IN THE third quarter of 2020, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported that consumer confidence was at an all-time low of -54.5 percent.

In its September 24, 2020, the BSP said respondents attributed their negative sentiment "generally to the Covid-19 pandemic."

"Other reasons cited by the respondents were the following: (a) high unemployment rate and less working family members, (b) low and reduced income, and (c) faster increase in the prices of goods," BSP said.

With low consumer confidence, this clearly affected the economy and a variety of businesses.

"With this pandemic costing the country thousands of irreplaceable lives, it has never been more critical to be vigilant about taking the necessary precautions to prevent covid and its spread. And yet taking these precautions also come at a cost," George Royeca, Agkas co-founder, said.

"Because we are all trying to prevent the virus from spreading, businesses have closed down, unemployment has risen, and the economy has sunk as this pandemic continues," Royeca added.

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez said there is a need to reopen the economy.

As part of its initiative to reopen the economy, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF) and the DTI has put in place regulations and guidelines that will allow businesses to slowly resume operations. Regulations include minimum health protocols set by IATF and DTI and also businesses that are allowed to operate and the capacity they are allowed to cater to.

However, allowing businesses to resume operations is not enough.

"As we are reopening the economy...marami pa ring pong mahinang negosyo kahit nagbukas (Business remains slow despite resuming operations). It is also important that we address the other parts of the economy, in other words, bringing back consumer confidence," Lopez said.

In a bid to bring back consumer confidence, some of the country's largest brands and corporations launched Ingat Angat Tayong Lahat, a private-sector campaign in support of Taskforce T3 (Test, Trace, Treat).

Among the brands taking part in the Ingat Angat campaign are Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Alliance Global Group (Megaworld, Resorts World, Emperador), Jollibee Foods Corporation, McDonald's Philippines, Goldilocks, BDO, BPI, Metrobank, Paymaya, Alaska, Champion, Century Pacific Food Inc., Coca Cola Philippines, Oishi LIwayway Marketing Corp., PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble Philippines, RFM Corporation, Unilever, Petron/San Miguel Corporation, Shell, Ayala Malls, Filinvest Development Corporation, Robinsons Malls, SM Supermalls, Globe Telecom, Smart Communications, Angkas, and Food Panda.

Task Force T3 is the multi-sector public-private initiative put together in April 2020 to allow the private sector to work closely with the Department of Health (DOH), the National Task Force (NTF) against Covid-19, IATF to manage the outbreak of the pandemic in the country.

"T3 aims to mobilize resources to enable the country to test, trace, and treat in ensuring proper public health management during these times.

Initially, it was to create and capacitate the government to help rapidly expand RT-PCR laboratories for Covid-19. The funding from private-sector donations was crucial in plugging gaps for building new laboratories and mega swabbing facilities. It has also tapped its network to build up digital analytics and digital contact tracing capabilities," said Royeca, who is the chief transport advocate for Ingat Angat, during the launch of the campaign in October 2020.

From improving the test, trace, and treatment capacity of the country, the private sector saw ways on how it can continue to support the government in its fight against the Covid-19 and at the same time, rebuilding the economy.

"The private sector has found a new front where we can be supportive of the fight against Covid, and that is in restoring the confidence of our citizens that we can all resume our lives and livelihoods, so long as we strictly follow the minimum health standards recommended by health experts," said Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, chairman and CEO Ayala Corporation.

At present, minimum health protocols include the wearing of a face mask and face shield, observing physical distancing, and regular sanitation or washing of hands with soap and water. For businesses, among the

health protocols being implemented is the wearing of face mask with a face shield for employees interacting with clients, temperature check, availability of contact tracing forms, physical distancing, and signages to remind consumers of the minimum health protocols, among others.

Telecommunications and finance firms participating in the campaign are also urging consumers to utilize digital platforms for their transactions to prevent lessen the risk of infection.

"Cashless and contactless payment and money transfer technologies are now part of the world's arsenal against the virus as life-saving, life coping, and life-enhancing solutions," said Orlando B. Vea, Paymaya founder and CEO.

He added that the company is also committed to enabling more Filipinos to go digital when it comes to their transactions.

Ernest Cu, Globe Telecom CEO, also said they rely heavily on digital applications to minimize, if not eliminate, physical transactions. For instance, they are pushing for the use of GCash for transactions.

