It must be said from the get-go that President Duterte cannot complain right now about the outcome of his administration’s response to the pandemic. Portrayed as the savior of the country, he should own the fate that his pronouncements and policies have wrought.
Congress backed up his declarations placing the entire country under a state of public health emergency and a state of calamity, and passed laws allowing extra powers, allocating new funds and letting the government borrow more money.
Surveys and studies have also shown that the public cooperated almost fully with last year’s strict lockdown: Filipinos lead the world in mask-wearing, and Google said most Filipinos stayed in. The abuses mostly occur in places where the promised “ayuda” did not reach the public, with authorities cracking down on protests. Authorities have enforced quarantine rules: lenient to top public officials, while very strict to the powerless. Private motorists are favored, while public transport practically ground to a halt to the detriment of the frontliners and essential workers.
The public has long wanted health and science experts to be on top of the pandemic response. But President Duterte chose to trust and depend on retired generals and traditional politicians to dominate policy-making at the highest levels. It was thus a matter of time before the pandemic was turned from a public health emergency into a public order and security issue.
After telling the public repeatedly throughout 2020 that only vaccines would save the country from the coronavirus, President Duterte’s alter-egos failed to promptly place vaccine orders as soon as possible. Now, we are made to wait as we witness millions across the world get vaccinated. The first vaccines to arrive were donations or allotments from the WHO’s COVAX facility. One million doses of vaccine purchased using taxpayer funds have arrived only recently. Many local governments are ready to roll out mass vaccination, the national government meanwhile failed to order and obtain the vaccines in a prompt manner. No wonder that Big Business has stepped in to fill the void.
The wisdom of the public was always ahead.
Seeing and sensing that the frontliners are under-equipped, unfed and forced to walk, the public not only complained on their behalf. The public launched PPE-making and donation drives, car pools and free meals. Vice President Leni Robredo quickly responded to the public clamor for transport and housing needs of frontliners. It was only then that the administration took action.
People’s organizations, cause-oriented groups and neighborhood associations helped make sure that the administration delivered its promise of “ayuda”. Each arrest and detention of a “reklamador” citizen by authorities was met by widespread fundraising for them to post bail. Majority of the nation’s jeepney drivers and provincial bus drivers and conductors have not been allowed to ply their routes for more than a year now. They have effectively lost their jobs, with the administration reallocating Metro Manila bus routes to new players, and jeepney routes to e-jeepneys. In both cases, there’s an emphasis on enclosed, air-conditioned and unventilated PUVs when WHO and international transport groups advise against such PUVs, and favors open-air, ventilated ones (like jeepneys and regular buses).
We must not forget Baby River and peace negotiator Randall Echanis who did not die from the coronavirus, but from an ongoing campaign to red-tag critics of the administration. That this patently anti-democratic plan was prioritized amid a pandemic speaks volumes about priorities and how it perceives people who speak out against incompetence, corruption, patronage and other issues.
Amid the pandemic, citizens filed 37 separate petitions questioning the constitutionality of the new terror law in a spectacular display of broad national unity and moral courage.
I’m quite sure the educated and the informed have been asked by family and friends to explain today’s situation, now that there’s an NCR Plus, a bubble and a new lockdown. The temptation to shy away from anything political is quite strong, especially for those who live relatively comfortable lives.
Hard as it may seem, we must resist the temptation to depoliticize the dismal pandemic response. For if we do, we would be protecting the incompetents and the corrupt. Let’s be courageous: call out and speak out.