This week, Filipinos would have been locked down for a hundred days now in their homes, villages, cities, provinces, and islands. Some would cite March 15 as the day the first community quarantine was imposed on Metro Manila, making Sunday June 21 as the 100th day; others recall March 17 when a Luzon wide and effective nationwide quarantine was announced, making Tuesday June 23, as the 100th day. Nonetheless, regardless of how you count the days, everyone would agree that these have been difficult, challenging days.
There have been bright spots in the Duterte administration’s response to COVID-19. I supported at the beginning the overall decision to impose a general lockdown in the country. I supported the priority given to provide social amelioration subsidies to the most affected Filipinos. Thankfully, the private sector and citizen organizations, including activist groups, also stepped up to the plate.
I acknowledge that individuals in government have done well. For example, Dr. Edsel Salvaña has been a consistent scientific voice in the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases Resolutions. Doctors Tony Leachon and Ted Herbosa has provided good advice to the IATF, even if the former was unceremoniously removed as adviser for speaking the truth. The UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team has been a great resource.
Dr. Maria Rosario S. Vergaire, Health Undersecretary, has been a paragon of steady calm in her daily briefings. Early in the crisis, until he was removed, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles also gave excellent, informative briefings. Fortunately, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque is doing a good job in that challenging role.
On the economic challenges, the work of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, assisted by young officials of great integrity like Assistant Secretary Tony Lambino, and Acting NEDA Director General Karl Chua, whom I know to be an adaptive and imaginative leader, gives us a fighting chance.
Local government leaders have mostly risen up to the occasion. Outstanding work is being done, among others, by Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto, Marikina Mayor Marcy Teodoro, Makati Mayor Abby Binay, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong. Governors Kaka Bag-ao of Dinagat Islands and Jurdin Jesus Romualdo of Camiguin are also doing excellent jobs in dealing with COVID-119, illustrating that island-based strategies in an archipelago are obviously successful approaches to a pandemic problem.
The best performer in government is hands down Vice-President Leni Robredo. Raising her own funds and working mainly with volunteers, she has provided practical and effective solutions to the challenges brought by the pandemic. She has assisted frontliners – providing among others PPEs, transportation services, and even rooming facilities where needed. She has also assisted locally stranded individuals and helped them get home.
While recognizing individual efforts, it must be said that these last one hundred days have not been good for the country – and not just because of the virus, which is not the fault of the Duterte administration, but because of the ineptitude of government.
The misery of our people resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s flawed response to it – is unprecedented. In a special Social Weather Stations (SWS) Covid-19 Mobile Phone Survey, conducted from May 4-10, 2020 among working-age Filipinos, SWS found 83% of respondents saying their quality of life got worse (termed by SWS as “Losers”), versus 10% saying it was the same (“Unchanged”), and only 6% saying it got better (“Gainers”), compared to a year ago. It should be noted that this drop in quality of life is nationwide with all-time low figures compared to previous surveys, according to SWS, in all regions from Luzon to Mindanao and with people from all classes affected (even as the poorer one is, the bigger the negative impact.
The ineptitude of government is illustrated most in the failure, even after a 100 days, to put up an effective testing and contact tracing apparatus. This has made all our sacrifices in locking down pointless, ensuring second and future waves of infections.
This ineptitude is also clear in the government’s failure to provide transportation services to bring essential works to work and make sure stranded Filipinos would be able to get home. The death of Michelle Silvertino, stranded in Pasay, is directly attributable to this. Her face will be the lasting image of the Duterte era.
Finally, we see the ineptitude of government at the highest levels of leadership – the President, the Secretary of Health, and the retired generals, in charge of the overall response of the country. They are blaming others for their failures, have imposed a militaristic approach on a health problem, and have guaranteed a divided, angry, and miserable country.
God help us if the next one hundred days is like this again.
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