The virus is the enemy

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

We are in the midst of a war against an unseen enemy called a coronavirus. In this war, we need to be united. A  good leader will do everything to get everyone on board to fight this enemy, politics aside.

The other enemy we have is corruption. As we can see, corruption reduces the amount of money we can use in the war against the coronavirus.

So we have these two enemies and we should focus all our efforts in eradicating both. Thus far, Duterte is  failing on both fronts.

What has been happening the past weeks is an unfortunate distraction. As cases continue to climb past 20,000 a day, with OCTA predicting 30,000 cases by the end of September, Duterte and his minions focused their guns on the Red Cross.

They may totally hate Sen. Dick Gordon who heads the Red Cross, but spare the institution. There is no denying that the Red Cross has been a big help during this pandemic. And yes, Dick’s leadership was a big factor in the way the Red Cross has responded to the pandemic’s challenge.

If Duterte was half the leader that he is supposed to be, he should have immediately made a distinction between his political enemy and the humanitarian institution his enemy heads. But Duterte was ready to destroy the Red Cross as an institution to get Dick. That is like hitting your nose with a sledgehammer to kill a fly.

Indeed, Duterte has never acknowledged the help the Red Cross has done from the start. He has even called the Red Cross “mukhang pera” when it stopped testing PhilHealth members because PhilHealth owed the Red Cross close to a billion pesos in unpaid testing fees.

In the first place, the Board of Governors of the Philippine Red Cross pointed out in a statement, “the COVID-19 testing should be the job of the government. We merely stepped up when there was a need that the government could not address.”

Indeed, the Red Cross has provided a less expensive testing option. Duterte’s pandemic efforts have been stymied by lack of testing. It is so expensive, the government should subsidize it or give it for free.

The Red Cross has also pioneered in the use of saliva testing, also using the RT-PCR method, which costs less. In a sense, the Red Cross has been a partner of the government in its pandemic effort, even providing cover for some of the shortcomings of the Duterte administration.

As for the decision to suspend testing for PhilHealth members, the Red Cross board said they cannot “allow our finances to bleed from operational expenses and supplies related to testing because the government’s failure to pay its obligations would severely compromise our much-needed services to the suffering and marginalized.”

Other services provided by the Red Cross include blood banks (serving 50 percent of national needs), a dialysis center, disaster management, ambulances, etc. It has also lately been fielding mobile units to provide food to poor communities unable to help themselves during lockdowns. Bakuna buses have also been sent to many provinces to speed up the vaccination, with over 180,000 people vaccinated to date.

The Red Cross officials also highlighted their  organization’s contribution to the country’s response against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

First, the Red Cross is the largest testing provider in the country, and has conducted over four million tests for COVID-19 so far. They claim they had the foresight to quickly establish molecular laboratories for RT-PCR testing, setting up 13 laboratories nationwide.

“It was not long before the PRC was doing the bulk of the country’s testing, at its height covering 45 percent of the requirement, picking up the slack for the government,” they added.

The Red Cross is not subject to COA audits since they are not a government agency, but their financial deals with government agencies are audited. They are audited by an international audit firm which also audits the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Indeed, during times of calamities, many foreign governments and international organizations have chosen to course their assistance through the local Red Cross rather than DSWD or DOH. That speaks of the trust and confidence they have in the organization to get assistance to where it is needed efficiently and honestly.

As for corruption, our second most important and elusive public enemy, Duterte had been too defensive about the recent COA reports and the Senate hearings on it. Why should the Palace spokesman defend the private Chinese company that appears to have cornered billions of pesos for the purchase of face masks?

Face masks bought by a Davao colleague of Duterte for P27.70 each have been justified because of the emergency nature of the purchase and the low supply and big demand at the time of purchase. But Sen.  Gordon said the Red Cross bought face masks at about the same time for P5 to P8 each.

Duterte, who claims he hates even a whiff of corruption, should have taken the position of cooperating with an all out investigation. Now there is a public impression that there seems to be something worth looking into.

If, indeed, it was proven that some people made money at the expense of the taxpayers at a time of pandemic, we have enough laws to deal with that.

It is horrible to hear Duterte calling Gordon fat and throwing out innuendoes that damage the reputation of the local Red Cross as an institution.

Gordon merely heads the Red Cross and it cannot be denied that under his watch, the institution has expanded its activities to quickly respond to the needs of our disaster-prone country.

The Red Cross is a volunteer organization with over two million volunteers nationwide. You may or may not like Dick Gordon, but he has clearly provided the leadership that transformed the Red Cross into the modern and responsive organization that it is today.

Remember… the coronavirus is the enemy. Corruption is the other enemy. Anything that will help defeat these enemies should be welcomed by President Duterte.



Boo Chanco’s email address is bchanco@gmail.com Follow him in Twitter @boochanco

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