021’s halfway point. Nevertheless, changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic also brought about new forms of creativity, accountability, and connectivity, with many Filipinos embracing the new aspects of our circumstances. With scientists working on medical solutions, we have a responsibility to create solutions in our respective industries for our respective stakeholders.

In order to create these solutions, a comprehensive understanding of how drastically society has been changed is critical. To learn how Filipinos feel about a rollercoaster year, EON conducted a nationwide survey, “Filipinos in the New Reality: Life After a Year of Quarantine.” This survey asked 6,000 Filipinos across the country about what has changed for the better and for the worse since the first set of lockdowns in March last year, interrogating respondents on what new systems have benefited their lifestyles as well as which gaps have endured or even widened. A summary of the findings of this research follows, which we hope will inform the decisions of those in positions of power toward making a “better normal” as sustainable as possible.

We begin with the obvious — the country has emerged from a year of quarantine consumed with feelings of sadness, fear, and regret over the state of affairs. While respondents note a vast number of changes to their routine since March 2020, the majority cite the inability to leave the house as a key difference, with many Filipinos frustrated at how physical restrictions have impacted their ability to attend mass or hang out in shopping malls. Still, Filipinos demonstrate their ability to make the best out of unpredictable situations, with many sharing the tremendous role which family support has played from both psychosocial and financial angles. Though Filipinos lament their newly limited mobility, their fears center over the health and protection of their family, with more respondents afraid their loved ones will catch COVID-19 than afraid of the pandemic’s impact on their work and livelihood.

This is not to say that Filipinos are not feeling the impact of COVID-19 on their finances. On the contrary: a clear majority note that expenses have risen due to the pandemic and that frugal living has been essential. Of the Filipinos surveyed who confirmed their debt, a majority express the desire to work harder, but many also indicate they are simply unable to pay lenders back and are out of options. Potential solutions to financial issues manifest in social media, with many confirming that financial constraints owing to the pandemic have inspired a new interest in setting up online businesses. Still, while we can’t say for sure if COVID-19 is the only cause of our financial distress, we can definitely state that it did not help anyone’s situation.

In sifting through the data, the Filipino people have provided us, we see that issues are just as comprehensive as the efforts our people utilize to solve them. When asked how to move forward, Filipinos reveal that they are anything but single-issue thinkers. Respondent sentiments run a considerable gamut, with Filipinos calling on the government to do away with corruption, calling on the business community to create more jobs, and calling on one another to be vigilant about one another’s safety. It is clear to the people that fixing one crack in our broken system is not enough: respondents stress the importance of financial literacy, thorough research on political candidates, and proper hygiene. The diversity of issues and solutions raised by those who engaged in our research sends a powerful message: Filipinos are keenly aware of the world around them, and are not shy at all to share what they believe it takes to make 2021 more prosperous than the year which preceded it.

With so many dimensions to the pandemic, the question is what is to be done. I would argue first that the average Juan dela Cruz is already doing all they can. Our research shows that Filipinos have utilized a variety of coping mechanisms for each of the issues brought about by this pandemic, whether it’s immersion in social media to pass the time confined at home or whether it’s exploring online business opportunities to make up for economic shortfalls. It is also quite clear from what respondents have said that Filipinos comply as diligently as possible with safety protocols and urge their countrymen to maintain the same standard. I would thus hesitate to continue messaging which attributes our issues to a lack of discipline. The people work with what they are given, and for many it has only been enough to survive.

For those of us privileged enough to worry more about quarterly financial projections rather than when barangay assistance will arrive, I implore you all to demonstrate empathy to your employees like never before. Too many business leaders have used COVID-19 as an opportunity to showcase their ability to pivot in the face of crisis; too few have indicated efforts to connect to the deep emotional and physical wounds afflicting their staff. The data make the overwhelming hopelessness washing over our countrymen quite clear, and while many commit to working even harder to make a living, this resilience should not come at the cost of mental and spiritual stability. If we cannot be there for the people who make our businesses operate on a daily basis, we cannot call ourselves successful business leaders.

Lastly, truth in messaging is non-negotiable, whether leading a company, organization, or political movement. Innovations brought about by the pandemic have afforded the public greater accessibility to their leaders, with social media tearing away the walls separating decision-makers from their constituents. The importance of meaning what you say — and doing it soon after you say it — cannot be overstated at a time where so many of us are losing loved ones at a rapid pace. Tensions have never been this high and the consequences of this “better normal” have been chillingly real for too many of our kababayan. We owe it to ourselves as leaders to advocate for truth, guide those who follow us on the right path, and strive in all that we do to empower and safeguard the Filipino from misinformation. I hope readers will rise to this call-to-action and look forward to the collaborations which will strengthen our country in the days to come.

This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP.

Junie S. Del Mundo is Chair of the MAP Health Committee, Vice-Chair of the MAP CEO Conference Committee, and Chair and CEO of The EON Group.