AS THE local economy is still reeling from the effects of the unprecedented coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, a business leader said "business as usual" is not an option now.

Frank Carbon, chief executive officer of Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MBCCI), said local enterprises cannot go back to 2019 of doing things.

Carbon said it will not work and so they have to think "outside of the box" and do things outside of their comfort zone.

"Covid-19 has turned our life upside down," he said, adding that "we have to adapt fast or else we'll go under."

To help businesses survive and steer the economy, the sector has recognized the need for the local government to heed its call.

On Friday, various business groups in the city including MBCCI, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Negros Occidental (HRANO), and Resort Association of Negros Island (Rani) submitted a position paper to the City Government of Bacolod.

They have asked the local government to come up with economic recovery and spending plan to preserve jobs and prop up the diminishing purchasing power of the populace.

The position paper stated that the community quarantine measures have been necessary to save lives amid the increasing infections of the coronavirus. But as a consequence, we are now facing economic distress because of the loss of jobs and other means of livelihood.

It said many businesses, including small and micro enterprises (SMEs), were forced to close. As a result, many workers have either lost their jobs or earn less than what they used to.

Business groups stressed that economic restrictions have been prolonged enough to worsen the effects on people, families, communities.

"Many have fallen deeper into poverty, and in more ways than one, including education, indebtedness, and nutrition," it said, adding that these have added an even greater burden to the already encumbered social welfare and security system.

The local business community asserted that cash assistance and provision of some food items have helped to tide the poorest of the poor through the quarantine but that was only a short-term solution.

For them, stimulating economic activity is the next crucial step to help people, families and businesses stay afloat and get on the road to recovery.

To stimulate economic activity, businessmen said the local government should increase the purchasing power of the populace through the cash-for-work program, labor-intensive infrastructure projects, and financial assistance to micro-businesses.

At the same time, to protect the purchasing power of low-income and most vulnerable families, the LGU along with other government agencies like the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department of Agriculture (DA) needs to organize rolling stores, implement a price freeze ordinance and set a suggested retail price (SRP) for basic necessities.

They said that for businesses to stay afloat, business taxes and other fees should be reduced in 2021.

There should be discounts on real estate tax paid in advance, as well as a tax amnesty on unpaid real estate tax and business tax, they added.

The business community also asked the local government to lift the curfew hours and

partial liquor ban particularly for

those 23 years old and above as this is seen to help spark opportunities especially for evening businesses in the city.

Carbon earlier said about 30 percent of the sector's revenues come from night businesses.

He said the business community will ensure that businesses will slowly reopen and remained open, and generate more jobs in a healthy and safe environment.

"If they [LGU] want to save jobs. They have to think like a businessman," Carbon said, adding that "to be able to get concessions from the government, we have to think and act like a politician."

The position paper was signed by Roberto Magalona of HRANO, Bomber Zayco of Rani, and Roberto Montelibano of MBCCI.

In a related development, the Bacolod Employers Union (BEU) has expressed support for the move of the business groups.

John Anthony Ledesma, president of BEU, said the action made by the MBCCI, HRANO and Rani is similar to what the group has been advocating last year.

"We were asking for an economic stimulus plan, SME rescue plan and cash-for-work program for the unemployed," he said.

The BEU is composed of over 600 member-MSMEs with at least 300 registered businesses under different sectors. On average, they employ about 3,000 workers.

Included in the stimulus package for MSMEs to avoid further closures it had pushed were job creations and avoiding dole-outs, concrete support to local businesses and suppliers, health road map, government accountability, private-public sector partnership, and business systems and requirements, among others.*