Common sense
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - July 11, 2020 - 12:00am

The incendiary pamphlet, Common Sense, argued for independence from England and is widely credited to have influenced the 18th century American Revolution. I was pleasantly reminded of this classic call to action when reintroduced to the clever book, lyrics and music of Lin Manuel Miranda’s phenomenal “Hamilton” musical. Now streaming on Disney Plus and played and replayed in homes everywhere, the brilliant Angelica Schuyler sings: I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine…

Tom Paine used common sense arguments to make people understand the urgency of what they had to do. This has been a good prescription in the context of the pandemic. The government may impose the harshest restrictions but, in the end, it falls upon each one of us, honor system, to be responsible for our own actions. It’s Day 117 since first lockdown. We’ve now been extended a wider berth by our leaders and by our dwindling patience. Unsurprisingly, our infection numbers are climbing. But, still, always masks, distancing, hand washing. And don’t believe everything you hear. Let basic common sense be your compass.

Its common sense that has fueled the more productive responses we’ve seen from our own model, stellar LGUs. Marikina with their famous swab testing lab; Baguio with their aggressive contact tracing efforts; Valenzuela and Pasig with the innovative practices and dynamism of their young mayors; Davao, Manila and Quezon City with the urgent and substantial social amelioration assistance programs.

Common sense also prevailed in QC when police and city hall officials apprehended journalist Howie Severino for ostensible violation of the city ordinance on the mandatory use of masks in public. He was wearing one though he had to pull it down in order to drink water from a bottle. That’s when he was seen and arrested. He explained what had happened and was released accordingly.

The terror. If the surging infection numbers (51,754 cases) were our gauge, you would think that we’ve lost the battle. But this is not the only statistic.

Our death toll is on downward trajectory. This Thursday is the first time since March 19 that no deaths were reported. At 1,318 deaths, we have one of the lower counts per million. i.e. 12 per million. In contrast, Scandinavian powerhouse Sweden, a do nothing (no lockdowns) oasis during the entire pandemic season, has seen a total of 73,858 infections with 5,482 deaths. They are a country of 10 million people. Their death count is one of the highest at 543 per million.

Our cumulative positivity rate (number of positives as percentage of total number tested) is down from above 20 percent in March to 7.6 percent this July. Last week, DILG Sec. Año spoke of the goal to further decrease that rate to 3 percent.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. One of the most contentious issues is testing. Back in March, we had just one lab for all the tests, the RITM in Alabang. Now, there are 83 testing labs according to the DOH. Our testing capacity has ramped up to 74,000 tests per day which translates to a 2 million a month capacity.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, in hindsight, speaks to how we could’ve done more testing early on. That we have boosted our capacity does go to explaining the increased infection numbers. But actual tests, as against capacity, only hit 23,104 last Tuesday. It’s July and we continue to be far below the daily target of 30,000 tests promised back in May.

Another issue this space has consistently followed is our contact tracing capacity. At 54,000 tracers, we are still short of the 80,000 to hit the WHO ideal ratio of 1/800.

Government continues the recalibration of its efforts. We have best practices locally and need not resort to the apples vs. oranges comparison to better placed neighbors like Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand. Criticism is always useful to keep our leaders on their toes. As Churchill advises: we should never let a good crisis go to waste. That, and common sense should sustain the arc of our journey against COVID-19.

With one tweet. Senator Nancy Binay tersely reminded all of the difference between a Senator and a Congressman. Individual members of the House, both majority and minority, jumped at the chance provided by the hearings to extract their Shakespearean pound of flesh from ABS-CBN for past offenses. We could barely even recall the incidents cited by the “wronged” congressmen/women. But if we had a meter for every minute of media (including ABS-CBN) coverage devoted to negative press about public figures, the Binays would surely figure among the topnotchers. That we remember much. Yet Nancy shared this nugget of inclusive wisdom: “We should not drag the entire nation in our issues … I hope we can set aside personal bias for the greater good.”

The Senatorial perspective is national as against the Congressman’s parochial. This particular strain inflicted on the public – the distasteful use of their pulpit for vengeance from personal slight – is the gravest kind of parochial.

And then again, maybe Sen. Nancy’s class just shone through. ABS-CBN had to go through the House first in observation of the Constitution’s origination clause that requires private bills, such as franchises, to originate in the lower chamber. If the Senate were to also vote, who is to say that the same end game, though surely less cruel, wouldn’t transpire at the upper House? Nine Senators did abstain from that Resolution for the National Telecommunications Commission to reconsider its Cease and Desist Order. It was that difficult already – for much lesser stakes.

Food for thought. Members of Congress are required by Section 12 of Article VI of the Constitution to “notify the House concerned of a potential conflict of interest that may arise from the filing of a proposed legislation of which they are authors.” The Congressmen here may not be authors but there is a compelling case of conflict of interest when the chamber’s valuable time is used to avenge personal affronts.

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