Actions more than words
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - August 10, 2020 - 12:00am

One of the issues raised in the “time out” called by militant groups of health care workers (HCWs) is that public communications in the government’s campaign to stop the 2019 coronavirus disease, or COVID-19 pandemic, are “not cascaded” down to their levels.

Depending on the gravity of COVID-19 cases in various parts of the Philippines, we went through hard lockdown and onto varying graduated community quarantine restrictions for almost five months now. Here in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon, we have weathered the hardest lockdown for more than a month starting March 15. During which period, the government supposedly was buying time “to ramp up” anti-COVID measures.

While the hard lockdowns succeeded initially to stop the wild spread of COVID-19 infection, the gradual easing of lockdown coupled by increased testing capacity have the combined effect of raising the cases of infection. So much so, militant groups of HCWs – mostly doctors, nurses and other medical personnel in various government hospitals – called for a “time out” as they feared being overwhelmed by the spurt of COVID-19 cases.

President Rodrigo Duterte acceded to the requested “time-out” by HCW groups by reverting Metro Manila back to more stringent restrictions under the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) until Aug. 18. Under the national capital region (NCR), Metro Manila along with Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, and a few others were originally placed in less restrictive general community quarantine (GCQ) supposedly until Aug. 15.

Actually, as early as July 15, President Duterte invited to sit at the IATF meeting at Malacañang the various representatives from medical society groups when there was already a clamor to revert the NCR under MECQ. That was the first time it was raised then by the doctors and research experts from University of the Philippines-OCTA Research. Eventually, the President agreed to allow Metro Mayors to instead adopt “localized” lockdowns and keep NCR under GCQ.

National Task Force chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. endorsed the stand of Metro Manila Mayors, citing the NCR contributes 67% to the country’s economic growth. Thus, there is a crying need to slowly reopen the economy amid developing recession in our country due to hard lockdown.

Unfortunately, the minimum health protocols to prevent COVID-19 contagion are not 100% enforced.

With a six-digit number of confirmed cases based on latest statistics, our country earned the tag of being the epicenter of COVID-19 contagion in this part of the world. As of Saturday, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded a total of 126,000 confirmed COVID cases but half of that number were recoveries, and sadly, 2,209 deaths.

During our Zoom Webinar of the Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, as co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), reassured all of us that there is nothing to panic about on the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in our country.

On the contrary, Nograles cited, this merely manifested the increased capacity of the government to manage the COVID-19 contagion while recalibrating the community quarantines such as in the NCR situation.

On the latest updates to President Duterte, Nograles disclosed, the IATF officials reported their respective assigned tasks as against government targets are being met to get ahead of COVID cases.

During the initial hard lockdown period, Nograles acted as the official spokesman of the IATF until he relinquished this task to Harry Roque who returned to the Duterte Cabinet on April 12 this year as presidential spokesman anew. He reassumed his old post from chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo who took over Roque’s job in concurrent capacity.

According to Panelo, Roque was called back to his old job as “the present crisis requires a new tack in messaging.”

The switch came while the government was still trying to grapple how to contain the worsening public health emergency crisis in the country.

Roque took over also the daily IATF briefings in virtual press conferences with Malacañang reporters and foreign media. At the same time, Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar conduct his own “Laging Handa” virtual presser everyday also informing the public on various government activities and programs to contain the spread of the COVID-19 contagion.

Similarly, DOH undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire does her daily online press update on COVID cases and question-and-answer with media. Like the format of Roque and Andanar follow in their respective virtual pressers, she too, bring in guests from the medical profession to help shed light on COVID-19 cases and related health issues.

All of these virtual pressers are being carried live on government-run PTV-4 at designated time slots. Andanar at 11 o’clock in the morning; Roque at 12 noon; while Vergeire usually at 4 o’ clock in the afternoon. All of these are also carried live by the state-run tele-radio Radyo ng Pilipinas while other private media television and radio networks hook up with these government media networks.

Doing this for public service as anti-COVID “frontliners,” 90 employees of the PCOO and its attached agencies have unfortunately become among the statistics of confirmed COVID-19 cases, including infections and deaths. The PCOO has 24 while PTV-4 network has five confirmed COVID cases and one employee each has died due to the virus.

So again, the situation of the HCWs as “frontliners” is quite understandable. Methinks, however, the supposed lack of public communications about what the government has been doing to address the pandemic sounded more like political noise. Sadly, people with selfish agenda obviously fanned it just to needle President Duterte now on his last two years in office.

In times like these, we prefer more actions than talking. Some Filipino leaders though are members of N.A.T.O., or short for No Action, Talk Only. As one popular saying goes, action speaks louder than words.

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