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Robredo: Gov't needs unifying leadership to address coronavirus crisis

Nearing 9 months into the coronavirus pandemic, Vice President Leni Robredo said the government still needs to work on achieving a “massive, strategic response” to the crisis through a leadership that is able to “pull everyone together towards a single direction.”

In a webinar launch by the University of the Philippines (UP) National College of Public Administration & Governance (NCPAG) on Friday, October 30, the Vice President spoke to youth on how policymakers should respond to the pandemic.

"A crisis of this magnitude calls for a massive, strategic response, and this can only be achieved by leadership that is able to pull everyone together towards a single direction," she said.

Robredo said government, the private sector, and the general public should work together to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – which would also aid mental distress.

As of Friday, October 30, the Philippines recorded more than 378,000 cases of COVID-19 – 41,291 of which are active. The country ranks 21st in the world in countries with the most COVID-19 cases.

Priority-setting

The Vice President said that for the past months, the administration under President Rodrigo Duterte has focused energy on multiple projects that do not respond to the health crisis. These include the passage of the controversial anti-terrorism law in July and the white sand project in Manila Bay in September.

In efforts that do focus on the pandemic, effectivity sometimes falls short. In August, frontliners made a distress call for a revert to a lockdown, calling the fight against COVID-19 a "losing battle."

“It is unfortunate that such goals, such plans, have been in short supply, even with very good and reliable people spearheading the efforts. There are times that we get the feeling that there is no central coordinated approach with a clear set of priorities,” said Robredo.

In response to criticism and suggestions, the government responds with “hostility and further distractions,” Robredo said.

“We are presented with binaries – lockdown or no lockdown; economy or health; public safety or human rights – when in fact, these are all components of what should be an ultimate goal of a safer, more compassionate, better normal for all,” she said.

Need for data

Every day, the Department of Health (DOH) updates its COVID-19 tracker with the latest data on cases, testing, and facilities. Several research groups have made use of the data to crunch numbers to come up with policy recommendations, like the UP-OCTA research team. The Office of the Vice President (OVP) has come up with its own tracker as well.

While the true picture of the pandemic may not be 100% accurate based on the DOH data, the Vice President said it is enough to make informed decisions and policies.

“A data-driven orientation ultimately signals a relentless bias towards the truth. This, in turn, builds trust, which is my second point for today. Trust is the currency of governance,” said Robredo.

Micro-managing

Robredo said understanding the crisis requires understanding its human impact – which means paying attention to frontliners in need of personal protective equipment (PPE) sets and transportation, suddenly unemployed workers, and students and teachers who need help adjusting to remote learning.

The second-highest official in the country makes it a point to be personally involved in operations on the ground.

“They say micromanaging is not a good thing, but I say it works in crisis situations, such as this pandemic, when circumstances change at a moment’s notice and there are many factors beyond our control, and decisions have to be urgently made,” she said.

Even with a meager budget, the OVP has been able to conduct various projects for affected sectors during the pandemic. In the 2021 budget hearings, The Senate easily approved an increased budget for Robredo’s office. The Commission on Audit gave the OVP its highest audit rating for two consecutive years.

President Duterte has slammed Robredo for being critical about his administration’s pandemic response. – Rappler.com

Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer at Rappler. Possessing the heart and soul of a feminist, she is working on specializing in women's issues in Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative arm.

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