FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - January 12, 2021 - 12:00am

In the end, it appears there was little that could be done to dilute the zeal of devotees of the Black Nazarene.

The authorities did try to enforce the health protocols. Masks and face shields were required. To their credit, the devotees did try to observe the protocols. But in their numbers, crowding could not be avoided.

There are now fears the annual celebration of the Black Nazarene could turn out to be a major spreader event. The DOH and the priests all asked the devotees who were present last Saturday to monitor their symptoms closely, isolate in the meantime and get tested if they can.

In previous years, attendance in the Black Nazarene procession topped 3 million. The procession often lasted well over 20 hours. The crowds were packed and people got hurt from all the shoving. This even has been a global spectacle.

Last Saturday, attendance at the Black Nazarene events was estimated at about 400,000. Many participated in the worship virtually and masses were held in numerous churches in the vicinity to avoid concentrating people at the Quiapo minor basilica. Nevertheless, there is basis to fear that a spreader event happened.

This was a particularly vulnerable time. The infection numbers put out by the DOH the past few days seemed to suggest a slight upsurge. This was expected given all the movement and gatherings during the Christmas season.

Any surge in infections from Christmas should start to be visible this week. Any surge from the Black Nazarene congregation should start to be visible two weeks down the road. We hope to keep the surge manageable.

Whatever vaccines we might have to fight back against the pandemic will be available in significant scale by March at the earliest. Our FDA has yet to issue emergency use authorization for any particular vaccine. We expect several vaccine producers – including those from India, China and Russia – to submit their respective applications this month.

The fact that the rich countries has increased their orders means that the poorer countries might have to wait longer in line until production of suitable vaccines are scaled up quickly. No vaccination program of any significant scale will happen in the African continent until 2022.

Even as we await national government purchases to proceed at their usual bureaucratic pace, dozens of local governments have announced their own separate efforts to purchase vaccines for their constituents. The earlier policy of limiting vaccine purchases to the national government agencies seems to have been relaxed.

Most of the local governments, it appears, prefer to order the variant offered by AstraZeneca. This variant is significantly cheaper and does not require the ultra cold storage prescribed by the other vaccine manufacturers. Some LGUs announced they have begun independently negotiating with suppliers.

It would be an embarrassment for national government if LGUs acquire vaccines ahead of them.


Former Mandaluyong mayor Benhur Abalos will replace the fallen Danny Lim at the head of the MMDA. The latter tragically succumbed to COVID-19 complications last week.

Senator Bong Go first made the announcement about Abalos. This is not the first time he has preempted executive branch officials in announcing new appointments.

Although Go now belongs to the legislative branch, he remains constantly by the side of President Duterte and privy to the decisions the Chief Executive makes. With his social media savvy, the former presidential assistant often beats others in breaking important news.

Because of his close relationship with the President, the senator straddles two branches of government. He regularly attends IATF meetings at the Palace even as he puts in work as legislator. At the Senate, he is pushing for the establishment of a separate department for overseas Filipinos as well as regularizing his pet Malasakit centers in hospitals. This makes him sort of a sui generis among our politicians.

No other legislator has been as close to a Filipino president as Go continues to be. Apparently, he is a source of valuable advice to President Duterte. That advice is not always kept private. For instance, he advocated postponing increases in PhilHealth membership dues that the President apparently acceded to – notwithstanding actuarial studies.

On top of assisting the President and performing his work as senator, Go is highly visible in distributing assistance to fire victims, families displaced by natural calamities and other social groups in dire need. The assistance is distributed across the archipelago, often with Go personally overseeing the relief deliveries.

Sen. Go seems to be particularly concerned about supporting the medical needs of indigents. Because of this, he has initiated several programs supporting our hospitals. The postponement of increases in PhilHealth contributions, however, might undermine the agency’s capacity to deliver the same services in scale to those who need them.

Supporters of Go claim this continuing effort to deliver relief goods to victims of fire or natural calamities is driven by the politics of compassion (malasakit). Critics might claim that this is nothing more than retail politics writ large.

At any rate, one could hardly complain about a surfeit of compassion or generosity. Certainly the beneficiaries of Go’s assistance will never complain.

Nor, it seems, is anyone complaining about the dual roles Go performs in both the executive and legislative branches of government despite the blurring of boundaries. If he has the energy to sustain the incredible multi-tasking he has been doing, then let him do it.

Although Go did run for the Senate, he is hardly seen as a politician. We do not know how long he can sustain this.

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