Leaders of the Philippine business community, as well as heads of local government units were upset and frustrated at the sudden and inexplicable change of heart by the Duterte administration last week.

After announcing on September 6 that COVID-19 restrictions would be loosened from the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ, the strictest of all lockdown protocols) to a general community quarantine (GCQ), Malacañang abruptly cancelled the plan one day later.

The business community was incensed, with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI, the Philippines’ biggest business organization) criticizing the government’s last-minutechange of heart.

The aborted plan would have seen local government units impose lockdowns only on communities where there were growing numbers of new COVID-19 cases.

In a statement issued September 8, acting PCCI President Edgardo Lacson said, “Authorities must be prudent in prematurely announcing half-studied policies or policy shifts as they have a tremendous impact on business operations and people’s daily lives.”

Among the most heavily affected was the restaurant industry, which had welcomed the announced re-opening of the economy by re-calling furloughed employees and sprucing up their indoor dining facilities, which were shuttered early last month due to the surge in coronavirus cases, specifically the Delta variant which now accounts for three out of every four new cases.

Local executives of the National Capital Region such as Mayors Isko Moreno and Marcelino Teodoro of the capital city of Manila and Marikina, respectively, said they were upset at the government’s flip-flopping.

Teodoro said, “We just found out about MECQ extension from the media.”

He said it was not just the business community but also the mayors like himself who were upset, as the Department of Interior and Local Government had failed to communicate with them regarding the decision.

The Roman Catholic Church also reacted negatively as most churches, chapels and cathedrals prepared to welcome back the faithful. 

Under GCQ, churches were allowed up to 30 percent venue capacity, with local officials allowed to increase this to 50 percent capacity in areas with low infection rates.

After the government advisory, most churches cancelled physical masses, going fully online instead. On the September 8 return to MECQ, Catholics planned on-site masses to celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary’s birthday.

Moreno told reporters that he could not blame the church leaders along with the small- and medium-sized enterprises “because they were banking on a firm decision from the national government.”

Sen. Grace Poe asked why the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases acted too quickly to lift the strictest quarantine protocol even as the COVID-19 Delta variant was wreaking havoc on the healthcare system. 

The country exceeded the 20,000 mark of new daily infections for four consecutive days last week, hitting an all-time high of 26,303 cases on September 11.

The Health department, however, echoed a warning from the World Health Organization that the numbers could rise to as high as 43,000 cases a day by the end of September unless the government took more stringent measures to stop the spread of the virus.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque asked the public to understand the government’s difficult situation of having to watch over the health of the general populace even as it tries to revive the floundering economy.

Roque said, “the debates are continuing,” and the government was looking for the best possible alternative to a hard lockdown.

He added that the IATF has yet to act on the request of the private sector to extend privileges to fully vaccinated individuals.

A new policy will be announced that would be in effect from September 16 to the end of the month.