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Straws

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - March 25, 2021 - 12:00am

It is the oldest trick in the book of demagoguery: build a straw man and slay it with mere words.

A little over a year since the pandemic broke out and a little over a year until the next elections, expect more and more politicians to traffic in demagoguery. For some of them, it is the only way to flourish.

It is hard for the ambitious to shine in a condition dominated by a plague. For some, the only way to shine is to attack those charged with managing the plague.

In electoral politics, the scarcest resource is media space. Currently, that media space is filled with issues relating to the plague.

To win a share of that space, politicians must try to appear they know better than the professional managers charged with containing infections. None of them, not once, made any real proposal to improve our handling of the health emergency – much less, an alternative strategy that will help us better deal with the pandemic.

Instead, they erect straw men and then make a show of slaying them. This is political carnival, nothing more.

To protect the sanity of public discourse from the expected crescendo of demagoguery, I list below some claims made and pit them against what is realistic.

Claim 1: The Philippines maintained the longest and the toughest lockdown in the world.

Reality 1: Most of the country, most of the past year, was in MGCQ status featuring the most minimal restrictions. Countries impose restrictions based on their specific demography and even topography. Some countries such as Germany, France and Italy imposed stop-and-go lockdowns, pendulum swings between total lockdown and no restrictions at all. They are in worse shape than us in this latest surge.

Claim 2: Our response is “militarized” because we rely on checkpoints manned by soldiers to enforce health protocols.

Reality 2: The only other option is to have nurses man the checkpoints and deploy the troops to the emergency rooms.

Claim 2a: Our response is “militarized” because ex-generals play roles in the IATF.

Reality 2a: After the UP, the AFP officer corps has the best post-graduate profile in the country. They retire too early after having spent a good part of their career “schooling.” Retired generals are usually skilled in logistics management, with an MBA tucked under their belts. It is hard to attract equivalent talent from high-paying private sector jobs.

Claim 3: A surge in cases happened. Therefore the IATF failed. Therefore IATF should be abolished.

Reality 3: The same people who claim we have imposed restrictions for too long also blame the IATF for relaxing those restrictions, albeit in the calibrated manner. Surges are happening everywhere and not only because restrictions have been relaxed. The more transmissible variants of the virus also play a role. If we replace the mechanisms for managing the plague each time a surge happens, we compound things with learning curve problems.

Claim 4: Government is hampering private sector procurement of vaccines by demanding 50 percent of doses be donated to government.

Reality 4: It was AstraZeneca that made this a requirement – and only for the initial delivery of its product. After that, private sector buyers retain all they procure. The condition does not apply to the other vaccine choices.

Claim 5: Government is complicating the procurement of vaccines by insisting on a tripartite arrangement with private sector/LGU buyers.

Reality 5: Not one COVID-19 vaccine is available for commercial distribution. All of them are still considered experimental, in accordance with trial protocols. Therefore, the vaccines (unless smuggled or fake) can only be procured with government participation (and with the required indemnity clauses).

Claim 6: The Philippines falls behind other developing economies in vaccine procurement.

Reality 6: While it is true the Philippines received deliveries of vaccines a few weeks behind other countries like Bangladesh or Indonesia, all the developing countries have vaccine supplies only for the prioritized sectors. No one has adequate supply of the scarce commodity.

Claim 6a: At the rate we are inoculating, it will take us 44 years to reach herd immunity.

Reality 6a: The supply of doses we have on hand is exclusively for health workers. Hospitals stagger inoculation because they cannot pull out their entire workforce at the same time. Beginning April, we will drastically scale up our supply and therefore the pace of inoculation.

Claim 7: The IATF does not want to call the latest restrictions ECQ because government does not want to give out “ayuda.”

Reality 7: “Ayuda” does not come automatically with ECQ. The direct assistance given out to 18 million families and 7 million workers was made possible by the Bayanihan Act that allowed the executive branch to realign budget items to bring relief under conditions of a severe public health emergency. We need another enactment from Congress for another round of “ayuda.” But if we throw fiscal caution to the wind, we could end up with another crushing debt crisis.

Claim 8: Government officials are delaying purchase of vaccines because they are waiting for kickbacks.

Reality 8: There is an extremely lopsided supply-and-demand situation globally. It is a seller’s market like no other. There is no incentive for vaccine suppliers to bribe governments to patronize their products. Countries get whatever is available.

Claim 9: Senator Hontiveros insinuates anomaly over the fact that “trillions” were spent with very little to show for it.

Reality 9: She can begin by interviewing the 18 million recipients of cash subsidies and the over 600,000 Filipinos treated by our health care system so far.

STRAW
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