It was like a scene in the 80’s when after quite some time, phone pals asked “Isn’t it about time for us to meet?” Synergeia Mayors had been conversing using a viber group for the last several weeks. They were sharing updates, problems, and innovations. They were proud to announce a zero infection their towns and in recovering COVID patients. They felt distraught with discoveries of infection that was brought about by migrants. They shared frustrations with the lack of PPEs and the confusion that came with the implementation of the Social Amelioration Program. They exchanged Easter greetings and feelings of hope. And then somebody asked, “Isn’t it about time for us to meet?” Their meeting was to be through Skype, which Mayor Rex Gatchalian of Valenzuela City suggested.
However, almost everyone had difficulties with Skype. It was the first time for some of them to hear about it. So, Mayor Rex adjusted graciously and said “We can use Zoom.”
The first problem was how to download the app and register. It must have been a complicated process for those who did not even have an email address. The others with an erratic internet connection just simply gave up. This just tells us that there are many things at our fingertips that are beyond the reach of many.
The meeting day finally came and some came early. But the meeting could not begin on time because the Mayors from NCR were still in another virtual meeting. Half-an hour later, Mayor Rex came puffing and huffing. Obviously, he was used to Skype meetings and spoke through a microphone. It was as if he was addressing a conference. But his voice came with a static and we strained our ears to listen well. Then he told me us to “mute” our phones while one person was talking. I myself was so unused to this protocol and I turned on the mute button all the time. Board Member Jason sent several messages- “Naka-mute po kayo!” Then I realized why nobody was speaking.
Mayor Oca Moreno of Cagayan de Oro City was conducting several zoom meetings simultaneously. So, it was another chore to listen to him in the midst of all the other voices.
Mayor Vico Sotto of Pasig City, wearing a baseball cap, looked like a real preppie when he joined the meeting. But we were unable to hear what we was saying. Finally, he said, “Sorry, I have lost the connection.”
Despite the encumbrances, Mayor Rex walked the Mayors through the process of mass testing. He is a rapid talker and breezed through terms such as rapid testing and PCR. Mayor Jerry Trenas shared his experience in Iloilo City with the tests kits made by UP and having the results processed through a laboratory. After a while, Mayor Ramon Piang asked if it was compulsory for Mayors in Mindanao to have mass testing. It raised a red flag on the need to explain the importance of mass testing and how it can be done using layman’s language.
Mayor Vico regained his connection and shared that Pasig would no longer do rapid tests because of the “negative cases which turned positive”. Many perhaps did not know what he meant. But he graciously offered his rapid test kits to those who need them more. Like Mayor Rex, he partnered with a hospital to conduct mass testing of residents. But the big problem remains, what can LGUs from poorer municipalities do? Mayor Jerry stressed that we should continuously advocate for DOH to accredit more regional hospitals to be testing centers.
Mayor Raul Banias surprised us all by turning maverick. He has used hospitals to house PUIs, continued spraying disinfectants despite a DOH advisory, and barred all non-residents from entering Concepcion, Iloilo. There is 0 infection in his municipality and intends to keep it that way. We teased him about violating orders which do not make sense to be able to follow his common sense.
While the meeting was going on, there were frantic text messages and phone calls from others who could not join because they did not have a password, could not download the app, or intermittent internet connection. This tells us that we still cannot do without the conventional methods of communications- texting highlights of our meetings, and hold on to our fax machines.
Because the Mayors have very little time to spare, many of them had to leave early before the meeting ended. I must find time to write about the science and art of communicating with local leaders, i.e. how to explain concepts using sharp, simple and short bullet points.
But all is well that ends well. The Mayors were happy to find support in each other, even virtually.