Anatomy of a Failed Pandemic Response

Being unjustly detained for trumped-up charges has not sidelined Senator Leila De Lima who continues to perform her duties as elected senator of the Republic within the four walls of her detention cell. Her analysis of the government’s response to the pandemic is a searing critique on how the government is mishandling the most serious public health emergency of this generation.

The senator issued this analysis as the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, sitting in the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee, basing it on the 14 weekly reports from President Duterte, pursuant to Section 5 of Republic Act No. 11469. The latter is the Act declaring the existence of national emergency arising from COVID-19 and section 5 refers to the duty by the President to submit a weekly report to Congress of all acts performed pursuant thereto.

In “Anatomy of a Failed Pandemic Response,” De Lima embarks on an analysis of key areas of the government’s response to the pandemic, focusing on the following areas: (a) budget interventions; (b) welfare and social protection; (c) medical response and health sector support; and (d) human rights and peace & order.

Part I of the analysis looks at budget interventions while Part II tackles the welfare system for marginalized and vulnerable groups. This is summarized in this column.

Part III and Part IV focus on medical response and human rights at the time of pandemic, respectively. I will summarize these in Saturday’s column.

In Part I entitled “Duterte’s Botched Budgetary Interventions,” De Lima excoriates the Duterte administration for its militaristic or securitized response, treating the pandemic as a peace and order problem rather than a public health emergency. She points out that this is a failed response and extremely ineffective. The symptoms of Duterte’s failures are most evident in the wrong priorities of the administration, poor spending on public and social protection, and his administration’s lack of accountability and transparency, she says.

According to De Lima, the passage of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act giving Duterte the powers he said he needed to mitigate this crisis was a very late reaction, considering his refusal to ban flights from China early on in the crisis. This, she says, even as his economic managers relentlessly pursue the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program, refusing to touch the budget set aside for infrastructure projects despite the need for better healthcare systems and social protection. She also mentions that the distribution of the emergency cash subsidy program meant to tide over the lack of income for poor families is riddled with glitches in terms of discrepancies in the beneficiary lists, rigid implementation rules and the “quota system” imposed on LGUs hampered the swift distribution of aid. It took three months for the beneficiaries to receive the first tranche of the subsidy. Trying to put the blame on the Local Government Units for the inefficient process of aid distribution is clearly a mistake because, as far as the good senator is concerned, the administration’s lack of public accountability and public transparency are to blame.

Part II focuses on Duterte’s failing marks on the implementation of the Social Amelioration Program or SAP. De Lima characterizes its implementation with one word – “Palpak.” According to her, although this pandemic is unprecedented, it took the government three long months to disburse the first tranche of the SAP-AICS for April. She attributes the delays to the highly cumbersome process which accounts to 30 steps and the perennial changing of the policies and guidelines causing widespread confusion. The heavy-footed distribution of the second tranche of the SAP-AICS has left behind almost 7 million non-4Ps families, who were part of the first tranche, in addition to 3 million waitlisted non-4Ps beneficiaries, who were added to the list of qualified recipients. These 10 million low-income families expectedly continue in their agony because of hunger and shortage of access to basic needs, she muses.

The coronavirus pandemic is worsening. As of Sunday, the Philippines is 10,000 infections away from the terrible milestone of 200,000. At this rate, if progression is linear, we will get to 500,000 by October and a million by the new year. We are inching closer to joining the top 20 countries with most infections. Certainly in our region, we are the worst performing country. This happened, in spite of the longest and strictest lockdown in the world—which in turn has plunged the country to its deepest recession in decades, resulting in wide-spread hunger, stranding many of our countrymen, and loss of jobs and livelihoods of millions.

There is one reason for this—an incompetent government and a failed response, the medical and political aspects of which I will write about next Saturday, basing it again on Senator De Lima’s brilliant and accurate analysis.


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