Dr. No vs DR. Pres.

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

Just to tease the imagination, I’m playing around with acronyms and today has to do with “DR,” the acronym often used for doctor, similar to “MD” that physicians add to the end of their names. The other “DR” on the other hand is not related to medicine unless it would also apply to Doctor of Law because the other “DR” I’m using would be the initials of Duterte, Rodrigo – President who on numerous occasions has used his power and authority to bypass or sideline orders or instructions of the country’s #1 doctor and Secretary of Health Francisco Duque. After backing the DOH chief countless times, President DR recently issued orders to end the requirement of wearing face shields outdoors. A day before that, the President once again reiterated his instructions for the DOH-FDA to fast track the tests that would determine if Ivermectin really works to prevent and relieve COVID-19 symptoms or complications. About a week earlier, the President nodded approval to allow fully vaccinated senior citizens to go outdoors such as parks, malls and churches.

Because of his cautious and overly conservative views regarding policy and management during the pandemic, Secretary Duque has strongly opposed most suggestions that would ease up on what many health experts around the world have called one of the strictest lockdown in the world. It may be that Duque’s unpopular and firm stand on such matters will be judged by history as what helped save hundreds of thousands of Filipinos from COVID-19, but for now, his opposition to easing up measures earns him the title “Dr. No” for constantly saying No to suggestions or requests of fellow Cabinet members, health advocates and the media. With this series of presidential interventions or overrides, it is apparent that certain political considerations, such as the upcoming elections, are coming into play as far as restrictions on the public goes. The last thing the administration would want to do is establish themselves as the country’s wardens just before the elections, so the various acts of “responsiveness” might just be part of what political doctors ordered.

The question is, what should Secretary Duque do under the circumstance? Should he simply nod in obedience the same way Dr. Anthony Fauci had to with Donald Trump? Is there a “writing on the wall” that says Duque should start looking for “the key” that opens the backdoor? Or should he once again look for a job that is constitutionally protected, gives him term and could be had via a presidential appointment? I doubt if the President would be willing to allow him to leave the circle but on the other hand, Secretary Duque has always kept one eye on the horizon in every position he served. Given these series of presidential overrides, it may be that “Dr. No” is no longer the flavor of the month or has been replaced by an agenda far more important than quarantines and restrictions: Economy & Elections.

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According to MMDA EDSA traffic manager Col. Bong Nebrija, the traffic jams on EDSA are more pronounced on Mondays and Fridays but never on any day of the rest of the week. This leads him to believe that many employees or business owners have made adjustments on the Work From Home (WFH) remedy by requiring their staff to report for duty at the start of the week for face-to-face consultation, reporting and updates and then revert to WFH mode, then calls in their staff for their accomplishment reports at the end of the week, particularly Friday. Meanwhile the rest of the employees who actually have to go to work in person have relied on personal vehicles to avoid hassles and risks in public transportation as well as the wet weather we now experience. Even our caretaker’s daughter, here in Lipa City, Batangas recently parked her scooter in storage and bought a cheap used car because of the almost daily rains.

In Metro Manila, one reason given by Col. Nebrija for the EDSA Carmagedon is because people no longer do stop-overs or after office activities such as dinners, dates, movies or shopping due to COVID-19 restrictions and the previous curfew. Once the clock hits 5 or 6 pm employees and commuters all pile out of office buildings and parking lots and jam up EDSA for several hours. What would be interesting to find out is how many of these offices and companies really need to have face to face contact. Some of the younger employees whom I’ve spoken with are puzzled why companies and business owners would still want to go back to the old ways or the face-to-face conduct of business when WFH achieves the same results, is cheaper in terms of maintenance, utility and transportation costs, not to mention food expenses. Enforced staggered working hours would also help spread the EDSA jam over a longer time frame.

If the Department of Trade and Industry and the DOLE are up to the challenge, it might be well worth doing an in-depth analysis on the economic, environmental and humanitarian advantages of Work From Home and what businesses should be incentivized to promote the face-to-face conduct of business and what businesses should be restricted from face-to-face operations. Add to the research what are the requirements to establish such WFH centers of the future. “Business districts” were the fashion and direction in the 80’s and 90’s but nowadays we need energy efficient, internet supported and digitally competent operations that are community based and promote small business that employ the great majority of workers. The traffic on EDSA is reminding us that we have not learned our lesson and this makes us uncompetitive.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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