The world has now entered its third year grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and the debate of balancing economic health and public health continues. The tourism and hospitality industries have borne the brunt of the economic impact of lockdowns and covid restrictions, with leisure spots, resorts, hotels, tourist sites, and other destinations the first to close when the pandemic began in early 2020.
Today, businesses in these industries struggle to stay afloat, with varying lockdown measures still persisting: every fifteen days the Philippine government announces the quarantine measures for the next fifteen day period, announcing the level of restriction of movement, operating capacity, and which industries and sectors have to take a pause, greatly affecting business operations. This has caused a particularly precarious situation for the hospitality and tourism industries where capacity limits (a limit of 50% capacity is imposed in lockdown level 3 for example, and no in-store customers allowed at all at level 5) affect much of the revenue flow.
To cope with this uncertainty, businesses have been forced to rethink their operations if they hope to avoid mass layoffs of employees. I myself have a small family business in the hospitality industry, and while we have been able to keep all our employees—so far—we have had to be upfront with them regarding the volatility of the situation of the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world we live in.
Making strategic decisions in business remains a challenge for all industries, now more than ever. While profit is the most obvious consideration for business owners and investors, the pandemic has also highlighted the importance of care and concern for employees and customers.
The ongoing debate between opening up the economy and prioritizing public health continues, with the country going through various levels of easing and restrictions when new variants arrive in the country. At one point, the Philippine government itself admitted that strict lockdown measures were proving unsustainable, given the economic impact of limited people movement and business operations. Safely opening up the economy requires resources for contact tracing and mass testing. Sadly, neither of these have been fully implemented by the Philippine government, resulting in the country’s low rank in COVID-19 resilience. It has also created a sense among the people that they are on their own, and that they cannot rely on others or the government to help them through the pandemic.
From the standpoint of Catholic social thought, what is a Filipino Catholic millennial business owner—such as myself and many others—to do?
Statistically speaking, most Filipinos are nominally Catholic, however the kind of Catholicism that Filipinos live out has also changed over time. Recent studies have shown that the Filipino Catholic millennials have shifted focus to right living rather than right believing, with less value given to doctrine and more concern for ethical and practical living. The question “what is the right thing to do?” is as important as ever, and one thinks of what business owners can do on their own and what needs to be done both for and by larger social institutions such as the government.
On one hand, the pandemic challenges the business owner to adapt through prudent decision-making, using the resources in ways that will genuinely benefit those connected to the business—customers, employees, suppliers, and the local community. However, when making such decisions, it is important to remember that the good and interests of all are interconnected: the good of one is related to the good of the others.
In order to bring out these connections some more—and in line with important view of justice as participation when thinking about the common good—we need to turn to open dialogue strategies and interest-based negotiations, rather then power-based dynamics.  The risks and shortfalls of the business cannot all be shouldered by one group of stakeholders alone. Risks and shortfalls need to be shared appropriately. Since business owners enter into business knowing that risk is part of entrepreneurship, other stakeholders cannot and should not subsidize the entire business from the owner either: an example of such subsidization is when employees take on extreme pay cuts while the owner does not during times of duress. Thus, when using tools to identify risks and possible shortfalls, such as the RAID (Risks, Assumptions, Issues, and Dependencies) method, the question is not only about what risks and shortfalls are being taken, but also who will end up bearing that risk or absorbing the material shortfall.
A proper practice of discernment is also needed. Discernment helps business owners reflect more deeply on making strategic decisions in a more life-giving way—with fewer resources available because of the pandemic, decisions need to be more deliberate to ensure the optimal distribution of goods and resources toward the common good.
On the other hand, business owners cannot rely on resilience alone to get through the pandemic. A lot of businesses rely heavily on social institutions for support. The government’s handling of the pandemic has one of the biggest effects; effective testing and tracing efforts would help curb the pandemic and help the economy and businesses open up in a safer manner, giving people more confidence and guidance in navigating the pandemic.
Further support and subsidies for businesses at most risk, especially MSMEs (micro, small, and medium sized enterprises) that operate in very localized markets, can assist the support that can be given to business owners, employees, customers, and local communities.
Because of the uncertainties involved, the support of larger institutions could help business owners strategize with more confidence and in ways that are more collaborative, given their increased access to resources and less pressure to make zero-sum decisions wherein one stakeholders’ gain is another’s loss due to the scarcity of resources.
Thus, in response to the question of what a Filipino Catholic millennial business owner is to do in this time of pandemic, it is important that business owners strategize well and make the necessary adaptions through a mix of dialogue among stakeholders, considering the risks and shortfalls in light of the common good. The virtue of prudence and the practice of discernment are should also be cultivated. It is, however, important to remember that such strategizing is not done in a vacuum—concrete support from social institutions such as government is crucial for businesses to make decisions that genuinely foster care for its stakeholders.
This public Facebook post shows the stark reality of the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on business in the Philippines.
 For more on this, see the country’s reports and work on the matter. Department of Trade and Industry, “Fact File 2020,” DTI, Accessed January 25, 2022, http://innovate.dti.gov.ph/about/btipr-services/fact-file/fact-file-2020/.
 “Covid Resilience Ranking,” Bloomberg, November 30, 2021. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-resilience-ranking/.
 For more on this, see Jayeel Cornelio, Being Catholic in the Contemporary Philippines: Young People Reinterpreting Religion, (Routledge, New York: 2016).
 For more on power-based negotiations and negotiations, see Anne L. Lytle, Jeanne Brett, and Debra Shapiro, “The Strategic Use of Interests, Rights, and Power to Resolve Disputes.” Negotiation Journal (1999): 31-51. For more on the concept of participation as an important aspect of justice and its implications, see David Hollenbach, SJ, The Common Good and Christian Ethics, (New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 65-79, and Kevin Ahern, Meghan Clark, Kristin Heyer, and Laurie Johnston, Eds., Public Theology and the Common Good: The Contribution of David Hollenbach, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2016).