The Long view: Denied a fighting chance


Denied a fighting chance

The country is collectively sinking into despair and panic over the explosion of COVID-19 cases. Everyone has a heartbreaking story to tell as the pandemic strikes closer and closer to everyone’s already reduced circle of friends and family. Outrage has become increasingly personal as government officials take to blaming citizens for the calamities befalling them. But as Tolbert Nyenswah of Johns Hopkins said in a recent interview, “There is no substitute for political leadership in an outbreak response.”

Enrico Isidro Navea lost his 90-year-old mother and a cousin to what he points out are massive failures on the part of government: A lack of swab testing; delayed results; no contact tracing to speak of. Residents of Barangay Tatalon, Quezon City, took five days from the time they reported their ailing family members before they were tested—and only through the help of the barangay captain of Barangay Galas — but only for two members of their household.

As of yesterday, the entire household still hadn’t been tested. After being swab-tested, it took five days for results to come out revealing his mother and cousin were positive for COVID-19. During that interval, they tried to obtain dextrose for his mother, had to seek people to assist (people refused upon finding out a possible COVID-19 patient), had to bring their mother to San Juan Medical Center where she was in a tent then a hallway— and passed away before the test results came back. And in that whole time up to now, no contact tracing was attempted. These are the details; the anguish, horror, and anger have been left out. His otherwise strong mother would have been 91 this September. From paupers to millionaires, for once everyone seems to be in the same line of fire.

Maps accessible online show the densest-populated areas teeming with cases; except there seems to be one major difference, where once the elderly and those with comorbidities seem most at risk, others have commented that this time around, over 70 percent of cases are among Filipinos 20-49 years of age: The heart of the labor force. This is the labor force that has braved all risks to go to work because there is little alternative to playing daily Russian roulette with the virus: There has been no meaningful government-supported delays in rent payments, postponement of loan payments, or cash subsidies to small businesses, all, incidentally, among the arsenal of fiscal responses by other governments which have allowed Filipinos abroad to continue remitting money to relatives at home. All we’ve had are isolated cash-giving (or goods-giving) by the government.

The big bet on Chinese vaccine largesse, on the other hand, led us to miss the bus for the Pfizer vaccine, and to wait until the third quarter onwards for vaccine-administration to truly scale-up. Even with the gesture of liberalizing private-sector importation initiatives, the private sector can only chase for allocations for late this year and next year. The daily reports of the government, on the other hand, showing a steep rise in cases still may not be giving the complete picture. The Department of Health in response to a congressional inquiry, said it will now count antigen test data. Veteran journalist Howie Severino observed that while a correct move, it will further raise numbers as we see “more realistic and alarming data.” Deaths, for one, as Peter Cayton of UP has pointed out, are heavily delayed in being reported; one example: On April 4, 2021, two deaths were reported; one was from May 2020. He said on average there is a 40-day delay in death data.

It bears constant repetition because of what all of the above reveals—the combination of the unthinking mailed fist and stubbornly closed minds by and in our officials. Our fate was set last year via two broad policy decisions by the government. The first was to use the blunt instrument of a lockdown as the sole pandemic strategy, for as long as economy could take it, and then open up afterwards. This was based on the big bet that vaccines from China would come by year’s end. Second, that the economic managers’ main purpose in life would be to maintain credit ratings at all costs, which required avoiding massive subsidies to citizens and businesses; whatever assistance would be given would be the bare minimum required to give the impression of something being done. But the game of life was rigged against the public from the start.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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