Downhill

Published March 24, 2021, 12:26 AM

by Former Vice President Jejomar C. Binay

GOVERNANCE MATTERS

Former Vice President Jejomar Binay

As I write this column, Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal have been placed under a “bubble” in an attempt to prevent a further surge in the number of viral infections caused by COVID-19.

The Department of Health (DOH) has recorded over 8,000 cases in a single day. Independent experts predict a daily tally of 11,000 cases by the end of March. Thus far, this forecast has not been disputed openly by health officials.

Those numbers are reminders, grim ones, of how infamously incompetent and unfocused this present administration’s response to the pandemic has been. Yet it seems determined to insist on doing the same things repeatedly despite dismal results, ignoring the counsel of outside experts.

Apparently, suggestions and constructive criticisms are not welcome under the present dispensation. Often, they are taken as personal affronts.

As a result, even the most logical and commonsensical suggestions are not even acknowledged, since doing so could be interpreted as a sign of weakness and puncture the strong leadership persona. Administration officials need to be reminded that such is already the prevailing perception not only here but internationally, as can be gleaned from a feature story in TIME magazine.

For the past 12 months this administration has set record-breaking achievements, none of them in the all-important realms of containing the spread of the virus and restarting the economy.

And while our regional neighbors have long survived a second wave of infections, taking in valuable lessons that informed and bolstered their pandemic policies, we are still on our first wave and the cases are again surging.

Dr. Esperanza Cabral, a former Health Secretary, minced no words in her assessment of our current predicament. In a widely-reported statement, she refused to describe our situation as “back to square one” but “ten steps back.”

“Square one was when the country could still afford to shut down the economy and provide financial aid to those affected,” she was quoted as saying. But after more than a year, “we don’t have those things this time.”

“Square one was when hospitals were full but doctors and other health care workers, though scared to get COVID themselves and still guessing how to treat something they had never met before, were fresh and eager to do battle with this particular enemy,” Cabral added. “Now they are tired, just like everyone else.”

I know Dr. Cabral. She is not one who is prone to exaggerating or discussing matters beyond her scope of competence. When she says we are worst off than we were a year ago, government officials should pay attention.

But they are not, and they have chosen to rebuke Dr. Cabral by framing her comment as a disservice to our health workers when clearly, she was stressing the nearly desperate situation we are in and reminding government officials what needs to be done.

But even as Dr. Cabral and other experts prod government to act, the Health Secretary seems to be more pre-occupied, as always, with his staged events. As the number of cases spiral out of control, he was seen in Baclaran, armed with a meter-long “yantok” stick, measuring the distance between people in a crowded street. He has a full media contingent in tow.

Another government agency, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), announced it was ramping up its contact tracing program. It is perhaps lost on the DILG, which is the agency in charge of implementing contact tracing, that this should have been done with urgency a year ago.

As expected, despite its failures and oversights, government continues to blame the public’s lack of discipline as a major contributor to the outbreak. Again, this is hollow and hypocritical in view of the many failings of government and the unforgivable conduct of many government officials who flout restrictions with their constant travels, mass assemblies, and birthday parties inside their offices.

Next time government officials proclaim their pandemic response as excellent, we can remind them that in March of this year, we tallied over 8,000 cases in a single day. After more than a year, there is still no sign of reprieve and no sign of competence and efficiency in government’s response.

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