FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - February 8, 2020 - 12:00am

A viral epidemic is always a scary thing. The enemy is unseen and the full proportions of the contagion are unknown.

Earlier this week, for obvious partisan reasons, opposition politicians and the usual leftist suspects were noisily condemning government for what they imagined was an inadequate response to the threat posed by the Wuhan virus. What they expected government should have done and when these things should have been done was never fully substantiated by the partisan noisemakers.

They did not bring light.

The critics were flatly contradicted by the World Health Organization (WHO)’s positive appraisal of the Philippines’ response to the looming epidemic.

WHO Philippine representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe says: “We are satisfied with the measures implemented by the government of the Philippines… This is an evolving situation… and with the emergence of more information, the government response has been proactively strengthened.”

There should be relief that there remains no evidence of domestic transmission of the deadly virus. The Chinese national who died in Manila carried the virus from China. All three confirmed cases (including the fatality) picked up the virus in the epicenter of the epidemic.

Only one Filipino so far has been confirmed infected: a crewmember of a large cruise ship quarantined in Tokyo carrying over 3,000 holidaymakers. One Filipina domestic worker succumbed in Dubai to a viral infection. We do not know yet if the Wuhan virus is involved.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government has organized repatriation of Filipinos from the Wuhan area. They will be subject to the two-week quarantine protocol for all those returning from the scene of the epidemic. The large rehab facility in Nueva Ecija and the athletes’ village built in New Clark City for the Southeast Asian Games have been readied to receive returning Filipinos.

Contact tracing of all fellow passengers of the two Chinese nationals found infected has been completed with help from the PNP. The tracing is now being expanded to include employees of hotels they might have stayed in.

A travel ban for all coming in from China has been enforced. This could be criticized as an over-reaction rather then inaction. It has caused confusion for our overseas workers stopping over at Hong Kong from other parts of the world.

China may not have been commended enough for the comprehensiveness of her response to the outbreak. Several Chinese cities and provinces have been locked down to prevent the spread of the virus. This involves about 60 million people.

In Wuhan, Chinese authorities have built a 1000-bed medical facility in just 10 days to accommodate victims of the plague. Because of China’s containment effort, 99% of those afflicted by the virus are in the epicenter of the epidemic. China is also leading research to develop an antidote to the disease.

It would not occur to the critics of President Duterte to commend China, of course. One vital plank of their partisan agitprop is to vilify our large neighbor.


One particularly annoying agitprop group is the left-leaning Pamalakaya. The group presents itself as the voice of municipal fishermen along the Manila Bay coastline.

Under the guise of advancing fishermen, the group recently condemned the cleanup effort at the Bay as a dismal failure. Like their brethren who prematurely criticized the effort to contain the Wuhan virus, Pamalakaya is using an unrealistic appraisal of the cleanup effort as a means to politically bludgeon the Duterte administration.

All the while, this agitprop group has not contributed anything positive to the massive cleanup challenge. They have not organized the coastal communities they operate in to help in preventing disposal of waste into the waterways spilling into the bay. These communities directly dumping into the Bay are their political base.

Apart from household and manufacturing waste dumped directly into the Bay, a major source of water pollution is the failure to build a proper sewerage system for our burgeoning metropolis. Intellectual consistency might have demanded that this agitprop group join the clamor for the water concessions to comply with the Supreme Court decision to treat wastewater before releasing this to the Bay.

In fact, if they were less hypocritical, Pamalakaya should have joined President Duterte in his rant-filled crusade against the water concessionaires. But they have been very silent on the matter of the concessionaires’ failure to sufficiently treat wastewater. 

If Pamalakaya was suddenly gripped with intellectual honesty, they might have devoted their protest energies to organizing pickets in front of factories and other establishments filling the Bay with industrial waste. They could have named and shamed their own members from the ranks of the informal coastal settlers who dump household waste into the waters.

Since their political base is part of the problem, Pamalakaya could at least have made a show of going house to house in their bailiwicks, campaigning against further polluting Manila Bay through disciplined trash disposal. They might have scored political points by campaigning for cleanliness in the Tondo and Navotas foreshore communities.

But they will not do that, of course. Their political overlords want this group to be part of the battery of protests against government. Their task it to denounce government’s every initiative as a dismal failure in the wild hope of convincing the people to overthrow it.

With this group’s ideological blinders, they miss the most basic thing about tidying up the Bay. Communities and industries do the polluting; government is trying to clean up after them.

For as long as households dump garbage into the waterways, and eventually to the sea, we can never clean up the waters.

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