Compromise gamble
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - April 8, 2020 - 12:00am

It came as no surprise to many that the Enhanced Community Quarantine was extended to April 30, 2020. Truth be told, a number of opinion leaders were surprised with the April 30 date because many health experts have been saying that the Community Quarantine should be between 60 to 75 days long in order for experts to confidently determine if we have “flattened the curve” or not. Before the April 30 date, my sources were talking about a May 15 or May 30 limit. So what do we make of the April 30 end of quarantine?  Does it mean that on May 1 all the gates will be opened and we can all charge like wild horses dashing for freedom, or is it going to be a conditional and elastic deadline that could stand as announced, or stretched when the medical facts and figures come rolling out along with the fatalities. 

As far as the medicine men are concerned, April 30 is too early. First of all, we don’t even have a sufficient number of testing kits and tested individuals to make an acceptable “guesstimate” of how many are actually infected, especially how many are asymptomatic or walking time bombs carrying the virus from one person to another. The initial word I got on the ground was that testing would seriously start on April 14 at such a time when there are truly enough kits, enough laboratories and enough people to do the testing. The data on all that testing will largely help the DOH and the IATF to work out who to place under mass quarantine and who should remain in the hospitals for treatment. That is what many countries that have paid with many lives are telling the rest of the world to do.

However the world is ruled by men, and men need to make money, run businesses, run the economy and fund governments. So from the looks of it, cash is once again king and businessmen think that they can have their cake and eat it too through social distancing, proper hygiene, selective and phased re-entry. They have even pushed for doing the start up from the barangay level where officials will be the first line of defense to screen who is COVID-free and can go back to work. Any idea is certainly a good idea – if it’s your idea. But here’s the problem: Asypmtomatics and incompetents. It’s not easy and it’s not cheap to separate the infected from the carriers who don’t show any symptoms. Before we can sort out the mess, many carriers will be mingling about regardless of all the warnings and trainings that people get about avoiding COVID-19. It will take longer than 23 days to find them and isolate them all. The chances that there will be a faster rate of infection versus the rate of testing are highly probable. It will be the classic example of what a Vicious Circle looks like. 

Then there is the problem of giving the responsibility of screening who comes and goes to work among those in the barangay. No sane local official will want that unless he or she is some wicked power hungry nut job hoping for a blood bath. People are already throwing punches just for being prevented from going outside to buy medicines or foodstuff. What more when you have to choose who is safe to let out to work. That’s the job of physicians, not local politicians. On numerous occasions, the IATF declared that they will leave it up to the scientists and doctors to make the recommendation to the President. From the looks of it, the scientists and doctors were left outside the room while “the recommendation” was given to the President. The question now is: will we be able to live with the decision or will we “die” by this decision? I suggest you stand behind what your doctors tell you because they are in the business of saving lives and not making money.

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If there is no stopping the businessmen from making money and getting on with their projects, then why not start with repairing the entire length of EDSA, doing all the infrastructure expansion projects etc. while Luzon is on lockdown? Why is it that the DPWH has not taken advantage of the ECQ to dig up the entire stretch of EDSA, C5 and other major roads so we can actually have level almost seamless highways and not be tormented by weekend road re-blockings that cause traffic on the days-off of Metro Manila residents. Physical distancing is highly realistic and applicable in road works since most of it is done with machinery unless you get some backyard contractor who gets paid first and takes forever to finish the project.

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A God-fearing local government official recently reached out to me to call our attention as well as of the Commission on Audit to investigate the rice purchases of governors and mayors who prefer to buy imported rice over local rice because rice importers are willing to pad the purchase price by as much as P500 to P800  per sack. The local official pointed out that because of the state of calamity the rules on accountability and determination of integrity or graft have all but flown out the window and the COA might have also quarantined their institutional responsibility to check and safeguard calamity funds from corruption. 

 In the mean time, more and more local officials have come to terms with the need for self-sufficiency and self-reliance as a result of numerous province-wide lockdowns all over the Philippines. So many mayors found themselves struggling to find needed food supplies and equipment because the neighboring provinces or cities they relied on, have shut their borders. I’ve heard from numerous LGU officials about plans to set up food production programs such as vegetable farms, piggeries and poultries in their area so they won’t be affected by future lockdowns or calamities. I’m betting that some will even put up their own ports so ships can go to their towns or cities directly. Now we know better.

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