Filipinos most dissatisfied with gov’t COVID crisis response in East Asia

Published March 4, 2021, 2:07 PM

by Zoilo "Bingo" P. Dejaresco III

East Asia Forum is an independent think tank group based in Australia that is neither red (Republican), blue (Democrat), or yellow (Communist), mixing our allegorical metaphors to prove our point.

In their recent survey, in East Asia,  the Filipino citizens were reportedly the most dissatisfied with the way their government has been handling the COVID crisis (53.47 percent), followed by Indonesia (50.4 percent), Thailand  (36.7 percent), Myanmar (32.1 percent) and Malaysia (28.3 percent).

That means more than half of Filipinos are not happy while the balance is equally divided between those satisfied and neutral about their position.

Does this reconcile with another survey that says President Rodrigo Duterte has an approval rating of  90 percent? One explanation is that people perceive the IATF (which is headed by the military and not a medic) as a failure and that Duterte’s once-a-week report to the nation is merely reportorial rather than a forward-looking strategy formulation.

Thus, the office of the presidency is insulated from the perceived failure of the anti-COVID war; and perhaps an indictment that the president must get more involved.

Our educated guess is that this negative perception is driven by the hunger in the stomach resulting from the loss of jobs or livelihood that caused the economy to lose trillions of pesos and  P 4-billion losses a day is as graphic an illustration that Finance Secretary Sonny Domingo could muster to depict the situation.

Does this mean that within the IATF, between the raised voices of the military and the medics, the economic team was largely muffled at best? We remembered NEDA boss Ernie Pernia resigning in a wink – almost immediately after his suggestion to exclude construction (Build Build Build) from the initial lockdown. Lately, he had decried the lack of a “sense of urgency” of government and titled his recently released book “Virtuous Impatience” to put a title to what we need as a people.

The nation’s GDP thus tumbled (-9.5 percent), the worst since World War II- and the worst in the ASEAN for 2020. As  Thailand reported (-7.2 percent), Malaysia (-5.6 percent), Singapore (-5.4 percent), and Indonesia (-1.5 percent). Vietnam reported a +2.9 percent GDP growth although its slowest in 30 years.

People were stunned by the quick reversal of economic fortune. When Marcos left, Filipinos under the poverty line were 50%. After Cory (1986) to Noynoy (2015), the poverty level was down 23% from 50%. By 2019, it was down to 16%, PH was on its way to becoming a tiger economy. COVID came in and we did not know how to handle it.

East Asia Forum reports PH was improving its testing and healing capabilities but was very poor in contact -tracing, making re-infection of others fast and unabated. It also spoke about a painful truth of double standards: public officials and soldiers getting away with protocol violations while ordinary citizens (many who could not afford three meals a day) were jailed for not having masks or wearing them.

This worst economic reversal was realized despite the nation having the record of the longest lockdown among its peers The government and many LGUs seemed more interested to show they were in control rather than really putting food back on the table of people by revving up the economy.

Some pundits claimed unscrupulous politicians liked the “ayuda” system that somehow gained them “pogi” points and that people in poverty made themselves vulnerable to political vote-buying during the polls. 

Despite its stringent policies, the nation still recorded the second-highest COVID infections as of  February 2021 at (547,000 cases), followed by Malaysia (301,000), Thailand (114,000) Singapore ( 114,000), Brunei (106,000), Vietnam (2,445) all following leader Indonesia with (1,1210,703).      

The inefficiency seems to fester like unwanted gangrene when the Philippines started late in the roll-out of vaccines ( first week of March from 600,000 doses-donation from China’s Sinovac) long after even much smaller nations like rebellion-torn Myanmar (January), Bangladesh (first week February), Nepal (February, Bhutan (January) and Laos (February) had done theirs.

Yet, the DOF had forcefully announced earlier that the country had secured US$1.2-B from multilateral institutions to buy all the vaccines we need to achieve herd immunity (about 70 million Filipinos inoculated). But even the AstraZeneca vaccines scheduled to arrive on March 2 were delayed. Why all these faux pas?

 “No vaccine rollout, no national easing of lockdowns”- yes, but whose fault is it?

All our peers have started their vaccination campaigns ahead of us: Indonesia (December), Singapore (end January), Malaysia (February 21), and Thailand (February 24). Only Vietnam who recorded only 2,445 cases will start theirs in March.

The news that his doctors allegedly advised President Duterte not to take the first Sinovac vaccine and that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana ( Chair, National Action Plan Versus COVID) and the Health Secretary  Francisco Duque would do the same did not augur well for the start of the vaccination roll-out.

We would have been more inspired if generally leaders emulate the two bishops of Bohol Abet Uy and Daniel Parcon who publicly stated they would take the vaccine when available in order to edify the faithful to do the same as did Catholic Bishops of the Philippines head Archbishop Romulo Valles. The province’s president of the Bohol Medical Society Dr. Jeffrey Ong announced he was to get injected with the first available vaccine in town.

We wish more leaders would take such a more pro-active stance like those to encourage the acceptance of the vaccine program-especially with the ordeal of dealing with the second-highest population in the ASEAN (107 million) scattered in 7,100 islands that already pose a transportation challenge in themselves.

With all these, Filipinos are not wondering why the East Asia Forum resulted in this way.

The government must react positively to these hard, bitter-to-accept facts and change gears. Not to sulk and continue running a marathon like two legs were tied with rocks. Acting with dispatch is a good start as this crisis about a race against time which we all do not have.

( Bingo Dejaresco, former banker, is a financial consultant, media practitioner and book author. He is a Life Member and Media Committee of FINEX. His views, however, are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of FINEX. [email protected].)