[EDITORIAL] When many are left behind, resignations are not enough
Of course Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is a problem. But he is not the entire problem.
True, he did say the Philippines has a “low” coronavirus infection rate. Which is false, as this fact checking by Rappler points out. At the time he issued that statement, the Philippines has been testing only severe to critical cases of coronavirus infection. Data analysts flocking to help the government should tell Mr Duque that he will never find something he's not looking for.
At least 14 Philipppine senators said in their resolution that Duque must resign because of "failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight, and inefficiency in performance." And the biggest failure of his leadership is the failure to do mass testing at the earliest sign of local transmission.
Yes, there's a promise to conduct mass testing, but we have yet to see a working plan beyond broad and vague claims. We are not likely to see the kind of testing that is going on in Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea, where hundreds of thousand are tested in a day. Here, the Philippine remedy is to adjust baselines. Recently, for example, people who got better while staying indoors became part of that amorphous statistic categorized as “recoveries.”
Calls for Duque's resignation mask the real problem: the harsh reality of headless chickens running around in this administration.
If it weren’t for President Rodrigo Duterte’s delayed and incoherent response to the problem, the Philippines would have been better prepared to deal with the situation. His pro-China sensibilities prevented him from seeing the raging bull of a pandemic coming our way in late January and made him refuse to ban flights to and from China.
Just for the sake of argument, why aren’t senators asking the foreign affairs chief to resign, for instance, given his failure too to ring the alarm bells early on? Or the social welfare secretary, who should have had a list of vulnerable households ready – not just the existing cash transfer beneficiaries who had ATMs?
Or why not call for the resignation of the transportation secretary, who did not have a transportation protocol in place that would have ensured physical distancing and still allow people to travel before the lockdown? Instead, we had a situation where people were stranded or resorted to walking for hours to get in or out of Metro Manila. To this day, the DOTr chief still does not have a working plan for frontliners to move around. That task was left entirely to the local governments.
How about the finance and budget chiefs, whose offices early in the game should have anticipated the cash needed to combat this crisis – even if they had to “steal” as Duterte said in one midnight monologue? The Bayanihan law authorized Duterte to “reprogram, reallocate, and realign” savings from the 2020 budget to curb the pandemic. But in Duterte’s first weekly report, no such realignment was done.
Duterte’s formula for this crisis is his old and tiresome braggadocio. “Huwag kayong matakot, may pera ako” (Don’t be afraid, I have money) but later on said sheepishly, “Nasaan na ang P300 billion na pera namin? (Where’s our P300 billion?) “Wala pa po 'yan. Kokolektahin pa po 'yan," (It’s not there. We still need to collect it).”
What the President has is a police plan: “kill them all" – the lockdown violators. When the President threw a tantrum after seeing a Facebook photo of cars on EDSA, the task force handling the quarantine tightened the screws on the garotte. Apparently, the police, military, tanod and barangay like their newfound power. Our lockdown-obsessed officials seem to have forgotten what the lockdown is for and have taken to apprehending even joggers who are kilometers from each other in Taguig.
Interior Government Secretary Eduardo Año had to order a stop to “narrow or limited window periods” implemented by barangay officials, which only served to congest public and private establishments such as wet markets and groceries.
Abroad, the vulnerable sectors are the sick and the poor who rely on government health care and social security. In this country, the "vulnerable sector” are those who fall between the cracks of the bureaucracy and get nothing. In this pandemic, there was no plan to reach them. It was scream-inducing to hear the Department of Social Welfare and Development tell starving families not among the target beneficiaries to file appeals. Even the labor department ran out of money and had to shut down its subsidies to OFWs. (READ: Duterte chaos leaves barangay officials 'helpless' amid lockdown.)
Back to Duque. All he could say was that he is “hurt” by calls for his resignation. (The unsaid part is that he will not resign.) This is in stark contrast to a resignation in government that was not prompted by calls but by conscience. Socioeconomic Planning chief Ernesto Pernia, who resigned last Friday, said it was due “partly to differences in development philosophy with a few of my fellow Cabinet members."
The President can be relied on for one thing though: he will stand by his inept lieutenants.
Of course, he wants Duque to stay. After all, Duque is doing a great job of making himself the magnet for criticism that should have been addressed to the President himself, where the buck stops.
Amid the worldwide pandemic, health ministers are being fired or pilloried around the globe. Why should Duque be any different? But will that solve the problem? Definitely not.
Last Sunday, April 19, Rappler reporter Ralf Rivas talked to Janssen Calvelo, a Filipino taking his Masters in the Netherland. He praised the government there for its calculated moves. But the most striking thing that Calvelo said was how the government dealt with the vulnerable groups. With admiration in his voice, he said, “No one was left behind.”
How many are left behind in the Filipino motherland? The poor say they'd rather risk the virus when the alternative is to starve. Mahar Mangahas writes that the lockdown lacks inherent pandemic logic. He says Filipinos people should be allowed "the freedom to earn a living."
The sad truth is, the number of people left behind is so staggering, it will not take a single resignation or a Cabinet reshuffle to fix.
But It will help if this administration nuances this lockdown so that it inflicts the least harm to the health, sanity, and the livelihood of the people while maintaining physical distancing.
It will help if Duterte goes back to his kulambo and assigns real health, social work, and transportation experts with carte blanche powers to salvage the situation. It will help if the politicking and grandstanding are reduced to a minimum and everyone practices what they preach – real bayanihan. – Rappler.com