One card for all

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

Not all COVID-19 vaccination cards are created equal!

While interviewing Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya on our program AGENDA on Cignal TV, we casually ended up comparing our respective COVID-19 vaccination cards on air and I immediately realized that some cards are better or more impressive or probably more convincing than others. As we showed our cards on national TV, I noticed that Usec Malaya’s card was very different from the one I received from Pasig City. Malaya explained that his card was issued by the Department of Health because he was part of the first batch of “voluntolds” or individuals who had to sit down, albeit voluntarily, for vaccination, the first time because people were hesitant or scared many months back.

Aside from being an Undersecretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, there is no arguing that being in the possession of a DOH-issued vaccination card carries more weight locally and internationally than those issued by LGUs, especially abroad where the only LGUs they generally know in the Philippines would be the City of Manila, Boracay Island and Palawan! Given all the time we had, one would think that the IATF and the DOH would have realized way back that there should be one standard vaccination card for COVID-19 vaccine recipients.

It has nearly been 12 months since the government started talking about vaccines and how they would first vaccinate the poor, the police and the military. As it turns out all those pronouncements barely happened, the police and the military are only starting to get the jabs now and most of the poor people nationwide remain unvaccinated, and to top it all the vaccination program has started to encounter many challenges in supplies, procedures and integrity. To be fair, this situation is not unique to the Philippines, many parts and countries around the world are far worse.

The sad part is that the IATF and the DOH did not address and have not addressed the need for One Vaccination card for all and have not produced a card that is tamper proof such as those using electronic chips that can be electronically scanned and one that is internationally registered or recognized. Maybe I’m expecting too much since we cannot even get a straight answer from authorities on whether or not the prevailing vaccine in use, which is Sinovac, would be recognized in Europe and the United States. This is a growing concern among some experts abroad who label this potential “exclusive choice” for western vaccine at their borders as part of a First World “Health Fundamentalism” and discrimination.

I don’t know how many local governments there are that issue their own COVID-19 vaccination cards, but from the looks of it, they are generally all made from thin cardboard run through commercial printers with no provision for any sort of biometrics. As Usec. Malaya pointed out, these can easily be forged and you don’t even have to go to forgers because the cards are so simple you could have them fabricated in the neighborhood school supply stores that provide computerized printing services.

All this reminds me of a time when Philippine passports were so basic and subject to tampering that it became SOP for immigration officers abroad to really scrutinize our travel documents. The DFA, to their credit, has vastly improved the quality and security of Philippine passports, so why didn’t the IATF and the DOH consult with the DFA before the fact? The National Printing Office and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas also have all the expertise and capacity to produce or provide assistance in making the card. The IATF and the DOH need to address this requirement immediately before they even talk about the big surge for vaccinations in the country or we will end up playing “catch up”.

For several months now, there has been talk about “COVID Passes” or “Green Cards” which is based on the capacity of governments to provide and authenticate the records of individuals claiming to be fully vaccinated. The way things are escalating internationally, it is not a far-fetched possibility that Filipino workers and travelers may have problems flying out without a COVID vaccination card that subscribes to international standards of quality and authenticity. We need something that comes with a chip and plastic and, to quote the President, not “a piece of paper you can throw in the trash can.”

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In terms of playing “Good Cop – Bad Cop” it seems that the Department of Budget and Management is comfortable playing the role of Bad Cop as well as spoiler and hoarder of other people’s money. When the Department of Agriculture announced that they would be giving indemnification payments to backyard hog raisers who voluntarily cull ASF infected pigs, backyard farmers felt some relief that somehow they can start all over with the financial compensation. That was the DA playing the role of Good Cop. Six months to two years later those much awaited indemnification payments remain unpaid and reportedly held up at the DBM.

Recently I got to talk to government nurses who were given a salary upgrade by virtue of an Executive Order from Malacañang in order to compensate them for risking their lives while working during the COVID pandemic. But just like with the indemnification payments, the money of the nurses have been held up by DBM Secretary Wendel Avisado, who reportedly wants further clarifications from the Office of the Executive Secretary. While the good secretary is clearly being careful with funds during these difficult times, he should bear in mind that the funds for backyard hog raisers and government nurses are crucial and come as the commitment and promise of the state. Stop playing Bad Cop and playing with people’s livelihoods.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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