Spreading information quickly and as widely as possible
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - August 30, 2020 - 12:00am

Through a strange quirk of personal history I have two daughters living in the United Kingdom, two sons living in Manila and one son in Singapore. We are lucky because technology enables us to “see” each other on video calls and somehow almost replicate that sense of togetherness.

We are a country where there over 10 million Filipinos living overseas who want and need to contact their families. But internet access remains slow and unreliable. The President made this a key point in his State of the Nation Address. There are bills in Congress that have been put forward to improve the situation; however, one bill that seems to be continually pushed to the side is amending the Public Service Act. Is it because of the Covid crisis?

Another facet of my internet life with my family is hearing about “contact tracing” experiences in other countries. The stories of how Covid-19 is spread are extremely detailed; for example early clusters were in religious gatherings so the authorities (and especially people) knew that these were high risk places and had to be stopped. Unfortunately, other than tsismis on the internet and the forwarded messages on Viber or Whatsapp here ­little is known about how people contracted the virus.

The more people know about the circumstances under which others have contracted the virus the better. We would be better off if everyone just accepted that we need to follow advice from medical and government authorities and ultimately the rules of the lockdowns but judging by the discussions in different groups it is not as simple as that. People need convincing.

On group gatherings, the rules around the world are different. In Singapore where my son lives, when quarantine ended (or circuit breaker as they euphemistically call it there) restaurants were allowed to have dine-in customers but limited to groups of no more than five people.

Other jurisdictions are successfully using technology to help. We cannot learn from others that have been more successful. Singapore for example has developed its TraceTogether App ­ I am told this is now used to enter offices and shops.

Switzerland became the first country to release an app using Google and Apple’s system. In the Philippines, I have from my daughter in law that Ormoc has been using a SafeOrmoc QR Code system. I am sure there are other examples we have here. In other words we can now learn from others, and we have our own ingenuity.

If we take a look across the world we will see how other countries are dealing with the pandemic, we will see harsh realities. No country has done perfectly well, but some have done better than others and we can learn from those experiences.

MISCELLANY: This is not the time for political bickering. I just read the useful advisory of the President’s Chief Legal counsel Salvador Panelo:

As of April, the Finance Department already reported that the government spent P352.7 billion in battling the pandemic. On June 24, the Department of Budget and Management came out with the report that the government disbursed P355 billion for its response to the health threat.

Apropos the issue on contact-tracing, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, through Secretary Eduardo Año, had asked Congress two weeks ago to allocate P5 billion out of the P162 billion under the proposed Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, or Bayanihan 2, for the hiring and training of contact-tracers, acting on the recommendations of Baguio City Mayor and Contact Tracing Czar Benjamin Magalong, of a 1:37 patient to close contacts ratio, aside from the fact that as of mid-July, the government’s contact tracing capability had already reached 98.2 percent by organizing 5,126 contact-tracing teams with 67,683 members.

For mass testing, the Department of Health announced that the Philippines already has a rated testing capacity of 50,000 by mid-June. Presently, the Philippines has the second-highest number of tests conducted in Asia with nearly 1.4 million tests done as of July 26. It is at the top spot when it comes to COVID-19 testing capacity in the entire Southeast Asian region.

World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative to the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe acknowledged our expansion of our testing capacity. WHO-Western Pacific Regional Director Takeshi Kasai lauded the Philippines’ efforts in improving its healthcare capacity and curbing the spread of Covid-19.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development already has a cash-for-work program while the Department of Labor and Employment has implemented TUPAD or Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers.

As regards businesses, the Department of Trade and Industry has several programs in place to help them, particularly micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), during this pandemic, such as Pondo sa Pagbabago at Pag-asenso (P3) Enterprise Rehabilitation Fund, Covid-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises (CARES), Livelihood Seeding Program-Negosyo, Serbisyo sa Barangay (LSP-NSB), among others. The Department of Tourism has also recently launched the Philippine Harvest e-commerce site where online shoppers can enjoy local quality-sealed fresh and processed food selections, and other essentials all under one platform.

Vis-vis our workers in the agriculture sector, Secretary William Dar of the Department of Agriculture is doing an excellent job in protecting the industry as it even managed to grow by 1.6 percent despite the halt in major economic activities in Metro Manila, Luzon and other parts of the country.

The President even acknowledged the importance of protecting this sector during his State of the Nation Address when he said that this would be the most strategic one for economic recovery as he introduced the Plant, Plant, Plant program that would enable us achieve tangible results in our fight against the pandemic.

For our returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), they may avail of the different programs of the DOLE like the National Reintegration Center for OFWs. As of July, the government had extended financial assistance to over 110,000 OFWs abroad, while as of the first week of August, to more than 124,000 repatriated OFWs who were affected by the present pandemic. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has even assisted our OFWs as it launched a project entitled iFWD PH: Innovations for Filipinos Working Distantly from the Philippines last May to provide assistance in establishing alternative livelihood projects in their provinces.

VP Robredo, the Opposition should be reminded all should help in these critical times. We are all in this together. Critics and detractors should appeal to the nation and persuade the citizenry to consciously and conscientiously observe the minimum health requirements.

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