Dissatisfied

Published August 18, 2021, 12:35 AM

by Former Vice President Jejomar C. Binay

GOVERNANCE MATTERS

Former Vice President Jejomar Binay

Recently, I wrote about how a recent Pulse Asia survey revealed widespread dissatisfaction with the government and its handling of the pandemic.

The survey, taken in June, showed nine out of 10 Filipinos dissatisfied with government. This is nothing short of an indictment, and for an administration that has been quick to invoke surveys as validations of legitimacy and a yardstick of political capital, its usual talking heads have been uncharacteristically silent about the Pulse Asia results.

I cannot help but wonder how the public would react if another survey were to be taken after the  Department of Health’s unpardonable inefficiency and mismanagement of pandemic funds were reported in media. Imagine billions of pesos, P67 billion as per reckoning of the state audit agency, were either unspent or misspent in 2020. These are funds that could have been used to protect our medical frontliners, and purchase badly-needed supplies and equipment to shore up the public health system. These funds could have saved more lives.

The DOH leadership has shown, time and again, that it has no grasp of the magnitude of the crisis. The department has been crippled by inefficiency and lack of focus at the top. Unfortunately, the Health Secretary, despite his clear failure of leadership, continues to lead the medical and health aspects of the government’s pandemic response. There are no indications that he will be replaced any time soon, despite the latest controversy involving his department and persistent calls for his resignation. So it is unlikely that we will see any change in the way the DOH is being managed, or any correction in the government’s pandemic battle plan, which is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.

But the DOH is not the only agency guilty of egregious negligence and mismanagement.

According to media reports, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had failed to release P780.71 million in cash aid or “ayuda,” in the process depriving 139,300 indigents of much-need relief. The Department of Transportation (DOTr) also failed to fully

use its budget of P9.5 billion intended to assist displaced transportation workers. A total of P101.425 million had to be returned to the national treasury.

The problem is not lack of funds, as some government officials warned us last year. Government has the resources. It has the resources to pour billions in infrastructure projects despite the pandemic, as if roads and bridges will lead us out of our sufferings. If it wanted to, government could have allocated more money to provide economic relief for workers, small businesses, and the poor. Yet, it did not. And whatever funds were allotted ended up at the mercy of inefficient managers and bureaucrats, tied up in ribbons of red tape that were supposed to be dispensed with under a state of emergency. Seventeen months since the lockdown, government remains constrained by its own inefficiency, lack of coherence, and sense of urgency.

Most governments approached the pandemic as a public health crisis and acted accordingly. Our government, on the other hand, dealt with it as a public order crisis. When we were placed under a hard lockdown last year, government erected checkpoints, imposed curfews, deployed thousands of combat-ready policemen, and enforced stringent but scientifically-dubious rules in a manner reminiscent of martial law. These scenes would define our pandemic response to the rest of the world.

We have been on lockdown – a state of virtual house arrest for many – since March last year. Officially, our country has gained the reputation of having the longest lockdown in the world. If lockdowns were the most effective way of tamping down the pandemic, then we would have been the model for the rest of the world. But that is not the case. There is little to offer by way of concrete results that the lockdown has been effective.

Seventeen months under lockdown and we are still in the pandemic’s first wave. Remember that.

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