Worst is over, says spokesman; but Duterte extends calamity state
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - September 21, 2020 - 12:00am

The worst of the coronavirus pandemic is over, Malacañang said Wednesday. Amid fears of 57 percent of Filipinos of worse times ahead, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said to "live with COVID-19" but with safeguards. "We understand the pessimism because this pandemic has been very difficult," he said of a recent poll. "We hit rock bottom when we locked down the economy. But the worst is over."

Friday, President Duterte extended the national state of health calamity by one year to Sept. 2021. Even with "significant strides" in pandemic response, Duterte said "the number of positive cases and deaths continue to rise despite efforts and interventions to contain C-19." He signed Proclamation 1021 on urging of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Initially for six months, Mar.-Sept. 2020, the calamity state was extendable "as circumstances warrant."

Not very reassuring.

Baffling even. A calamity declaration suspends spending and audit rules. "The extension effectively affords national and local governments ample latitude to continue utilizing appropriate funds, including Quick Response Fund, in disaster preparedness and response," Duterte stated. That means there's money. Yet he often says there's no more cash for "ayuda". The second tranche of the Special Amelioration Program has still to be doled. City mayors cry that the social welfare agency is four months late with the P5,000-P8,000 for 18 million poor families.

Money seems mis-prioritized. For infrastructures in 2021 the Executive is asking Congress for P1 trillion. "Only a measly one percent, or P10 billion, is for health," Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto noticed. "It's like there's no pandemic," he told Sapol on DWIZ Saturday. "We saw in this crisis how lacking our health facilities are. We need to expand and upgrade hospitals. We've not reinvested for health care in a long time." More funds than the present P4.5 billion are needed to build quarantine centers or rent hotels.

The proposed Dept. of Health budget for 2021 is even lower than this year's, Recto added. "Only P2.5 billion for all vaccines. Yet for C-19 alone, at P1,000 per vaccine, we need P60 billion to inoculate 60 percent or 60 million of our population. How can Filipinos have confidence to invest, work, consume if they see feeble pandemic response?"

For P52 billion meanwhile transport officials are to build three Metro Manila subway stations in an 11-kilometer corner of Quezon City. For P700 million the Manila International Airport is to replace the departure baggage conveyor belt at Terminal-1. The old one is working; flights are few due to travel restrictions, insiders lament. A P620-million facelift of Terminal-2 is resuming despite the contractor's punishable work delays.

Money is misused too. For P107 billion an undercapitalized firm is being hired to expand, again, the Manila airport, Rep. Jericho Nograles bared last week. Still unexplained is another Nograles exposé: the giveaway by energy officials to a favored company of P2 billion a year in wholesale electricity market fees.

Even as simple as buying personal protective equipment from makers in Cavite, instead of China, is not being done, Recto shook his head. Or even to let the bulk of jitneys resume trips instead of halving the one-meter safe-distancing protocol for riders.

So is the worst of C-19 over? The health secretary is not being asked. Not after he claimed "we're flattening the curve", then "we're in a second wave of infections", then that the virus is a "blessing in disguise" for revealing the weaknesses in our healthcare. Last Saturday was the 12th in a row of daily record 3,000-plus new infections.

There's suspicion that users put up the ailing Duterte to extend the state of calamity. If they can't control the virus, then control the people while taking liberties with the public coffers. Proclamation 1021 directs: "All law enforcement agencies, with support from the Armed Forces, are to continue undertaking necessary measures to ensure peace and order in affected areas."

The numbers and circumstances surrounding Proclamation 1021, Sept. 16, 2020, can spook.

Forty-eight years ago today, Sept. 21, 1972, Ferdinand Marcos in Proclamation 1081 declared "A State of Martial Law." Congress and news outlets were padlocked, and opposition and media figures jailed. He commanded "the Armed Forces to maintain law and order throughout the Philippines, prevent or suppress all forms of lawless violence, insurrection, rebellion, and to enforce obedience to all the laws and decrees, orders, and regulations promulgated by me personally or upon my direction."

Marcos' reasons for martial law were populist: avert food shortage from earlier typhoon, wipe out allied communists and oligarchs, build a new society. The opposite happened. He quelled dissent by killing, torture, and imprisonment without charges. State contracts and loans were granted to cronies. With them Marcos and relatives plundered the country's wealth. Hunger and poverty worsened. Rebellion spread. He saddled the next government with his over-borrowing from abroad.

"Never again!" Filipinos swear today about that national trauma.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

My book "Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government" is available on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/Amazon-Exposes

Paperback: https://tinyurl.com/Anvil-Exposes or at National Bookstores.

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