In pandemic response, Leachon says ‘buck stops at highest level of leadership’

According to former government coronavirus task force adviser Tony Leachon, when it comes to pandemic response, the “buck stops at the highest level of leadership.”

During Rappler’s pre-SONA panel on Monday, July 26, Leachon pointed out that the country’s current state can be traced to poor governance.

Although Leachon acknowledged that the Department of Health and the ​​Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases are the main government groups on top of the COVID-19 crisis, he said that it is ultimately President Rodrigo Duterte who has the greatest impact on the country’s state during the pandemic.

Leachon added that the performance of a state’s leader is the “barometer of success in other countries,” citing the low number of COVID-19 cases in New Zealand under Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and US President Joe Biden’s victory against Donald Trump following the latter’s frustrating pandemic response in the US.

“If this is the metric that the Filipinos would [use to] choose the leader after May 2022, I think the leader should be judged not only on pre-pandemic [performance] but also the response during the pandemic, because this is the one that really hit the health of the people, at the same led to the economic depression that is the worst after World War II,” Leachon said.

In 2020, the Philippine economy plunged to its worst contraction since World War II, with the gross domestic product falling by 9.5%. (IN CHARTS: Philippine economy, a year in lockdown)

Grading Duterte's pandemic response

Leachon said Duterte has failed in controlling virus transmission, putting proper health capacities in place, such as mass testing and contact tracing, and in accelerating vaccinations. He called these the “cornerstones” to end the pandemic.

“There’s still transmission and the only way to correct this is to have mass testing. But apparently, even the testing czar does not understand what mass testing means,” Leachon said in a mix of English and Filipino, adding that while it is ideal to test 10% to 20% of the population to manage transmission, the Philippines has only tested 9% from January to April 2021.

The former coronavirus task force adviser also pointed out the delayed data from the DOH as a detriment to the country’s COVID-19 response because it is no longer accurate by the time the department releases the numbers. (READ: Why are COVID-19 cases low during the first half of every week?)

“The problem with the government is that they want to manage the data…. And if the data is actually delayed, then you have a problem here in terms of managing the number of cases and the number of deaths,” Leachon said.

He also said the delay in the ordering and approval of vaccines, as well as prioritizing the purchase of vaccines from China, added to the frustration. (READ: Locsin shares foiled plan to secure 10M Pfizer vaccine doses by January)

All of these shortcomings, Leachon said, go back to the head of the state. “You cannot manage something that you don’t measure,” Leachon said, quoting management thinker Peter Drucker.

The Philippines has 1,553,396 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Monday. It is the second country with the highest number of total cases in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. –

Pauline Macaraeg

Pauline Macaraeg is part of the Rappler Research Team’s fact-checking unit. Aside from debunking dubious claims, she also enjoys crunching data and writing stories about the economy, environment, and media democracy.