FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

In our hopefulness, we imagined the relaxation of restrictions in the NCR+ region was going to be a permanent condition. It was an irreversible step towards finding that elusive “new normal.”

But this does not seem to be the case. In fact, it could be nothing more than a brief fling with lightly curtailed freedom. Down the road, the restrictions could become more severe.

Late this week, the DOH officially confirmed what we all dreaded: community transmission of the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus is in progress.

The confirmation was expected. The variant is present in over a hundred countries. Its local spread was only a matter of time.

Nevertheless, the confirmation sent ripples of panic among our neighborhoods. Thousands lined up, braving the rains and floods, to be vaccinated.

Last Thursday, NCR mayors asked the IATF to reverse a few regulations intending to relax restrictions. They want children, confined for over a year, returned to their homes. That is cruel but probably necessary.

Yesterday, President Duterte approved IATF’s recommendation to put the NCR, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Davao de Oro and Davao del Norte back into GCQ “with heightened restrictions.”

We are trying to outrun the Delta variant by speeding up the vaccination program. As of last count, over 15 million doses have been administered nationwide. Improved delivery volumes enabled us to build a stockpile of 16 million doses. More deliveries are due before the month ends and then many more in August.

Sadly, this will not be enough to stop the local spread of the Delta variant.  Israel, despite having the highest vaccination rate in the world, returned mask mandates. In the US, with about a third of its population resisting vaccines mainly for political reasons, 85 percent of new infections are with the Delta variant.

The surges in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia are all due to this variant. Being more transmissible, the Delta variant is bound to be the predominant strain threatening even communities where vaccination rates are comparably high.

We have only the vaccines and quarantine measures in our armory to fight a resurgent pandemic. We will have to deploy them both wisely and well to avoid the fate that befell India and Indonesia.


The resources we could muster to fight the pandemic will never be enough. In the context of this health emergency, any leakages through corruption, inefficiency and waste ought to be doubly unforgivable.

President Duterte, we know, is particularly aggrieved by any hint of corruption relating to our pandemic response. On several instances, he has named and shamed officials accused of corruption – especially corruption relating to the disbursement of Social Amelioration Program (SAP) funds. These funds are meant as direct subsidies to vulnerable families affected by the quarantine restrictions.

The President, in one of his televised messages, sternly warned local officials against fooling around with SAP fund. “Do not f**k with this,” he said, referring to the cash subsidies. He specifically asked the ombudsman to promptly suspend or dismiss local officials against whom complaints have been filed.

The President’s remarks call to mind the case of Iriga City Mayor Madelaine Alfelor. Over the past two years, a total of 16 criminal and administrative cases have been filed against this mayor. The cases allege misuse of P397 million in public funds, including SAP subsidies (“ayuda”).

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the PNP no less filed criminal and administrative cases against Mayor Alfelor for violations of the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act as well as the Bayanihan I Act for disbursing SAP funds to unqualified beneficiaries.

We know the details of these accusations from the public hearings held last year by the House committee on good government chaired by Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado. The committee heard testimonies from three unqualified beneficiaries of the cash grants handed out by the mayor herself. One witness told the committee that Mayor Alfelor whispered to her that this was a “secret” grant as she handed out the money.

All three key witnesses were not residents of Iriga City and therefore were not qualified to receive from the city’s “ayuda” funds. Nearly all those identified as having received cash dole outs from the mayor even if they were not residents turned out to be employees of the University of Northeastern Philippines. The mayor’s family is said to own the school.

One witness, Deocyl Monte Maninang, testified that, per the mayor’s instruction, no photos of the cash distribution were taken. When her father-in-law, a barangay official, found out she received a cash dole out even if she was not qualified, he asked her to return it to the mayor.

Testimonies such as this one explain why the criminal and administrative cases against the Iriga mayor added up to 16. Notwithstanding, she has remained at her post. The Office of the Ombudsman has taken its time assessing if the evidence warrants suspension.

With the congressional hearing held and the evidence compiled by the CIDG, it would seem the case for suspension is compelling. Suspending this mayor would have sent a clear and timely message to other local officials “not to f**k” with the cash subsidies, as the President put it.

Should a new surge in infections happen because of the Delta variant (we all hope not) and a new round of cash subsidies become necessary, every effort must be exerted to ensure no leakages happen. The pandemic might seem unending; but our fiscal resources are finite.

With the election looming, politicians could feast like vultures on the social amelioration fund.

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