Lessons in facing up to COVID-19
Vice President Leni Robredo checks some supplies of COVID-19 test kits.

Lessons in facing up to COVID-19

WORDSWORTH - Mons Romulo (The Philippine Star) - August 18, 2020 - 12:00am

Vice President Leni Robredo has been at the forefront of the government’s efforts to help our country fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) since the start of its outbreak in the Philippines.

Despite limited resources, the Office of the Vice President has launched various initiatives aimed at filling the gaps in terms of supporting frontliners and communities in need.

“As of today, we’ve mobilized more than P10-million worth of hot meals and snacks under our COVID-19 Response ops. Our partners sharing their blessings with frontliners, LSIs (locally stranded individuals), and communities over the past months proves anew that Filipinos step up for each other when most needed,” Vice President Robredo said.

I asked the VP her inputs on how to handle this COVID pandemic. Read on for her answers.

1. Clear, constant, and effective communication with the public is a must. The policies laid out by the government should be understood by everyone. Whenever the government implements policies, like declaration of quarantine, for example, they should lay out what it intends to achieve and how they are going to go about it. Clarity gives people a sense of every action’s place in the bigger scheme of things, and consequently, a deeper sense of purpose. It gives people the assurance that government knows what it is doing and the targets and objectives that are to be attained are clear. Lack of clarity and disorganized messaging breed mistrust.

2. Treat people as partners instead of mere beneficiaries of government programs or, even worse, obstacles. From experience, when people are considered partners, they are given more voice and a bigger seat at the table. Decision-making becomes more inclusive and decisions arrived at, more effective. Because people understand the complexities of the problems at hand, they are more understanding and become more cooperative. I have seen, throughout this quarantine, the vast sea of kindness, compassion and the sense of community that Filipinos have displayed. We have tapped into this wellspring and we have been able to do so much because of that, despite our limitations. We partnered with young fashion groups and linked them up with very poor communities to produce PPEs. We partnered with creative and production houses to come up with instructional videos to help teachers and parents transition to blended learning. We teamed up with architects, interior designers and landscape artists to provide temporary shelters for our frontliners. We were able to run shuttle buses, put up dorms, feed communities, all because of the private sector’s support.

3. Empower local government units (LGUs). I have always believed, as did my husband when he was still alive, that our country’s strongest link is really our local government units. They are the ones who work very closely on the ground, know their constituents best, and have the greatest accountabilities. We have seen how some of our LGUs performed really well during this pandemic. They introduced programs, which may be replicated by the others. But not all LGUs are similarly situated in terms of capacities and resources. The national government should empower them more by capacitating them not just in the delivery of basic services but in testing, contact tracing, isolating and treating.

4. Build trust. Honesty and transparency are key. Trust the public with the truth. People always appreciate this. When people trust their government, they are more forgiving and understanding of its faults and are more willing to be part of the solution. Relevant information such us how money is being spent should be available for scrutiny. It also creates pressure to spend the money really wisely.

5. Data collection and analysis are very important. Adapt and adopt new technology to accomplish things more efficiently. In a pandemic of this magnitude, we work with a huge amount of data. Technology is available to make these easier for us. Data, in real time, should be the basis of our decisions. If we continue being averse to the use of technology and still insist on the old way of doing things, we will be wasting a lot of time and steam.

6. Shed the mindset that addressing the challenges of health and economy are mutually exclusive. Much has been said about the delicate balancing act between health and economy. We have to realize that these do not stand in opposition to each other. An effective healthcare system yields a more resilient economy. The sooner we control this virus, the sooner we can reopen our economy and get back to normal. We should not be pitted against each other because the interests of one should take precedence over another. We must always look at the causalities in the dynamics of our response. Health is the front-end domino; address it, and the rest of our challenges become less daunting.

7. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Learn from the successes and failures of others. Things that work don’t need fixing; they need replicating. We have a lot of successful programs from several LGUs on how to combat the virus. We should compile these initiatives and encourage others to follow suit. Things that are not working should be recalibrated and adjusted.

8. Welcome feedback. People should feel comfortable to tell government where they think we should improve and what other programs we should implement. By allowing people to actively engage, our policies will be more inclusive and will be more sensitive to the people’s needs. We will be able to improve the way we serve them, and, at the same time, people will feel that they are part of the process since their voices are heard.

9. Swift, decisive, vigilant leadership is important. The examples of Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, New Zealand, and Germany have shown us that leaders who have acted very swiftly, very decisively and with vigilance have the most effective responses. Even at the local level, local chief executives who acted fast, were hands on, and were not afraid to take risks were the ones who responded best. Grit, focus, and determination of a leader are very important in crisis situations.

10. The pandemic is an opportunity for us to build a more equitable, fairer, more just society. This crisis has shown us that we are all interconnected and we are only as strong as our weakest link. It is an opportunity for us to better ourselves. When we rebuild, we should rebuild better. When we aim for growth, let us make sure it will be inclusive.

(We welcome your suggestions and comments. Please e-mail me at monsrt@gmail.com. Follow me on Instagram @monsromulo.)

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