Margot Torres, managing director for McDonald's Philippines and Ingat Angat Tayong Lahat communications advocacy co-lead, said the communication campaign seeks to let consumers understand that they can continue to live their lives as normally as they can as long as they have the discipline to follow the minimum health standards.

"Ingat Angat Tayong Lahat aims to transform the mindset of consumers. We are breaking through the helplessness many felt at the height of the pandemic and helping lead Filipinos to empowered vigilance and continued safety during this period," Torres said.

Torres said the communication campaign is mainly targeted towards the upper to middle-class Filipino consumers "whose lives have been put on hold."

She said this consumer group has the "sphere of influence within their respective households, social circles, and businesses." The advocates of the Ingat Angat campaign also believes that the personal consumption expenditure of this group will help "drive the economy forward."

Torres said they are implementing a contextual messaging strategy to properly communicate the message of Ingat Angat depending on the community quarantine status in a certain area.

Through the "Ingat Angat Tayong Lahat" campaign, the group seeks to "send a message of resilience, hope, and inspiration to boost businesses to continue to increase operations while ensuring strict safety standards and to encourage Filipinos to once again enjoy activities outside the confines of their homes."

Among the communication materials of the Ingat Angat campaign is a video advertisement showcasing "unity and solidarity" among participating brands supporting one another amid the pandemic.

"The campaign is not only about the Filipinos most loved brands restoring consumer confidence while promoting vigilance. The campaign has become a symbol of solidarity and unity with competing brands and services agreeing together to appear in one scene," said Melvin Mangada, managing partner and chief creative office of TBWA/Santiago Mangada Puno.

Secretary Vince Dizon, NTF deputy chief implementer and chief testing czar, said while the government initially urged the Filipinos to stay at home at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, they are now putting efforts to also safely reopen the economy and allow it to recover.

"A critical part of this recovery and reopening the economy is all about confidence. It is all about giving back confidence to our people to go back to work and giving back confidence to our people to try and live as normal as a life as they can, given the challenges of Covid-19," Dizon said.

Lopez said the is now a shift of focus towards "consumer confidence, health, and economy."

Dizon said there is a need for everyone to understand that "we need to live a life in the new normal but also acknowledge "that Covid-19 is still here and will still remain here until a vaccine is widely distributed."

For his part, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer for the National Task Force Against Covid-19, said the campaign will enable them "to harness the bayanihan spirit between the public and private sector in rebuilding our economy."

"For the government's part, we will work double-time and implement necessary strategies to lower the number of Covid-19 new cases," Galvez said.

He added that while there may be signs of improvement in the Covid-19 situation in the country, "we cannot afford to let our guards down and we cannot be complacent at these crucial times."

"If people follow the minimum health standards, if companies are able to enforce them in the workplace, if commercial establishments are able to enforce them in the malls, in the restaurants, then we can prevent the number of cases from going up," Dizon said.

Improving consumer confidence

After consumer confidence took a plunge in the third quarter of 2020, it saw a slight improvement in the fourth quarter of 2020.

In BSP's consumer index report on December 11, data showed that consumer confidence has improved to -47.9 percent in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2020 from -54.5 percent in the third quarter (Q3) of 2020.

The central bank reported that the improved overall confidence index (CI) of consumers is due to the availability of more jobs and permanent employment; additional and high income; effective government policies and programs such as the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) and the Plant, Plant, Plant Program; and less community restrictions, reopening of businesses, and hope for the Covid-19 pandemic nearing its end.

Consumer sentiment for the first quarter (Q1) of 2021 is also optimistic.

"For Q1 2021, the CI reverted to positive territory at 4.3 percent from the Q3 2020 survey result of -4.1 percent for Q4 2020. Consumers cited their anticipation of: (a) availability of more jobs and more working family members, (b) additional and high income, (c) an end in the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the discovery of COVID-19 vaccine, and (d) reopening of businesses as reasons behind their optimism for Q1 2021," BSP said in its report.

The central bank also reported that "consumer's outlook for the next 12 months remained optimistic as the CI was at 23.6 percent, although slightly lower than the Q3 2020 survey result of 25.5 percent."

"It is very well indeed possible for all of us to regain confidence and rebuild again. I have no doubt that with so many brands collaborating in this powerful campaign, we can reopen our economy by giving our citizens confidence to move forward with our lives and coexist with this virus," Zobel de Ayala said.