One of the governments with the most interesting way of handling the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic is the Philippines. While the world was already showing concern over the virus, the Philippines is still permitting flights from places like China noted to be the Ground Zero of the virus. When the number of cases started to multiply, it was only then that the government acted. By March 2020, travel bans were imposed and this was eventually followed by the lockdown couched as “community quarantine”.
So, what makes the Phillipine Covid response interesting? What are the characteristics of the Duterte Administration’s efforts in responding to the current pandemic?
1. Covid-response delegated to local government units (LGUs). Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is an advocate of decentralization and local government empowerment. For this reason, he placed the burden of the Covid-19 pandemic is to the shoulders of LGUs — from the control of borders to containing infected persons and quarantining those with probable, from catching quarantine violators to the distribution of government’s amelioration packages. The latter includes the distribution of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) Funds of the national government.
2. Health issue addressed with police and military might. This is what makes the Philippine case unique — making the police and the military more visible than the health workers and medical frontliners. In the first few months of the pandemic, for instance, medical frontliners are left on their own especially when it comes to transportation and personal protective equipment (PPE) while the members of the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Army have service vehicles and, in most cases, government-supplied masks. It was when Vice President Leni Robredo pooled efforts to help the medical frontliners by providing transportation, PPEs and even room/hotel accommodation that the Duterte Administration started looking into the plights of these medical personnel. Likewise, the highest policy-making body tasked to address Covid-19, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), is dominated by former military generals, not health experts. In the first few months, televised AITF meetings show that health personnel are mere attendees, not participants, as the military men, along with Senator Bong Go, dominated the discussions.
3. Vulcaseal approach. From the name product itself, the Vulcaseal approach simply means reacting only when necessary, patching holes when water drips. This is typical with managers and administrators without any concrete plans of action. And because there are no plans, managers and administrators are easily co-opted by those with ideas. Hence, to address physical distancing, Senator Bong Go, the former aide of the President, pushed the idea of the Balik-Probinsiya Program which became the banner program of the administration. Presto, Covid-19 spread to the provinces which were once virus-free. With the spikes in numbers, the Duterte Administration halted the program realizing this was ill-timed. The problem, announcement of the Program gave hope to a number of individuals to go back to their provinces thus resulting to thousands of locally stranded individuals (LSIs) in bus terminals, airports and seaports. Those that were not accommodated in the terminals stayed just within the vicinity and one of them, Michelle Silvertino, died while waiting for a ride to her home province.
The death of Silvertino signal the start of the second wave — of transporting LSIs to the provinces. So from Balik-Probinsiya Program came the Hatid-Probinsiya Program and eventually, Hatid-Covid. Now that the number of cases rose to a hundred thousand, the Hatid-Probinsiya laid low — apparently to contain the virus. Again.
Assistance to the frontliners also followed after Robredo started getting the attention of the media and the praises of the people. After April 14, the Department of Transportation took over transporting the medical frontliners and health care workers to and fro their places of work. Note that the Duterte Administration has a bunch of experts and the whole instrumentality of the government. Yet, no one from the mainstream Duterte agencies dared in the past months to look into the situation of these important actors in a health crisis — the medical frontliners and health workers. And it took Robredo’s office, an almost isolated and outcast unit considered to be the opposition, to look into that situation.
4. Lack of transparency. Data sharing seems to be a taboo for the Philippine Government. Hence, it is the DOH that collects, processes and analyzes all the data as if its personnel have all the time in the world to do everything. Unfortunately, not only are the DOH personnel overworked, but they also need assistance at least in the data analysis. And who can be a perfect analyst with a problematic data? Nada. So the result — a disaster.
Apart from Covid-19 cases, data on government spending is also un-clear. While there are figures being floated, details are lacking and for this reason, may are asking: Where have all the funds gone?
5. Borrowing, borrowing and heavy borrowing. Complicating data on spending is the BBB of the Duterte Administration — borrowing, borrowing, borrowing. That is to finance Covid-response activities. The borrowing program is expected to hit P6 Trillion by 2021. The borrowings for the current fiscal year is already noted at P3 Trillion which is higher than the original target of P1.4 trillion set by
6. Overall, the Philippine Government’s response defies forecasts particularly on the second wave of Covid-19. Experts claim that the trend of Covid-19 infection would be higher in the first wave due to stochasticity in early dynamics, and uncertainty in key epidemiological parameters, among others. This strand of Coronavirus is new so it is expected that governments and medical specialists will be groping in the dark. However, with the implementation of physical distancing and basic health protocols, the number of cases will go down.
Resurgence is expected following the lifting of interventions and this will be the second wave of infections. But this wave is lower than the first one because lessons are, and should have been, learned. Unfortunately, the Philippines defied these expectations. From March to May, the numbers are low but came June and the numbers spiked. By July, the Department of Health had been recording more than 2,000 new Covid cases daily, and by August, numbers are hitting 5,000. If this will be an indicator of performance, the Philippine Government is clearly doing a heck of a job and nobody seems to be happy about it.
7. Reward system and trust versus performance. Lastly, Philippine Covid response doesn’t really seem to look like prioritizing the curtailment of the pandemic. Not that the current administration doesn’t want it solved. It is. In fact, it is always ready to call a friend just to have a vaccine — but Covid is Covid. As Duterte stated in his public address on July 21, “Naging inutil na rin ako eh. I have become — except for the voluminous papers, na inutil na ako, wala na akong magawa na… Ewan ko. But you know, COVID is COVID.”
Solving the pandemic, however, is not a priority. If it get’s solved, it is a bonus. As he clearly stated in the same public address, “My countrymen, we continue to meet regularly to talk about our problem. Perhaps our number one problem today is the COVID.” (Emphasis supplied)
If the President is sure that the number one problem is COVID, he should have fired Health Secretary Francisco Duque III months ago. Senators, civil society organizations and even medical professionals are calling for Duque’s head. Steadfast, however, Malacanang just won’t budge. In an interview, the President admitted that he trusts Duque not just because he is qualified for the job but because the Health Secretary is the only one who greeted him and showed interest in him while he was still a city mayor.
Many are blaming the Duterte Administration, especially Duque, for failing to address the Covid-19 pandemic. They are right, in a way. Just like the rest of the world, it is a serious health issue. On another note, the Administration is just providing the appropriate response — a response that is based on how it views the problem. Unfortunately, the administration is not even sure if the current pandemic is the number one problem in the country. True enough, there are other problems and the President is just having difficulty which to prioritize.
(Original source here.)