Access for all

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - December 2, 2020 - 12:00am

From day 1, President Duterte has made it clear that once the COVID-19 vaccine is made available, his administration will prioritize the poor alongside all frontliners and the medically compromised and senior citizens. Lately, the DOH has been reiterating that they need to vaccinate 70 percent of the population in order to achieve herd immunity. By coincidence or design, 70 percent of the Philippine population happens to be “the poor and marginalized” so the DOH is clearly aligned with what the President wants and there is nothing wrong with all that.

However, what about the remaining 30 percent of the Philippine population that includes the lower-middle class, middle-class and the rich? Yes, they have the capacity to pay for the vaccines but will they have access to vaccines at the same price or cost that the government is purchasing and distributing them? Will the Duterte administration guarantee access to all or will approximately 30 to 40 million Filipinos be left out as prey and profit for vaccine manufacturers, distributors and scalpers?

I raise this concern this early and pray that our legislators and government officials will protect the upper 30 percent from once again being fed to the same profiteers who raked in money for COVID-19 testing. Need I remind those in power that the upper 30 percent of the population are the ones contributing to the national economy, creating jobs, paying taxes and are essentially the ones that create wealth not just for them but also for the nation? The government should not risk politicizing health care and public safety by using the vaccine as a divisive pre-campaign propaganda, the same way Donald Trump tried to convince American voters that the vaccine would be out in the US a few days after the presidential elections. These tactics have a way of backfiring, especially if the upper 30 percent can’t get the vaccine or end up having to pay stiff sums to protect their loved ones and their selves. I remember an ambitious politician who once used price reduction and price control on medicines as a populist tactic to get votes. The surveys showed that he gained popularity but it never translated into votes. Instead what happened was the thousands of employees who suffered pay cuts, job losses and companies that lost millions of earnings all independently worked to insure that the politician would suffer an embarrassing defeat and he did.

It is never a good thing to play favorites at home, at work or in public policy. You can prioritize to help the disadvantaged but never to the disadvantage of others, especially those who do all the work and foot the bill. If I’m not mistaken any law or policy that is patently disadvantageous to one sector of society is considered illegal if not criminal. Aside from painting bulls eyes on their backs, any public official who politicizes or discriminates in terms of public health and safety will surely be facing civil and criminal cases beyond the term of President Duterte, who won’t be in power to issue pardons and commutations of sentences. Let’s keep politics out of the COVID-19 vaccination program and let’s make sure that the government commits and guarantees ACCESS FOR ALL.

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I can understand that many Filipinos have gone “Stir Crazy” after being cooped up for months in their homes and that is why almost everybody has taken advantage of the relaxed atmosphere under General Community Quarantine or GCQ. I had to spell out the whole term if only to remind people that COVID-19 infections have not gone away and also to call out different local governments that they are still required and expected to enforce health protocols, particularly social distancing and regulating crowds or the number of people in public places.

Last Saturday, I was in Lipa City where we have our second home and I decided to have dinner with a good friend. The minute we hit the Pres. J.P. Laurel highway what greeted us was bumper-to-bumper traffic all headed into Lipa City. The explanation was it was a long weekend and a lot of people simply took advantage.

To avoid that we headed for a popular outlet mall beside the Lima Export Processing Zone where my friend said there was a lot of choices. But even before we got there I noticed groups of young people, families all walking towards the same direction and this became a cause for concern since the last thing I want to be is in a crowded area where community transmission was highly possible.

True enough, there were large crowds all trying to get into the “Festival of Lights” exhibit or walk around the outlet mall or grab a bite to eat. To their credit, I did not see anyone walking without a mask or wearing them improperly. The problem was it was almost shoulder to shoulder as you passed through the crowds and I felt like I was playing “dodge ball” trying to socially distance.

Apparently that incident was not unique because in other parts of the country the same things were observed and even the Netizens could not help but criticize officials like Secretary Harry Roque and Senator Manny Pacquiao, who attended and spoke at gatherings where there were large crowds and failure to socially distance or limit the number of people. Roque and Pacquiao may both be victims of circumstance, being simply invited guests, but it helps to bring focus and attention to the fact that although our LGU officials are all exhausted and need a break, there is no taking a break in terms of health protocols and safety. We sacrificed too much in terms of human lives, quality of life and national wealth for us to put our guard down and allow a second wave.

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