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Opinion

Stop dropping the ball

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

When the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) first announced the recommended re-opening of cinema houses even while awaiting for the vaccines to contain the 2019 coronavirus diseases (COVID-19) outbreak, Metro Manila Mayors were among the most vocal in opposing such a move at this stage. Among them were Mayors Abby Binay and Francis Zamora of Makati and San Juan cities, respectively.

While there are 16 cities and one municipality composing the Metropolitan Manila area, their distinctive situation as being contiguous with each other necessitate that their respective Mayors must work together and speak with one voice. Collectively grouped under the national capital region (NCR), the Metro Manila Mayors have thus weighed on decisions of the IATF related to quarantine guidelines and minimum health protocols to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NCR local government executives also differ in opinions and policy positions in their weekly meeting of the Metro Manila Council (MMC). It is here where the NCR Mayors thresh out their differing views and opinions before making a united stand on matters needing their consent or approval. Guesting in the Zoom Webinar of Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday, Mayors Binay and Zamora, in fact, echoed their respective stands on COVID-related issues with the IATF.

Thus, MM Mayors decide as one group whenever the IATF consults with them on anti-COVID measures. That is, if they are consulted before the IATF makes any changes in quarantine guidelines every month. But in the re-opening of cinemas, Mayor Binay deplored, she and her fellow NCR Mayors were not consulted at all.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, who also acts as the designated IATF spokesman, publicly recognized Mayor Binay’s lament a day after she aired this in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay. Admittedly, Roque presumed the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) – as part of the IATF – relay to the MM Mayors matters affecting the NCR. Henceforth, Roque announced he would personally assume this duty to avoid “surprise” announcements on NCR-related quarantine guidelines.

Mayor Binay believed though it is “high time” for Metro Manila to test if the region is ready to relax the present community quarantine status – from general community quarantine (GCQ) to modified GCQ (MGCQ) – to re-start the moribund Philippine economy. For over a year, she noted, they sided more on health rather than the economy. And obviously, she bewailed, the economy has taken a heavy toll.

“We have to learn to live with (COVID-19). We have to move on from GCQ to MGCQ to help the economy, especially that a lot of people are still starving and have lost their jobs,” Mayor Binay pointed out. Anyway, she cited, each local government units (LGUs) are empowered to enforce “localized lockdowns” against specific areas where there are resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

With the city of Makati regarded as the commercial business center in the Philippines, the Mayor cited, it “cannot be under GCQ forever.” Because the MM Mayors decide based on consensus, Mayor Binay fears she might be outvoted by the majority of “conservative” Mayors who are not in favor of going to MGCQ by March as recommended by the economic team of IATF.

Surely, Mayor Binay got surprised again when majority voted in favor of placing NCR under MGCQ starting next month. During the MMC meeting Wednesday night, nine Metro Manila Mayors as against eight voted for MGCQ.

As the ground zero when the country’s local transmission of COVID-19 infection was first detected on March 6, 2020 in the Greenhills commercial district of San Juan City, still fresh in the mind of Mayor Zamora are the lessons learned. It was in the early part of his first-term as San Juan City Mayor when Zamora got the acid test, so to speak, of facing a public health crisis of pandemic proportion.

More than 11 months after that first COVID-19 case in San Juan City, Zamora could only wisecrack he had undergone 25 times of swab tests todate. It is not only for his personal protection as he goes around in a “house-to-house” campaign to convince his constituents to register and avail of the free anti-COVID vaccines. But this is also to protect his cancer-survivor wife and four children from getting COVID-19 infection. “I’m not scared but I’m just being careful. It’s better to be safe,” Zamora stressed.

Consistent with this, Mayor Zamora is also opposed to allowing again the face-to-face classes, citing studies that students below 18 years old are considered “super spreaders” of COVID-19 infection because they are mostly asymptomatic, or not seriously affected. However, Zamora believes the holding of face-to-face classes could resume as soon as the anti-COVID vaccines are rolled out.

Mayor Binay though is all for the resumption of face-to-face classes even as the school year is nearing end by March this year. The Mayor could only chuckle at her own situation with her 11-year old daughter whom she “sits-in” with the latter’s online class. Like many parents, she has to do her job while at the same time helping her daughter cope with internet learning forced upon by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both the cities of Makati and San Juan are signatories to the Tripartite Agreement along with other LGUs, the national government and AstraZeneca for the supply of 17 million doses of their anti-COVID vaccines. Both Mayors are ready with their respective checks to pay their advance orders. But as LGUs, they could not do so unless President Rodrigo Duterte delegates to them the authority to make advance payments. They finally got it from the Chief Executive in a memorandum released yesterday by Malacanang.

Under this Tripartite Agreement, all advance orders must be paid to AstraZeneca on or before Feb.24. But actual delivery will come only in batches starting July this year. However, if they fail to pay on time, that 17 million AztraZeneca vaccines will go to other buyers.

If that happens, it will be the real case of somebody dropped the ball.

CINEMA COVID-19
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