Duque

DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III might not be the best person to head the agency, but I don’t think there’s a need for him to resign as what some senators are demanding. One of them, Senator Grace Poe, said that Duque “failed the minimum standard of leadership.” Poe and 14 other Senators signed a resolution calling for Duque’s resignation because he allegedly failed to get mass Covid 19 testing into place. He is also being accused of gagging medical personnel and dragged his feet on getting FDA approval for Covid 19 testing laboratories.

The Senators are playing politics. They are placing into the feelings of discontent expressed by some people, and twisted the facts out of proportion. The allegations against Duque are thinly disguised attempts to distract the government’s efforts to combat the corona virus. For a month now, Senators have been pushed back the national stage. Their only role was to enact legislation to support the government’s Covid 19 response program.

Must Duque be blamed for the lack of mass testing capability? In case these Senators haven’t noticed, the Philippines isn’t the only nation that struggled with mass testing capabilities. Even the great United States of America was stymied in that area. The Covid 19 is a new virus, and the production of mass testing kits was limited. The pandemic hit the whole world at the same time. In the mad rush for testing kits, the Philippines had to compete with other nations to get hold of these testing kits.

Maybe the Senators ought to be reminded that government procurement was hampered by stringent procedures before the emergency was declared. In fact, my friend Minority Leader Franklin Drilon was quick to tell the DOH it could not do away with RA 9184 in trying to procure testing kits and personal protective equipment (PPE). By the time the emergency powers were granted, the rest of the world was already ablaze with the disease.

This is the reason that we had to depend on donations from China, South Korea and other nations for our Covid 19 response capability at the start of this crisis.

On the matter of FDA approval for testing laboratories, the Senators must understand that it isn’t a matter of filling up application forms and pushing the paperwork around. There are strict protocols to be followed. And the FDA was overwhelmed by avalance of bureaucratic challenges that included evaluation of locally produced testing kits and potential drugs. It was like a squad of the Army being attacked by the entire New People’s Army at the crack of dawn.

No matter how great the pressure was on them, the FDA could not afford to take short-cuts, unlike what the government did when then DOH Secretary Janette Garin pushed for the early approval of Dengvaxia vaccine and pave the way for its anomalous procurement in 2015.

I admit Duque lacks certain qualities that inspire public confidence. But I don’t think it amounts to critical leadership lapses that endangered people’s lives. We must not lose sight of the fact that we have effectively contained the virus after a month, notwithstanding the failure of local government units in Metro Manila to strictly enforce the home quarantine. The numbers do not lie. The Philippines still ranks low in terms of Covid 19 infections.

Finally, these Senators need to be reminded that Duque needs only to have the full trust and confidence of one person: President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. If he has accountability, it’s to the President of the Republic, unless, of course, he has broken laws. So far, the issue is more of his perceived lack of leadership by standards imposed by Senators who don’t have a clue about what the situation demands. It’s a matter that’s outside their league.

It would be better for them to let the crisis end before Senator Poe gets back to her practice of unproductive investigations in aid of legislation.

Martial law

I would bet that majority of Filipinos applauded the statement of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte last night (April 16, 2020) that he might place Metro Manila and Luzon under martial law because of the still big number of quarantine violators, including some who were caught engaged in illegal cockfighting (“sabong”) and drinking liquor despite the ban.

The country suffers from a serious problem arising from a lack of a collective, national discipline. In the view of many people, there’s too much democracy in our society. This leads some Filipinos to take authority for granted. They put too much weight on human rights and freedom at the expense of society’s right to self-preservation. Nowhere is this more apparent than what we have witnessed during the last one month.

It’s a sad testimony to the deterioration of Filipino society to a point that “self” tends to feel more important than “us”. As President Duterte said in his message to the nation, the quarantine is not only to protect individuals from catching the corona virus disease; equally as important is making sure a carrier of the disease, unaware that he or she is infected, does not spread it to others.

I think President Duterte should not delay this decision. He must place Metro Manila particularly under a state of martial law. Not only will this enable the military and police to enforce the lockdown. It will also suspend the laws and make it possible to arrest those who undermine the government’s effort to contain the disease. This power should cover individuals who spread fake news to sow fear and panic.

For quite some time now, I have advocated that President Duterte establish a revolutionary government. This is the perfect time to do it.

Stigma

I found it distressing to read about some people in Lambunao, Iloilo throwing stones at the residence of a family stricken with the Covid 19 disease. It shows the worst in the character of these people. It puts them at a level much lower than humanity. It is a behavior borne out of ignorance. They have no place in civilized society.

From what I read, this family is grieving, having lost a parent to this disease. The rest of the household have been found positive for the corona virus. Nobody could possibly be in a worse situation than where they’re in. They don’t deserve to be treated this way.

What the surviving members of the family needs is sympathy. It isn’t their fault that the disease found its way into their family. It happened because the fatality had travelled from Manila as the pandemic broke out. He just had the msfortune of being at an airport or some other place where large numbers of people gathered. An airport or a church or a conference hall are the most conducive places for the virus to spread.

I hope the LGU will assert its authority and provide the family protection from this kind of assault. We cannot allow the Covid 19 disease to put those it has infected under a stigma, or scorn from their fellow human beings. We have to show compassion and understanding. They need the support of the community to survive this crisis.

As I write this, there is plenty of reason to believe the pandemic is slowing down. The statistics of the last two days (I’m writing this on Wednesday, April 8) indicate that the number of new Covid 19 positive cases have started to slide. After three weeks into the lockdown, our statistics are encouraging. While it can’t be avoided that there are infections, and deaths, the numbers are far lower than what we’ve seen in other countries.

