Leadership tested by the pandemic crisis

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - April 19, 2021 - 12:00am

Social media went into high drive last week following the two successive rescheduling of “Talk to the People” of President Rodrigo Duterte. Administration critics, especially, have been asking where President Duterte is again amid the lockdown in Metro Manila and nearby provinces due to the resurgence of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.

Usually televised over government-run PTV-4, the Chief Executive presides the weekly meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID). He asks Cabinet officials to report on the updates on the COVID-19 pandemic situation in the country and status of the various intervention measures being implemented.

Citing precisely the resurgence of COVID cases, presidential spokesman Harry Roque explained the Chief Executive was merely being careful not to worsen the situation. Roque admitted several members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) and some of the Radio-TV Malacañang (RTVM) crew airing the IATF meetings fell ill of COVID-19 infection along with their immediate head Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar.

Later, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana tested positive on COVID-19 infection while Roque eventually got hospitalized after his COVID-19 infection turned from asymptomatic to moderate case.

Other key Cabinet officials also went “missing in action” earlier. Interior Secretary Eduardo Año reported back for duty last Friday from his three-month long medical leave due to festering COVID-infection. Lorenzana and Año are co-chairman of the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19 pandemic – the implementing body of the IATF. Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez, a member of the IATF, tested COVID positive for the second time. Sadly, erstwhile IATF member, former Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Danilo Lim, 65 years old, died in January this year due to COVID-related complications.

Ironically, they are the frontline officials getting infected by COVID – the same disease they are trying to contain. Not to be “un-Christian” about it, this does not build any kind of confidence on the government’s campaign to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in our country. Worse, the government appears to be a rudderless ship, with each department running its own show while compromising the other anti-COVID-response measures.

Roque, however, assuaged the public that the President is safe and healthy at his official residence in Malacañang. As usual, Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, concurrent special assistant to the President, immediately jumped into action and released his usual “proof of life” photos of President Duterte. This is obviously to dispel nasty rumors that the 76-year old President has fallen ill again.

Coming out at the same time in social media accounts were photos about the newly launched program of Vice President Leni Robredo dubbed as Bayanihan E-konsulta. The idea is to make doctors more accessible to the people for medical consultations – free of charge. Anyone who has a mobile phone can simply contact the Office of the Vice President (OVP) to request for a consultation with a physician and the caller will be immediately linked up with a doctor to talk to.

The OVP likewise started a mobile testing initiative called the “Swab Cab.” The idea is getting people in the community to test for COVID-19 infection. On top of the testing, the Vice President is giving out anti-COVID help kits that include goods to enable a COVID-positive person survive a two-week isolation. This initiative answers both the lack of accessible testing in the country while at the same time address the concerns of many of our countrymen who cannot work if they test positive.

All these initiatives, as VP Robredo puts it, are meant to augment the current efforts of the government and contribute to alleviating the plight of Filipinos most affected by the pandemic. Unfortunately, she had to self-isolate for the next two weeks after one of her OVP security escorts tested COVID positive.

In recent memory, we’ve had Presidents and Vice Presidents from opposing parties, thus having opposing views, and, more often than not, in different sides of the political spectrum. This unique way of electing our leaders and the usual conflicts between our top two government officials lead to the natural consequence of relegating the constitutional successor into obscurity. Not many of our countrymen remember who the past Vice Presidents were and what they did. But the recent events just narrated may be changing this paradigm.

Years from now, this period in our history will be remembered as the COVID pandemic in the Philippines under the Duterte administration.

Filipinos will remember what the administration did, or failed to do, and how our country fared during this public health crisis.

Emerging from his almost two-week isolation from the public, President Duterte ranted anew at his televised address. He came out to lash at his critics and political foes, citing he got as much as six million of winning margin of Filipino voters who elected him to office at Malacañang.

Despite being isolated by the Duterte administration, Filipinos will also remember what Vice President Robredo has done during the pandemic crisis in our country. Unlike previous administrations and Vice Presidencies, VP Robredo’s initiatives distinguished her incumbency from the ruling administration. No longer is the Vice Presidency relegated into obscurity.

The recent Supreme Court’s affirmation of VP Robredo’s win in the 2016 elections gave her an unquestionable mandate equivalent to what President Duterte got. This pandemic crisis showed Vice President Robredo can get tasks done with a clear mission even when her mandate got upheld only last February.

With sheer will and ability to govern, VP Robredo is going into the last year in her office with full momentum. This may very well launch her into the position where she can show us how she can effectively run the country.

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