What’s the plan?

Published July 19, 2020, 10:52 PM

by Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal


Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal
Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal

It’s July 20, 2020, today. Almost six months since the first SARS-CoV-2 confirmed patient in the Philippines. It’s been over four months since the Philippines imposed a lockdown in Metro Manila and several other regions in the Philippines. A lockdown which was and is the longest lockdown in the world.

Yet, the Philippines is one of the worst-hit countries in Southeast Asia TODAY. Some countries with similar populations are doing much better than the Philippines. Some countries which are worse off economically, are doing better. Not only with reference to those countries having considerably lower number of infections per day, but for me, more importantly is a higher recovery rate. That is much more important. Because with a high recovery rate, hospitals are not overwhelmed, and the opportunity to spread the decease is lessened.

But here we are, at a place where there seems to be no comprehensive plan of action to win against SARS-CoV-2. Yes, there are plans which come out all too often. But those plans fizzle out, either because of impracticability, or non-implementation. And just to clarify things, I’m not talking about reactionary and reactive plans which might lessen the impact of the damage caused by COVID-19, but proactive plans by the national government that will move us, the people and the economy, FORWARD, but not sacrificing the health and lives of the citizens. There have been many success stories though, from various LGUs all over the Philippines. The national government can learn from these LGUs.

So, to help, there are three things I believe need to be done in order for a national plan or plans to work:

1. Come up with a viable plan of action.

There are a lot of competent, knowledgeable, and capable people in government. Many of them have been there for a long time and have institutional knowledge, something which is very important if you want to know how to come up with a viable and workable plan within a department or agency.

If you read comments on social media, it appears many have the impression that the process now is for an official to announce a plan, then it gets threshed out on social media. After the initial reaction, several other officials then comment with modifications and qualifiers. In a span of a couple of days, things are so muddled that most don’t know anymore what’s the real plan. Those who don’t know include people in the private sector and many government officials themselves. It takes two minutes to make an announcement, but days on end to explain something which should be so simple to understand, if done right.

It would be better if officials talk amongst themselves, and even with officials from various departments and agencies, including spokespersons, BEFORE, I repeat, BEFORE making an announcement (there are countless private messaging platforms now, and all officers have video teleconferencing facilities). Then when an announcement is made, everyone says the same message. You can’t have three officials giving three varying interpretations of a plan. It confuses the public. It makes things worse, instead of making things better.

Do an FGD (Focus Group Discussion) before making an announcement. The government has enough resources and logistics to do this.

PLEASE ask the opinion of the LGU officials who are most likely to implement the plan. Bring them in as partners to the program. Listen to what they have to say and suggest.

2. Make sure it’s implemented in an orderly and efficient manner.
This should be part of every and all planning programs. Make sure it can be implemented. This includes:

a. The plan must have legal legs to stand on. Every department has a legal division. The government itself has the OGCC and the Office of the Solicitor General. Yet, how many times in the past has a plan been scuttled simply because of its legal infirmity? Ask for a legal opinion. It helps provide clarity when people ask about the program.

b. There must be enough personnel to implement the program. Are there enough personnel to implement the program or plan? Like contract tracing. The government should implement a contract-tracing program. But in order to do it, they need to hire enough personnel to implement the program.

c. There should be enough logistics and resources in place to implement the plan. There have been hundreds of billions of pesos already diverted to the COVID-19 program. The government has taken out several loans worth hundreds of billions during the past few months. It’s important that the funds be used in an efficient manner. To make sure the money goes to saving lives of Filipinos. A proper audit should also be done. Those monies do not belong to the government officials dispensing it, but to the people who pay taxes.

The debts incurred will ultimately be paid for by Filipinos. So we ALL have a right to demand that the money be spent correctly.

d. Implementation of the plan should be done in an order and efficient manner.

When doing a plan, it’s done in stages/steps.

3. Make sure the public is aware of the plan.

This is probably the most important. The public has to be aware of the plan. An information campaign is key. Unfortunately, as every sensible and logical thinking person will tell you, a comprehensive and systemic education campaign during the pandemic is almost non-existent. Messaging is all over the place. Different officials are saying different things. Then the day after, the same officials change or modify what they say, creating more confusion. It feels like you’re in a maze.

Added to this, officials should make pronouncements that are FACT-BASED. Many times, it seems the press releases seem detached from reality. Officials have to make statements that are believable. False bravura should be avoided at all cost.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of WHO, recently said, “Mixed messages from leaders are undermining the most crucial ingredient of any response: TRUST. If government does not communicate with their citizens and roll out a comprehensive strategy, it’s going to get worse and worse. But it does not have to be that way.” Very wise words and I hope our leaders listen. I do have to point out that the WHO itself needs to follow its own advice.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Practice physical distancing.