In the United States, for instance, an estimated 400,000 people have been infected. A little over 12,000 have died. And a big factor why this happened is because the U.S. government was slow in imposing strict quarantine measures. We’ve seen the same experiene in Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, France and other European nations. It puts beyond doubt that a lockdown is the most effective way to fight the virus.

When President Rodrigo Duterte ordered that Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon be put under an enhanced community quarantine, or lockdown to be more precise, there was considerable grumblings that the government was over-reacting. One of those who called the measure as a case of “over-reaction” was Senate President Tito Sotto. Other figures in the political opposition also questioned the wisdom of the lockdown.

While it might be too early to call the government’s response a success, the figures that are being reported by the Department of Health are reassuring. We have done a good job stepping on the brakes and prevented the number of cases from spiking to the level of thousands of new cases in a single day.

No government in the world was prepared for this pandemic. Compared to the U.S. and the wealthier nations, the Philippines had almost nothing in its medical arsenal to deal with the pandemic. We lacked testing kits and our hospitals were inadequately equipped, especially personal protective equipment (PPE). If infrastructure and medical supplies were to be the gauge, our country was a candidate for the worst-case scenario.

When this is over, those who had criticized the President’s directive for enhanced community quarantine will likely thank him for being decisive. And credit must go to our doctors, nurses, hospital staffs, the police and military, our LGUs and other government workers who responded to the call to wage battle with Covid 19. Words are inadequate to describe the heroism you have displayed. The country owes you a debt of gratitude.

Filipinos are a resilient people. We have always bounced back from every calamity. This one is no different. Our collective suffering might be a great deal heavier during this period. But I am confident that once we recover, we will emerge a far stronger people and nation.

Iloilo on the world stage in fight vs. Covid 19

The images of Ilonggo doctors, nurses and hospital staff wearing brightly-colored personal protective clothing have spread across the world to bring cheer and hope to the hundreds of millions of people quarantined in their homes because of the corona virus pandemic.

It just started as an idea on how to provide PPEs for Iloilo hospitals at a time when these were in short supply. A nurse at the Medical City, Andre Pe, decided medical front-liners shoudn’t have to wait until the first shipments of PPEs arrived in Iloilo City. The Covid 19 virus wasn’t about to slow down to give our hospitals time to prepare.

Pe, who has a passion for fashion design, took out his pencils and paper and went to work. He quickly drew a design for PPEs that volunteers could use to sew them. Iloilo City mayor Jerry P. Trenas came to know about the initial batch of PPEs that Pe and his group had turned out, and he saw it was an answer to Iloilo’s inadequate supply to shield frontliners from this deadly virus. He directive mass production of the PPEs.

Pe’s design called for bright colors of liquid-repelling materials. There was blue, red, pink, black and white. In a few days, the production lines were churning attractive-looking PPEs. It certainly lifted the spirits of the doctors, nurses and hospital staff that started wearing them. Instead of letting the threat of Covid 19 to worry them, they started posting pictures and videos of themselves wearing the locally-produced PPEs.

The images and videos instantly captured the hearts of people here and abroad. These were shared and reshared on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Ilonggos taught people around the world that we know how to fight this disease, and fight we will with flair and cheer. It wasn’t just about the PPEs being colorful and attractive. The effort has even adopted movie themes like “Star Wars” to add fashion flavor to the design.

The viral photos and videos also reflect the solid community effort that has been put into Iloilo’s efforts against the corona virus. Trenas and Governor Arthur Defensor, Jr., along with the local chief executives of the province, have done well to enforce the enhanced community quarantine to keep the virus from infecting more people. From the reports of the DOH, Iloilo has effectively contained the virus. The number of infections has been kept to a minimum.

On a personal note, I am saddened that a close family friend in Roxas City has become a casualty of the virus. The feeling is different when somebody you know falls victim to Covid 19. In the past, the soaring number of deaths were clinical statistics as I watched the WHO and DOH briefings on a daily basis. But when the sad news about my friend’s death reached me, I discovered that the Covid 19 pandemic is much closer to me than I was prepared to accept.

It reinforces the message that nobody is safe from Covid 19. You can never know who might be a carrier of the virus. Even a healthy looking individual can be a bearer of death. Hence, it’s absolutely necessary that we adhere to the home quarantine that’s being enforced. Just by staying at home, we can save lives. This is a crucial part of the containment strategy that is the only effective way to bring the pandemic to a halt.

We heal as one, but dilawans keep pulling nation down

Two days ago, inulunsad ang isang serye ng mga online concerts na may tema na “We heal as one” sa gitna ng krisis dulot ng Covid 19 pandemic sa bansa.

Indeed, this is a time for everybody to close ranks and fight this disease as one people. Mas malubha pa sa pandaigdig na digmaan ito. Kailangan magtulongan tayo upang masugpo ang sakit. Sana makalimutan muna ang political divisiveness. Malaking kahirapan ang nasa harap natin, pero kailangan maging matatag ang kalooban natin at mag-tiis. This requires big sacrifice.

Kaya nalulungkot ako na makita ang mga dilawan at mga leftist groups na patuloy na ina-atake ang ating gobyerno on the propaganda front. Uma-agaw eksena sila sa bawat pagkakataon. Walang pahinga sa paghanap ng dahilan upang maka reklamo. Gusto nila ipalabas na hindi ginagawa ng gobyerno ang katungkulan nito sa taong bayan.

There will be a time for accountability. But not now.

Bigyan natin ang gobyerno, lalo na si President Duterte, ng pagkataon na mamuno na walang hadlang at abala. Kung may kapalpakan sa mga ahensiya, nakakasiguro ako na nakikita yan ni President Duterte. Hiindi nakakatulong ang pag-iingay.

LET US HEAL AS ONE.