If you don’t fit, then you must quit
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - April 18, 2020 - 12:00am

Our column title paraphrases one of popular culture’s most famous mottos – straight from the trial of O.J. Simpson and the ill fitting glove – in referencing the Senate’s call for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III. “Failure of leadership, negligence, lack of foresight and inefficiency” – these are the Senate’s ostensible reasons reinforced by a litany of whereas clauses that chronicled the Secretary’s missteps from Day 1. A line from Senator Sonny Angara’s own official statement provides a more colloquial context: Kelangan mas bibo ang liderato dito laban sa virus.

Sec. Duque is hurt by the hindsight rebuke of his performance. He pleaded for magnanimity, solidarity and pulled out the “serve at the pleasure” card. The President wants him to stay put.

Post-check check. The Senate’s unprecedented call for the resignation of a member of the Cabinet is no joke. Its tough to recall a time, in recent history or distant memory, when the upper chamber hazarded an unsolicited clamor to force a President’s man to quit. The conventional legislative check usually comes before the fact: when they confirm or reject nominations through the Commission on Appointments.

The resignation call is doubly surprising not just because of Sec. Duque’s highest profile position as figurehead of the governmental response against the pandemic (even with the IATF/NTF in place) but also as the resolution had bi-partisan support (of at least 16 Senators) and included the President’s allies. Only the staunchest, Sen. Bong Go, desisted from signing.

Deserved or not, the Senate, has weighed the government’s response to the pandemic to date and found it wanting. And Sec. Duque goes down in history as its poster boy.

War time consiglieri. Sec. Duque will soldier on but he now wears a scarlet letter on his shirt. This may be an occupational hazard but his effectivity is undoubtedly compromised. We were calmed by the Secretary’s composure in the handling of the Dengvaxia disgrace inherited by the administration. But it is clear that with what we are facing now, the people’s voice, as the Senate could not dare ignore, would rather a Health Secretary more fervent than furtive.

His is not a curious case. Rather, it highlights the tension between public health medicine and personal health service. The latter is driven by patient autonomy and patient’s rights. There is ample respect for this, at present, as evident in the pronouncements of the IATF on seeking patients’ consent in disclosing identities for better contact tracing and in the reminders of the Commission on Human Rights to observe data privacy restrictions.

But public health’s client is the greater community. Whereas the micro view of the physician is trained to see the blood and guts before him, the macro view of the public health professional must see this as a statistic. The interest of society at large is greater. This is the basic bargain of a State’s police power.

Pandemics prioritize the rights of the uninfected. And the Senate, as the voice of the people, want the top medical adviser to be obsessive and aggressive in sticking to this core public health function. They want responsibilities to be narrowly drawn and focused on controlling the spread of the disease.

Rigid vs. flexible. Higher education is at its own crossroads. The Commission on Higher Education has allowed Higher Education Institutions the flexibility to adopt learning/adjustment options. Academic calendars for the semester are authorized to end by April 30 with extensions for submission of academic requirements. Students and even professors around the country are challenging this mestizo end of semester and continue to agitate for the “humane” wholesale, universal promotion of students.

They deplore the rigidity due, among others, to their being ill equipped pedagogically and technologically to seamlessly transition from the conventional classroom based method to the CHED suggested synchronous and asynchronous methods. Prior to the ECQ, there were hardly any large scale preparations made for this sort of blended learning. That makes it difficult for any present attempts to be effective.

Pre ECQ, the reality of the technological divide could be seen in coffee shops. Students were studying at Starbucks University not because of the Java; surely it wasn’t for love of the “conducive” surroundings. They were there for the wi-fi connections that their homes simply did not have. The technical difficulties alone of connecting to online classes or accessing recorded materials which might have been manageable under the best of circumstances could not easily be assured during lockdown.

But these are secondary to the emotional and psychological roadblocks to be hurdled. Indeed, to a substantial percentage of student and faculty stakeholders, the urgent test for today is not how to study or teach. It is how to survive. Plus, the premise that students aren’t learning is false. This Covid episode is a blank canvass fertile for the application of case/scenario instruction across virtually all academic disciplines.

Contagion of hope. From the Easter message of Pope Francis: This is no magic formula that makes problems vanish. No, the resurrection of Christ is not that. Instead, it is the victory of love over the root of evil, a victory that does not “by-pass” suffering and death, but passes through them, opening a path in the abyss, transforming evil into good: this is the unique hallmark of the power of God.

Songs in the key of love. Martin Nievera and twin sister Vicky empathize by helping to keep us at home. Check out their Youtube channel: Quaran-twins! Click on the music videos, enjoy the familiar tunes, the relaxed sibling repartee, and the undeniable talent. Martin and Vicky take us back to a time when we felt safer and inspire us to believe that things can be that way again.

April 19 celebrants. Happy Birthday to my brother, Macky Maceda and to President Mayor Joseph E. Estrada, my boss.

FRANCISCO DUQUE III
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