A sort of COVID-19 ‘test’
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - September 18, 2020 - 12:00am

Among the 16 cities and one municipality comprising the national capital region (NCR), the city government of Paranaque can very well claim as succeeding in its campaign to contain the spread of the 2019 coronavirus disease, or COVID-19 contagion. Paranaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez expressed his optimism that the declining city-wide COVID cases would make it among the first to flatten the curve on the incidence of this deadly flu-like virus.

During the first three months of Metro Manila-wide lockdown period from March to May, Mayor Olivarez recalled, the city of Paranaque ranked third in the most number of COVID-19 cases, next to Quezon City and the city of Manila, respectively while the entire NCR was the “epicenter” of the pandemic. As of today, he noted, Paranaque City has went down to 11th rank in the total number of COVID-19 cases in the entire NCR.

Mayor Olivarez consider it as sign of success in the anti-COVID measures being implemented all over the city of Paranaque. The official tally of the City Health department recorded 547 active COVID cases from the total of 16 barangays all around Paranaque City, with 87% recoveries. The number of deaths in his city, Mayor Olivarez noted with sadness, stood at 135 since the hard lockdowns started last March.

We gathered this report from Mayor Olivarez who was our featured guest in our weekly Zoom Webinar of Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday. Speaking as the chairman of the Metro Manila Council (MMC), Mayor Olivarez echoed the laments of his fellow MM Mayors over the rash decision by the national government to shorten the physical distancing in public transports.

In particular, Mayor Olivarez took to task the Department of Transportation (DOTr) for implementing this starting last Monday without prior consultation with the MMC.

Supposedly, this was approved by the IATF. Mayor Olivarez, however, highly doubted this. Because any changes in the quarantine guidelines affecting the NCR, he pointed out, the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) always consult first with the MMC on quarantine matters pertaining to the NCR.

The MMC is the policy-making body composed of the 17 Metro Manila Mayors that include as members the top officials of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA); the League of MM Vice Mayors; the League of MM Councilors; and the League of MM Barangays.

The DOTr, a member of the IATF, relented yesterday to return to one-meter physical distancing in public transports until President Duterte decides on the issue.”It is better to defer the lesser physical distancing. Our cases have not plateaued yet,” Mayor Olivarez insisted.

Initially, Mayor Olivarez agreed it would be “fine” with relaxing the allowed physical distancing to 0.75 meters. But he believes it would be courting danger at this stage if the physical distancing in public transport is further decreased to 0.5 after two weeks, and then to 0.3 meters the next two weeks under the controversial DOTr guidelines.

Another sore point of the MM Mayors with the national government, he admitted, is on the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), the distribution of which was transferred to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). This was after President Duterte got angry at the many reported complaints the SAP allegedly went into the pockets of unscrupulous barangay officials.

The SAP cash subsidy aids ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 per household were granted under the Bayanihan-1 Heal As One Act to help indigent Filipino families cope with the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns. Originally under this law, the local government units (LGUs) distributed the first of the tranches of the SAP through barangay officials.

The DSWD announced last Monday it is now “winding down” the distribution of these financial aids under Bayanihan-1. Mayor Olivarez, however, expressed the dismay of MM Mayors who are the ones facing the wraths of their constituents who have yet even to receive the second tranche of their SAP.

So far, Mayor Olivarez disclosed only 76,674 households in their city received their SAP, which is not even half of the city’s 170,000 households. As many as 46,000 households in the city are still “wait-listed,” he added. He reassured his Paranaque City constituents these households who have not received their aid through digital payout are now under review.

Although the SAP is now being sent through digital means, Mayor Olivarez though rued this is not accessible for every one, especially using the G-cash. “We are all having difficulties, because there are beneficiaries who do not own a cellular phone,” he pointed out.

“In fairness to the national government, the money is there. It is for distribution. It is just a matter of deliverables,” Mayor Olivarez conceded.

The MMC chairman credited the DSWD for reaching out with them at LGUs on how to help one another improve the delivery of the cash aids sans the corruption. Also, Mayor Olivarez pointed to the suspension orders issued by the Depatment of Interior and Local Government (DILG) who were all charged and investigated over the reported SAP anomalies.

Now on his third and last term as Mayor, Olivarez is also set to complete his chairmanship of the MMC as a co-terminus position. He was elected by his fellow MM Mayors to chair the MMC. Come May, 2022 elections, it won’t be far-fetched the Mayor will swap places with younger brother Rep.Eric Olivarez who is also on his third and last term in Congress in the first district of Paranaque City. After all, Mayor Olivarez himself previously served for one term at the legislature during the 15th Congress.

The 57-year-old Mayor Olivarez though refuses to be drawn into talking about politics this early while there is ongoing public health crisis. Elected officials who performed well in handling this public health crisis will make it in the next polls, but un-make those who failed their people.

This is sort of a COVID-19 “test” for all elected officials where negative result is certainly not the desired outcome.

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