FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

We are fortunate there is an independent research team looking over the shoulder of the IATF. That enables us to get a second opinion on our pandemic response.

The OCTA Research Group is an all-volunteer enterprise. Since the lockdowns began last year, this team provided the public an independent assessment of the situation as it unfolds.

OCTA looks at the same numbers as the Department of Health does. But it adds a rich social science dimension in looking at those numbers.

The relationship between OCTA and the official pandemic management team has been respectful although not always comfortable. The volunteer team does not make policy. But it allows the public to access alternative science-based options on which to make a reasonable judgment of the official response.

Over the past few days, the differences between OCTA and the DOH have become noticeably sharper. This concerns the response to the apparent community spread of the dreadful Delta variant in our midst.

OCTA fellow Ranjit Rye (a colleague at the UP Department of Political Science and a former student) publicly recommended a “go early and go hard” strategy against what appears to be the early stages of a surge in infections driven by the Delta variant. This strategy involves tightening restrictions on movement and granular lockdowns wherever infections are found.

The DOH, for its part, took some time recognizing community spread of the Delta variant. Even when it recognized this, the DOH maintains that the rate of health care use remains low – even as infections in the NCR rose by over 40 percent the past week.

The more conservative stance taken by the DOH is understandable. The authorities do not want to provoke panic. The numbers on hospitalization are indeed low. By contrast, the costs of imposing a new round of restrictions are high.

But it is true as well that the Delta variant is a different beast we must deal with. It is the variant that drove the deadly surges in Indonesia and India. It is driving up infection rates in Malaysia and Thailand. A “pandemic of the unvaccinated” is now happing in the US.

OCTA prefers we take the beast by the horns early in the game. Once Delta-driven infections spread, the new surge will be hard to manage. It has the capacity to hit us like a typhoon.

MMDA chair Benhur Abalos advocates treating every infection like it was a Delta infection. That will be tough to implement but it is probably the ideal standard to maintain.

In the end, it might be futile to hope we can fully contain the spread of the Delta variant. We have thousands of Filipinos abroad wanting to come home. We have seafarers in ships delivering goods to our ports that could be virus-carriers. Lest we forget, we have a porous border with Indonesia.

But tighter restrictions will buy us precious time.

The last few days, we have been able to escalate inoculations despite inclement weather. The flow of vaccines increased this month and will increase even more next month. We are racing against even deadlier variants that might develop down the road.


The sun was out last Monday after many days of rain. It was a bright day literally and figuratively. After 97 years of participating in the Olympics, we finally cracked gold courtesy of weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz.

Social media exploded with the news. In the midst of a deadly pandemic and the economic difficulties it induced, we finally found reason to celebrate. We badly needed that.

The celebration quickly turned to generosity. Hidilyn’s basket is heavy with the rewards offered by businessmen. She deserves all of that.

The most poignant picture of the gold medalist I have seen is that one showing her badly calloused hands. In the early stages of the competition, she acquired new blisters. These must have caused her much pain, especially in the final stage when she lifted more than she had ever achieved before.

Any athlete knows how painful it is to continue competing with blistered hands. Hidilyn’s hands tell us how headstrong she is. She fought through the pain and outdid herself.

The blisters are not the only pain she endured in her storied career. Many times in the past, she felt abandoned and alone. Once she had to plead with our sports officials to get the financial support she was entitled to.

Our sports establishment is nothing like Russia’s, we know. In Russia, athletes enjoy generous state subsidies and do not worry about subsisting. In our case, the sports program is heavily reliant on private sector philanthropy. The flow of support could be spotty and sometimes unpredictable.

All credit goes to Hidilyn’s unrelenting spirit. She labored to excel in her sport against the odds. She worked through pain, literally and figuratively. It is that spirit we celebrate.

But, in the wake of Hidilyn’s triumph, it is not enough to celebrate the grit that carried her through and brought her to the gold medal. This is a good time as any to begin a discussion about the imperfection of our sports establishment. There has to be a better way to produce outstanding athletes with less of the sacrifice that Hidilyn endured.

Each one of our national sports associations relies on a patron to raise the resources needed to support our athletes. Those with more influential patrons raise more resources. Those with less influential patrons wither on the vine.

The way we run our sports institutions is similar to the way we run our politics. Both are ruled by powerbrokers.

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