[OPINION | NEWSPOINT] Dangerous distraction

Vergel O. Santos
[OPINION | NEWSPOINT] Dangerous distraction
If you think the coronavirus is the enemy, think again


Better equipped and capable all around, First World nations are presumed, by virtue of their means alone, to manage better than the other nations in an emergency. But, for this pandemic, one driven by a virus that is deadly, strikes randomly, and remains too much of a riddle for science to be able to do much about it, let alone slay it, the reasoning scarcely applies. And it shows in the numbers – the United States and Europe are getting it badly. 

In any case, for nations that languish on a socio-economic level two worlds down, poverty is a handy excuse. Our own case is a classic illustration.    

Simple, inexpensive, practical, and potentially life-saving precautions are actually available to us and everybody else: thorough and frequent hand soaping, health masks, and social distancing. Of course, their efficacy depends on individual predispositions to risks, and we may be just as good or bad as anyone else in heeding them.

Doctors and other scientists agree, though, that the key to containing or slowing the pandemic lies in testing, which makes for strategic quarantining – the more carriers are found, the easier to trace the original infectors and the lines of carriers proceeding from them. As happens, it’s precisely in testing that we have been falling short. In fact, the health secretary has himself admitted that the government does not undertake “mass testing” – that is, testing in communities suspected to harbor carriers. What testing there is, in other words, is merely spot and individual. What scientific sense, then, is there to the lockdowns?

When I last looked, just this week, the number of those we tested was 0.15% of the population (110 million), up suddenly from the week before, although still way off the minimum ideal of 2%. The number itself is suspicious, given the widespread cases of mix-ups and slow-coming and downright false results due to unreliable test kits or plain ineptitude. 

A survey of how Southeast Asian nations were doing against the pandemic put us in the worst places – first in death rate and last in recovery. The survey was dated May 15 but reflected a consistent showing for us. 

We do get a running count of the infected, the dead, and the recovered, but without so much as a hint at how well or badly we might be doing. All we get is the vague impression of our natural disadvantage for being a poor nation: At the very outset, the President warned that we would have to borrow money and might yet sell national assets to build a fund for fighting the pandemic. 

It is curious that going into debt and selling were among the first things to come to the President’s mind when his P4-trillion budget had just been approved when the coronavirus struck and could still be repurposed for the pandemic. Anyway, Congress was quick to add P275 billion for the sustenance of families whose breadwinners had been furloughed during the lockdowns. Government cash cows – gaming operations mainly – contributed a further P27 billion to the front-line effort against the pandemic and to small and medium businesses, as subsidies or interest-free loans. 

From all that, it can be deduced that if poverty were a problem it was not of the desperate sort pictured by the President; there was rescue money for the immediate term at least. But whether that money has reached its intended beneficiaries or has reached them in proper amounts is the question. 

In fact, complaints abound from beneficiaries of receiving much less than allotted them or nothing at all. The government pleads that it is not done distributing – more than a month into the distribution! – and admits being slowed – in the middle of a pandemic! – by cross-checking the lists submitted by the local governments against its own. 

About the cuts made before the money reached beneficiaries, the central government passes the blame down the line. The last official hand to touch the money may have belonged to a barangay functionary, but an upward contact tracing might unmask other culprits. Given such dizzying sums to go around and the shining record of this regime for integrity, the corruption could not have been kept petty and lowly. 

A Senate hearing has just uncovered grossly overpriced medical equipment and materials. But that scale of theft is lost to the desperate poor, who count the cost in terms of missed meals. The police might, therefore, be more considerate toward people escaping lockdowns and venturing out, instead of being too quick to crack down on them. They are not the problem.

The problem is a regime without care or clue. It has left a health and humanitarian campaign in the heavy hands of the police and the military, because it has other motives than our well-being – its own. The terror of the pandemic has occupied us so exclusively we have become oblivious to just about everything else, and the regime has been quick to exploit the situation by following through on its autocratic and treasonous plots. 

In the most serious attack on press freedom since Martial Law, in 1972, the Duterte regime has summarily disenfranchised the country’s oldest, largest, and widest-reaching broadcast network, thus depriving millions of Filipinos of an independent source of news and information. It has intensified its effort to produce, and ram down the nation’s throat, a Constitution that will ensure its untouchability and perpetuation in power, and also enshrine its unholy alliance with China.

Even now it allows China to continue its military buildup in the West Philippine Sea and its plunderers to operate freely in our mineral-rich islands. It welcomes its migrants to rob our own workers of jobs and our capitalists of opportunities.

If you think the coronavirus is the enemy, think again. – Rappler.com

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