Companies hold off plans to reassess business operations under 'new normal'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 22) – Private firms and construction companies have scaled down business activities as they step back to reassess their operations under the "new normal," industry leaders said Friday.

In a webinar organized by the Makati Business Club and the National Resilience Council, BDO Unibank president and chief executive officer Nestor Tan said he has noticed a surge in loans immediately after the government placed Luzon under enhanced community quarantine in mid-March, which lasted until April.

When most areas saw relaxed lockdown rules by May, Tan noted there had been a "slowdown" in credit applications as businesses pause to figure out how they will reopen with the coronavirus a remaining threat.

Ignacio Mijares, president and CEO at Cemex Holdings Philippines, had the same view: developers have taken a "wait-and-see" approach, as they look for cues on how government plans to roll out its infrastructure projects.

President Rodrigo Duterte's economic team said it will continue the government's flagship construction projects under the "Build, Build, Build" program, counting it as a crucial strategy for economic recovery.

READ: DPWH chief says big-ticket 'Build, Build, Build' projects will push through despite COVID-19 crisis

Together with business survival, companies are most concerned about how they can retain their employees, especially for smaller businesses.

"All COVID-19 programs should preserve and eventually create jobs," said Ayala Corporation chairman and CEO Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala.

The billionaire businessman suggested the government formalize a structured wage subsidy program, which grants incentives for micro businesses to keep their employees and make them more resilient.

RELATED: How will small businesses survive in this crisis?

He added that a public-private partnership model for response measures would work best to combat the pandemic, saying data and science can be shared between the two camps. Big businesses have pitched in billions of pesos in food donations and are boosting the country's COVID-19 testing capacity.

For his part, Tan said while productive capacity is still intact for private firms, they need to reopen as soon as possible to preserve this. He added that the government is keen on assisting small businesses through easy loans, but financial firms need to observe credit "discipline" as they hand out cash.

For his part, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno called the COVID-19 pandemic as an "unprecedented crisis," and batted for a massive job creation program which may be implemented at the barangay level. The former budget secretary said additional funds may be footed by stimulus measures pending before Congress, which he wants passed via special sessions if necessary.