Amid the COVID-19 crisis, Filipinos want to see leadership and empathy among national leaders

Published June 26, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin




Health officials, citing low mortality figures, have been trying to convince the General Public that the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. Maybe they’re right. Maybe Filipinos are at lower risk of dying than other countries.

But here’s the problem: people still do get sick, and they still suffer.

Recall the time when Taclobanon businessman Kenneth Uy shared with then-President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino how difficult Typhoon Yolanda’s aftermath. Uy said he got shot at while just trying to get supplies for the survivors he’s helping, to which Aquino replied, “Eh buhay ka pa naman, di ba? (You’re still alive, right?)”.

Aquino did not only lack empathy: he didn’t even know what empathy is. Just a little over a month before he stepped down, a reporter asked him about persistent criticisms that he has little to no empathy, to which Aquino replied, “Alam mo, ipinahanap ko ‘yung ano eh, ‘yung definition of empathy. (You know what? I asked my staff to look for uh, for the definition of empathy.)”

Unfortunately, it appears that many of today’s government officials are afflicted with the same condition. Health officials telling the masses we’re doing well because relatively few die is just like telling them, “Buhay ka pa naman, di ba?”.

Yes, the chances of dying are low, but the suffering COVID-19 patients, their loved ones, and those who they borrow money from is just the same.

Yes, they likely won’t die, but they’ll be broke if they survive. From where I stand, that doesn’t sound like a very successful COVID-19 response.

Three months’ worth of lockdowns and counting, the masses are tired, broke, jobless, overburdened, afraid, as they watch the COVID-19 numbers rise 24/7. Yes, I agree that no government was ready for a crisis of this magnitude, but preparedness isn’t really what the masses are looking for.

The masses look for palpable leadership. The masses look for empathy.

The masses need to see and feel that the government is doing its best to handle the crisis. Government officials reminding us every day that they’re doing their damned best is one thing, but for us to actually feel that they’re doing their best is another.

Take, for example, Health Secretary Francisco Duque, who immediately blamed his underlings after he was asked about the much-delayed release of compensation for medical frontliners who suffered from severe cases of COVID-19.

Not too long ago, I jokingly said on my Facebook page that health officials are more likely to die from car accidents than from COVID-19 because their boss Duque has a penchant for throwing them under the bus.

I guess good hygiene indeed is a potent weapon against the coronavirus, because no other than the country’s Health Secretary demonstrated an obsession with handwashing.

What we see in Duque is an official who doesn’t take responsibility for his actions. Instead of just admitting his agency’s shortcomings and rectifying them, he caters to this incessant urge to blame others for actions that likely resulted from his lack of leadership, if only to save his skin.

Worst of all, he chairs the Interagency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), tasked with the government’s coronavirus response.

President Rodrigo Duterte, in a recent public address, said Duque is an honest man.  But a man can be honest and still be excruciatingly incompetent at the same time.

I commend the untiring efforts of Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, IATF chief Carlito Galvez, his deputy Vince Dizon, and many more. Despite the lack of time and resources, they have been killing themselves doing everything that can be done.

I think most Filipinos see their dedication, and I am endlessly thankful for their service, it’s that they could’ve done so much more if Duque wasn’t in the way.

With that said, I am glad to hear that President Duterte ordered Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to take over Cebu City’s COVID-19 response. I’ve been monitoring his performance for the past several years, and I observed that he’s a man of few words and lots of action. He is what Cebu City badly needs right now, especially since the city’s COVID-19 cases per capita have exceeded that of Italy and intensive care beds are running out.

The President, for some mysterious reason, is unwilling to fire Duque. But he has not, however, precluded the option to transfer him somewhere else. That’s why there’s a part of me wishing that a competent man like Cimatu had more responsibilities. Instead of handling just Cebu, I wish he was made IATF chairperson. I guess Duque can just move to, say, the National Solid Waste Management Commission or the Philippine Retirement Authority.

On a final note, I can’t entirely agree with quite a number of the President’s decisions, but I still believe that he’s our best shot right now. Heck, I can’t entrust this country to the other one who can’t even multiply four by 400.

I genuinely wish President Duterte succeed in this fight against the virus. Because if he fails, we all fail.

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