The mendicancy of hope
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - August 22, 2020 - 12:00am

Begging for scraps. This is the image we project awaiting handouts from Russia and China. Senator Risa Hontiveros voices the reality check: waiting is not a plan. But DOH Usec. Rosario Singh-Vergeire clarifies that we aren’t just pinning our hopes on Russia and China. We’re also supposedly waiting on 16 other manufacturers.

Vigil for the vaccine is bad optics, bad policy. WHO Western Pacific Regional Director Dr. Takeshi Kasai advises all to continue to improve their respective responses and to not just wait. Sorsogon Governor Chiz Escudero chides the DOH for just riding out the pandemic.

Country, before God. We’ve come a long way since Kant’s 18th century notion of a world community, acknowledging each nation state’s right to exist. Since then, we’ve created the League of Nations, the U.N., the W.T.O. International Law has evolved through a host of treaties, conventions and agreements. The world has shrunk. Globalization has reshaped and transformed fields and interests, specially trade and economics.

But even on the international stage, all politics is local. States will place their interests ahead of the next, absent any identity. 19th century British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury famously remarked that”the only bond of union that endures is the absence of all clashing interests.”

Hence, the paranoia about vaccine nationalism. Pope Francis was prompted to comment that “it would be sad if the rich are given priority for the COVID-19 vaccine. It would be sad if the vaccine becomes property of this or that nation, if it is not universal and for everyone.”

And the last shall be the first. WHO has pressed for wealthier nations to join COVAX (Covid 19 Vaccines Global Access). This is really an attempt at a global anti-hoarding law. There are two phases to the program. First, proportional allocation of vaccine to all participating countries up to 20 per cent of their population involving “at-risk groups”. The second phase prioritizes poorer countries.

PH has signed up. Already, we’ve earmarked the P1.5 billion necessary for the projected P500 per dose for up to 3 million (let’s hope only one dose will do it). It’s good that we’re thinking ahead.

But it’s not going to be that simple. R&D alone is a crap shoot. Then the challenges of manufacturing. Finally, distribution. For each stage, the layers and permutations are unendingly complex and skewed towards the richer nations.

Ultimate zero sum. The optimal model is to distribute based on risk of transmission and not on capacity to pay. WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus concedes that the fastest way to end this pandemic and to reopen economies is by protecting the highest-risk populations. Otherwise, only the richest countries and their citizens survive. To hell with global supply chains. No more world community. It would be a vicious regression.

At this stage, there should be no simultaneous efforts but only concerted efforts. It’s good that science and public health experts are collaborating, even across borders. The initial paranoia of technology loss for working with China has softened. But, up top, the hard-line political leadership continues to treat this as interest of nations rather than the interest of all humanity. We wonder if we’ll ever succeed in climbing out of the hole.

At home, we continue to scramble. As early as mid-March, we noted how critics denounced the leadership for making us the only country in the ASEAN on lockdown. Yet here we are, 6 months hence, and with the worst numbers in the ASEAN. It is taking too long to get things right. Right now, the curve we need to shorten is the learning curve.

Roll call. Mom supplied me with a childhood story that I’ll never live down. It appears that, on a daily basis, I wouldn’t wake up early enough for school. It annoyed my older brother no end as he had to struggle to make the first bell. He hated being late.

The bad habit stayed with me until law school. There, tardiness scared me. Law professors never spared the rod. And only the most debilitating illness would deter me from attending. At stake? Making the grade. Also, newly discovered pride.

But in public service, the math is different. There is that element of public trust. The expectations of millions. Life and death decisions play out daily in the agendas of the different legislative bodies.

Solon, so late. The Senate is the grandest stage. There are only 24 senators. To fail to muster a perfect attendance, one must have a really good excuse. Sen. Lacson, absent only once for attending his brother’s funeral, joked about missing his own funeral next time. This is the most eloquent proof that every individual absence is an act of betrayal.

Those who followed my father’s career know that he was a high functioning, hyper productive member of the Senate. Every year of his long tenure, Senator Ernesto Maceda managed to top attendance records, usually with Senator Rene Saguisag. This was proof of fidelity to the job and commitment to the people. It was also an affirmation of respect for colleagues and for the chamber. We applaud the senators who registered 0 absences for this regular session. Special mention to Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III and Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri who were also never late.

“To faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties, …consecrate myself to the service of the nation”. That’s the oath. You can have varying strengths and capabilities: the ardor of Gordon, authenticity of Poe, tenacity of Lacson, wisdom of Drilon, conviction of Angara, poise of Binay, vigilance of Pangilinan, experience of Recto, intensity of Tolentino, industry of Gatchalian, energy of Go, resilience of Pimentel, righteousness of Pacquiao, etc. But attendance and punctuality are the great equalizers. For an elected official, coming to work and arriving on time should really be non-negotiable.

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