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TURNING POINT: Command Management on the Pandemic and Corruption

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 11 Aug) – No president of the country beats President Duterte, not even the cunning Marcos, in putting under his sway the security forces of the state to secure their loyalty and his hold to power. He raised unprecedented to high heavens their salaries and multiplies their benefits endearing him across ranks and file. His clincher is putting retired generals in critical government posts outside their competencies, which generates friendly nods from those still in the service looking forward to their own sweet time. He justified this prerogative saying military men are trained to follow order, to obey the command and can therefore deliver the goods.

In responding to the coronavirus pandemic, PDU30 heavily relies in military minds in developing plans and strategies to defeat or curb the spread of the virus, forgetting that coronavirus SARS CoV-2 is primarily a health problem not a horde of foreign invaders or marauding terrorists. It is likely that the Philippines is the only country in the whole world without an infectious disease expert or an epidemiologist in its pandemic think tank.

Emphases and priorities are thus misplaced. We are not saying that the lockdown and its strict enforcement is not important, but that it is getting more focus and attention than the health side of the struggle – the plight and predicaments of healthcare workers, their need for reinforcement, substitution or rest and financial support; healthcare facilities in the brink of being overwhelmed, needing capacity building; and PPEs and other medical needs in short supply, requiring well-planned and comprehensive augmentation.

To compensate for the loss of income resulting from the lockdown, a Social Amelioration Program was developed, whereby cash aids in billions of pesos for food and basic needs was supposed to be distributed to 18 million poor families across the country. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), headed by a retired general, was to do the task. The distribution was marred by horrific inefficiency and ineffectiveness, breakdown in lockdown rules and usual corruption.

We have the longest lockdown in the whole world yet our daily infection cases are in four digits. Under military command we now have become the epicenter of the pandemic in this side of Asia.

This corona crowning achievement is conveniently blamed to the Filipino people for being hardheaded, stubborn and disobedient.

The truth is the runaway spread of the virus is primarily brought about by the government’s myopic, ambivalent and contradictory plans and strategies against the pandemic, which usher the nation closer to damnation instead of away from it.

Just consider this:

  • Famished people had queued or had crowded in distribution areas under the elements from early dawn to late in the evening for the promised cash aid. Some collapsed from hunger and exhaustion, and a number succumbed to heat stroke or cardiac arrest. At the end, many returned home empty-handed for inadequate documentation. A lot couldn’t help but resort to begging in the street to feed their families and got arrested for violating lockdown laws.
  • In the midst of the lockdown, the President launched an impressively catchy Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program to decongest the metro, crowding thousands in a processing area, infecting each other and eventually bringing the COVID-19 home to the provinces.
  • Locally stranded individuals (LSIs), who were caught in the metropolis by the lockdown, were also ushered home by the national government to unburden itself and transfer to the LGUs the responsibility for their health care and economic needs. Nothing might be wrong with this in normal times, but in this raging pandemic the decision is uncalled for; it undermines the very principle and purpose of the lockdown.

Meanwhile, the healthcare system that already careens from overloading and shortages of everything is further buffeted by the ignominious money-making scheme by opportunists in the PhilHealth at the expense of patients during this pandemic. The impending bankruptcy of the state health insurer because of flagrant and unbridled corruption is appalling and scares the hell of everyone.

PhilHealth is feebly run by another general in the comfy confidence of the President. The whiff of corruption dictum does not apply even if the guy stinks beyond tolerance being in deep shit. He stays put because he obeys the command?

Anyway, he had to suddenly get sick (with blood cancer), obviously to avoid spilling the beans any further in the Senate.

The DOJ will conduct a deep probe. As always it will, and will file cases with the Ombudsman, accordingly, next week. But do you expect outcomes from probes on corruption in agencies under the Executive Department carried out by those under the hammer of the Chief Executive? Remember the mess in the Bureau of Custom, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Correction, Department of Health, had anything ever happened? Nothing. All are now slipping from the nation’s memory.

The health of the nation is put in grave peril not just by the pandemic but, worse, by the widespread corruption in governance. Apologists of the regime are quick in saying that corruption was already there before the mayor took over. Of course, it has been there, the reason why he promised to end it in 3 months. And the reason why he is president. But instead of ending it, corruption flourishes and blossoms under his watch. His reign may yet be remembered as the Golden Age of corruption in the Philippines.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)

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