The week of hope
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - October 21, 2020 - 12:00am

I’ve dubbed this week as “The Week of Hope” because it is the week when the government has started to officially announce policies that are aimed towards giving Filipinos especially those of us living in Metro Manila or the National Capital Region more freedom to move around and to travel. Before anything else, let us all be reminded that Secretary Sonny Dominguez of the DOF and DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez, DOT Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat as well as Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin were the most visible and vocal about opening the economy, opening businesses and allowing Filipinos to travel during times when it was an unpopular idea. To be fair, DOTr Secretary Art Tugade has also been doing a lot behind the scenes or low key in order to support what his associates in the Cabinet have been pushing.

The best news so far was the decision of the Cabinet and the IATF, which is essentially one and the same, to allow persons 15 to 65 years old to travel. In an interview on AGENDA, DILG Undersecretary Epimaco Densing Jr. confirmed that this age group is now allowed to go outside residence and to travel without the need of a Quarantine Pass or travel papers. Even if the NCR or Metro Manila is still on GCQ status, the new policy allows residents to travel to MGCQ areas such as Subic, Tagaytay and other provinces BUT subject to the local health protocols or restrictions of those localities. So if a province such as Batanes for example requires visitors and tourists to have an RT-PCR test, then you simply have to comply. Yes, it is an inconvenience but, on the other hand, consider it as a move that benefits and protects you as well.

Last Monday’s headline was a double header of sorts as the DTI announced that malls and similar establishments are now allowed to conduct sales promotions campaigns as well big promos. The only thing malls won’t be doing will be “Midnight Sales” because of the existing general curfew all over Metro Manila. In actuality, the curfew is no big deal since malls can open at 9 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. which gives shoppers one hour to vamos and head home. Workers won’t be affected because they are exempted from the curfew as APORs or Authorized Persons Outside Residence. I asked Undersecretary Boy Vizmonte during the same interview about “bars” because there have been several incidents where the police have “raided” bars and gave tickets and fines to customers. Usec Vizmonte pointed out that these people who were given citations were in violation of curfew, social distancing and the limited sale of alcoholic drinks. Establishments are apparently limited to serve two drinks per customer for alcoholic beverages ONLY. It seems that some people, particularly foreigners, are confused about the matter. Perhaps the DILG and the DTI should require ALL bars and similar establishments to post large signs announcing the drink limit and the closing time. During my stay in the US, the bartender had the power not to serve you any more drinks if he/she thinks you’ve reached the legal limit or had enough and the bars pre-pandemic were generally closed at 2 a.m. so you will hear them holler: “Last Round!”

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While speaking with Usec. Densing of the DILG he casually mentioned that the COVID-19 cases for NCR or Metro Manila have gone down to as low as 800 to 900 cases only per day compared to 2,500 to 3,000 two months ago. I implored Usec. Densing to please take this up with the IATF and the DOH to create and publish a separate category or line for daily COVID-19 cases for Metro Manila only and make sure this data is published in the major dailies. People need to see the remarkable improvement and drop in cases in Metro Manila so that people will get out of the mindset that all our hard work observing health protocols is amounting to nothing because the DOH keeps focusing on the National Tally. I personally would push that we do away or stop announcing and publishing the accumulated cases of COVID-19 and only print current active cases. The accumulated number is misleading, alarmist and defeating. It makes the country look bad, the government look bad and the public not trying hard enough. I don’t know if it’s a dictate of the World Health Organization, but racking up a daily count makes no sense, since many people in the total have recovered. We don’t want to be in a contest to know the top ten countries with most cases!

Given the longest, strictest lockdown in the world as well as our efforts in paying and observing health protocols, I believe that redefining the data and the way government reports it will vastly improve public perception. I would caution the DOH and the IATF to properly study the move with logic and preparation and slowly but clearly explain to everyone why and how it is being done and then stick to their guns! If, after all that, there are still kibitzers and know-it-alls who simply will never see anything good in government or public policy, then they can suck on a green unripe suha (pomelo) just to counter their own bitterness. I may be a critic at times but I will not hesitate to compliment people when they sincerely and professionally do things for the public good.

In this regard, the IATF should sit down with the PCOO and communicators of government to break away from their utter dependence on their press conferences and self-promotional “live broadcasts” and do their work as communicators. Communicate the good news and stop trying to be radio or TV anchors. Leave the broadcast work to your broadcasters, don’t take away jobs and opportunities they are paid to do.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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