FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - August 4, 2020 - 12:00am

Hope is not a strategy. Very likely, hoping for a vaccine to end all our miseries is not a strategy either.

When President Duterte last talked to the nation, announcing the continuation of GCQ in the Mega Manila area, he discussed the imminent arrival of vaccines from China instead of elaborating on what we should be doing with new cases hovering around 5,000 per day. He might be pinning too much on that possibility.

At about the same time, executives from China’s second largest pharmaceutical company, Changsheng Biotechnology Company, admitted to falsifying test results and producing fake vaccines. That should be sobering information. We might all be getting placebos.

At about the same time, too, more than 80 medical associations issued a strongly worded statement calling for a “timeout” in relaxing quarantine restrictions. They specifically asked for a return to enhanced community quarantine in the region and the imposition of “medical lockdowns” in place of geographical restrictions on mobility.

Our health workers are exhausted. They have done the best they can with the limited means available. Many of them succumbed in the line of duty. They want their opinion to be heard.

The large number of new cases being added to the tally is not only due to increased testing. Community transmission of the virus is running rampant. We are building a reputation for having the longest lockdown in the world with little to show for it.

There are structural reasons why we are doing so badly. In Southeast Asia, only Myanmar (by a shade) has a weaker public health system. We have 10 medical workers per 10,000 people. Myanmar has 9.

In the first few weeks since the pandemic was declared, Vietnam set up 100 molecular laboratories to process tests. During those weeks, we continued relying on only one facility: the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

Instead of multiplying our laboratories to enable a vastly larger number of tests, Duterte offered a multimillion-peso reward for any Filipino scientist who might succeed in developing a vaccine against the new virus. That was a useless offer. We simply do not have the biomedical infrastructure to support that sort of research.

When the pandemic was declared, Thailand immediately mustered an army of a million volunteers to fight infections deep in the communities. Late in the game, our leaders are still talking of recruiting gossips to do contact tracing.

Now our entire medical community is speaking out against the shortcomings of our approach to this pandemic. Civil society, the courts and the churches are taking matters into their own hands, basically declaring a two-week shutdown.

Government reluctantly agreed to a return the MECQ. Science won.

Against the odds

Hope also seems in great abundance in the leftist “Makabayan” bloc at the House of Representatives.

Members of this bloc appear to have become obsessed with giving ABS-CBN a new franchise to broadcast. They want the matter to be elevated to the plenary session after the Committee on Legislative Franchises delivered a crushing 70-11 vote to deny the network’s application.

In the ordinary course of business, such a crushing vote settles the matter. The application is dead at the committee level. Not one member who voted in the majority reversed and asked for a revote. But the leftist solons want to resurrect it by the extremely unusual method of having the plenary override the committee.

The proposed referral to the plenary turns the legislative committee system on its head – and only on the thin argument that “only” 70 congressmen voted to deny the franchise. Henceforth, we might as well scrap the committee system and bring every minor matter straight up to plenary. But if we do this, the chamber will likely not get any work done.

The franchise committee decided to put the matter “on the table.” This is the equivalent of saying it is shelved.

But the move of the “Makabayan” bloc might not be entirely futile. They might be waiting for a change of leadership at the House to alter the political climate, reshuffle committee chairs and reopen the matter about the ABS-CBN franchise.

At the end of October, Lord Allan Velasco is due to replace Alan Peter Cayetano as Speaker. This happens because of the 15-21 term-sharing agreement forged between the two. Rep. Johnny Pimentel and Rep. Dong Gonzales, among Velasco’s closest allies, had co-authored bills seeking to give the Lopez broadcasting network a franchise. In addition, leaders of the PDP-Laban, such as Senators Manny Pacquiao and Koko Pimentel, have been supportive of granting that franchise.

Pacquiao is being groomed as a presidential contender in 2022. It will help if he gets the support of a large broadcasting company that has not been shy about partisan politics in the past.

But if, indeed, the next House leadership is so committed to giving ABS-CBN a franchise, it must dramatically reconstitute the franchise committee. After that, a new application from ABS-CBN will need to be submitted and the matter publicly heard (again).

The Makabayan proposal subverts House rules and procedures. It basically asks that the plenary overrule one of its committees. That guarantees either that factional warfare breaks out in this chamber or that parliamentary rules be thrown out of the window.

Pro-Lopez partisans are said to be planning something even more destructive: mounting a “people’s initiative” signature campaign intended to overrule the Congress even as the network lays off employees to cut on costs.

One wonders if the leftist congressmen grasp the irony of their current alliances: about how the oligarchy in this country dies hard.

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