More tragic than COVID-19
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - September 16, 2020 - 12:00am

If there is one consoling view we learn from the continuing public health crisis spawned by the 2019 coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, is the fact that it has not spared even the rich, bigger and more powerful not only here but countries across the globe. That’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) classified it as pandemic.

Todate, COVID-19 has claimed the most number of lives of thousands of health care workers and other “front-liners” directly engaged in the battle to contain the spread of this pandemic. Closer at home, the COVID-19 outbreak has not only infected but also killed many Filipino doctors, nurses and other health care workers. Many of our policemen implementing the community quarantines all over the Philippines have fallen ill of COVID-19 infection and a number of them have unfortunately died of it.

Even among Cabinet officials of President Rodrigo Duterte who are part of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) are not spared. Those who had close contact with positive COVID-19 cases underwent 14-day quarantine.

One of them in fact, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año twice got hit by COVID-19. He was first got quarantined for COVID-19 exposure. The second time, he fell ill due to it and successfully recovered already.

In the 18th Congress, Senate majority leader Miguel Zubiri, and fellow Senators Sonny Angara, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, and lately Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. have all contracted COVID-19. All of them survived luckily COVID-19 infection. But some of their Senate staff have sadly joined the statistics of the Department of Health (DOH) in the tally of deaths.

Their counterparts at the House of Representatives has logged total number of confirmed COVID cases to 71 so far. Of the 71 recorded cases, nine are congressmen – Bulacan Rep. Henry Villarica, Sulu Rep. Samier Tan, Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman, Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza, Cavite Rep. Luis “Jon Jon” Ferrer IV and 1-Pacman Rep. Eric Pineda. But Senior Citizens party-list Rep. Jun Datol and Sorsogon Rep. Ditas Ramos, both died recently possibly of COVID-19 complications.

Not to be un-Christian about this, COVID-19 comes out seemingly as the un-intended leveler in this lifetime.

Speaking of the 18th Congress, they are currently busy in the ongoing deliberations on the P4.506 trillion budget bill, or the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA). This is a top priority bill that the 18th Congress must be able to approve before the fiscal year ends. However, there is no stopping lawmakers from pushing their own legislative agenda, no matter how irrelevant, or even insane their proposed bills maybe.

Frankly, a number of these bills being filed in Congress are getting really absurd and complete waste of people’s taxes. For example, why is there a need to file a bill asking for the creation of a government mental health hotline when all that is needed is the proper implementation of an existing law?

This is House Bill (HB) 7210 that was filed by a certain Ang Probinsyano party-list Congressman Alfred Delos Santos who apparently did not know that such “hotline” already exists. Had he cared to ask the DOH, he would first-hand be informed that there is already an existing National Center for Mental Health Crisis Hotline.

Had his legislative office did a complete staff work, they would have learned President Duterte signed into law, Republic Act (RA) 11036, or the Mental Health Act signed on June 20, 2018. This law mandated the DOH to develop a national suicide prevention strategy as part of its National Mental Health Program.

This includes mechanisms for suicide intervention, prevention, and response strategies, with particular attention to the concerns of the youth. It was only in May last year that the DOH launched the new NCMH Crisis Hotline, which can be reached at 0917 899 8727 (USAP) and 989 8727 (USAP) operated 24/7 as required by RA 11036.

In short, HB 7210 he filed last Aug.30 was apparently just a cheap stunt and a pathetic attempt by the 41-year-old neophyte solon to make himself relevant amid the alarming incidents of reported suicide incidents related to COVID-19 pandemic. But more appalling is the not-so-hidden motive to ride on a very real serious socio-medico problem like suicide cases.

Incidentally, wasn’t Delos Santos the same guy caught on video manhandling a restaurant crew in Legazpi City in July last year? In a complaint filed before the police in Legazpi City, Albay, he reportedly tried to punch a 20-year-old waiter of a diner “without any apparent reason” on July 7, or this was three weeks before he assumed office at the 18th Congress.

Nothing came out of this complaint that his party list group promised to look into against De Los Santos. The upstart solon apologized to the waiter a few days after the public uproar over his antics.

Ang Probinsyano, a new party-list group, won two seats in the House of Representatives after placing 5th in last year’s May elections. The party list banked on the popularity of the long-running TV series Ang Probinsyano starred by popular actor Coco Martin and Yassi Pressman who both even also joined its campaign rallies and motorcades and featured in the group’s campaign posters.

The House leadership also did not heed ensuing calls for his ouster from the Chamber. As far as I understood House Rules, a party list group is allowed to select their second nominee in case of replacement, resignation, or death of their incumbent representative. As of last count, there are supposed to be 301 members of the Lower House, with at least 54 elected party list representatives. Delos Santos even got appointed as vice-chairperson of the House public works committee and the House committee on Bicol recovery and economic development.

More tragic than COVID-19, our biggest national tragedy is our people’s failure to properly choose those we elect into office.

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