‘Yan lang talaga ang kaya ko’

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Sorry na lang daw, the President said. Yan lang talaga ang kaya niya in controlling the pandemic.

OCTA made a prediction the other week that the number of new COVID cases will rise to about 30,000 a day by the end of September. The first week just ended and we hit over 26,000.

Our positivity rate is now at 30 percent when the threshold set by the WHO is just five percent. That means one out of every three persons tested for COVID is positive. It means the Duterte administration is failing badly in controlling the spread of the virus.

It is not just the numbers that are alarming to most of us. The pandemic has become personal.

The sick and dying are known to us, close friends or even family members. They have names. They are not just statistics. We have relationships with them.

Can’t we do better? Duterte and his officials keep on telling us there is no playbook because it is a new virus.

Former Health secretary Esperanza Cabral isn’t buying it. She told ANC’s Christian Esguerra in an interview that the excuse is no longer valid and that we deserve better.

“Bumenta na yan… That kind of argument was acceptable maybe in the first six months of this particular pandemic. But we have had 18 months of experience and, at this point, we should have written our own playbook already,” Dr. Cabral said.

President Duterte, in one of his recent midnight telecasts, said this is as far as he can go.

“Kung sabihin ninyo ako ang nagkukulang, sorry. Ginawa ko ang lahat. Kung ang lahat ay kulang pa, patawad po, ‘yan lang talaga ang kaya ko,” Duterte admitted.

Indeed, the buck stops with Duterte. The responsibility for the current mess is rightly his because he is the final approving authority for everything the IATF has imposed or failed to do since last year.

We have the dubious distinction of having the longest lockdown in the world, yet we are still among the countries with the worst ability to control the spread of the virus.

It had always been pointed out that lockdowns alone don’t work without massive testing, tracing, isolation, and treatment.

Duterte’s officials dropped the ball for the early delivery of reliable vaccines when the Health Secretary allowed the draft contract with Pfizer to sleep at his desk for a few months.

The failure of Duterte’s pandemic response team is obvious. Just look at the long lines of patients dying in hospital driveways while waiting to be treated. Shortages of oxygen, medicines, and other facilities have also affected the ability of patients to get treated properly.

Healthcare workers are overworked, prompting many to resign. The ability of hospitals to accept patients is not limited to available beds, but by the limited number of staff. Many health workers are also getting sick, yet the risk allowance they are entitled to by law is not getting to them.

Wrong decisions are continually being made. Yet when doctors offer advice based on their experiences treating patients, they are not just ignored, but viciously castigated.

The Duterte administration’s pandemic response is a big management failure and line responsibility for it rests on the Health Secretary. He has failed on the medical side and on the administrative side. Overpriced face masks, unpaid risk allowances for healthcare workers, and unreliable statistics are too serious to ignore.

But Duterte continues to back him up. An obvious change in leadership at the health department could help make things better.

Harry Roque lambasting the president of the Philippine College of Physicians is par for the course. In August last year, Duterte himself accused the doctors of subversion when they called for a timeout because the hospitals were getting overwhelmed.

Tracing cases is one important part of the pandemic response they have done badly. It is so bad, Baguio Mayor Benjie Magalong, the tracing czar, said it was a failure. It can trace only up to five contacts, which doesn’t even go beyond the family.

Dr. Cabral said in an ANC interview that the manual tracing they are doing is useless, but bureaucrats like it because they get to employ thousands of people as contact tracers and pay hundreds of millions of pesos whether the work gets properly done or not.

Other countries have digitized tracing, and in this tech age that seems the logical way to go. But IATF had insisted all these months on StaySafe, a tracing app that has failed miserably.

Retired General Eliseo Rio, Jr., while he was still acting secretary of DICT, proposed an appropriate tracing strategy, but was not only ignored… his four month old resignation letter was accepted.

General Rio explained the digital contact tracing that will work under our circumstances uses location of mobile phones to determine the spread of COVID-19. The location of the cell phone of a positively tested carrier is tracked relative to the locations of the cell phones of other people he/she may have come in close proximity to.

A message could then be sent to all probable contacts to have themselves tested, and if found to be positive, their cell phones would have the records of phones that they may have been in contact with, and so on and so forth.

Rio pointed out that StaySafe will not work because it needs internet connectivity of mobile phones that are at least 3G capable. Here, around 20 million to 30 million subscribers still use 2G phones. About 20 percent of NCR has no or poor mobile internet connectivity, the percentage in other areas is even much higher.

Rio’s proposal requires the cooperation of telcos to make available location data of their subscribers through their call data records (CDRs). And in this pursuit for the greater good, the privacy of our citizens must be protected.

That’s just one example of failure. If Duterte is really sorry he is not up to the job, he should know what to do to save Filipino lives. But his bloated ego and political interests prevent him from doing what is right… let someone competent take control to save lives.



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

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