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The state of COVID

Because of the uncertainty of the times (and possibly because a lot of people remain cooped up in their homes), more people can be expected to watch President Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address today.

Let’s hope the penultimate SONA does not turn out to be yet another one of Duterte’s trademark stream-of-consciousness speeches, with rants tossed in plus jokes about disinfecting face masks with gasoline.

People continue to die or get sick of COVID-19. Yesterday the Philippines passed the 80,000 mark in COVID infections, with 80,448 confirmed cases among the 109.58 million population, 1,932 deaths and 26,110 recoveries.

Nope, we’re not beating the projections of those nasty doomsayers from the University of the Philippines, and nope, we’re nowhere near flattening the COVID curve.

The economy has been razed by coronavirus disease 2019. Drive around Metro Manila and be depressed by the sight of so many once flourishing commercial establishments that are now permanently shuttered.

COVID isn’t even done with us yet. In the coming months, more businesses will be shutting down, shrinking purchasing power and the government’s revenue base.

So really, people don’t want another rambling speech today, or yet another rant against critics, or yet another promise to kill everyone who “f***s with me.”

What we need today is a clear direction – something better than the ever bending rather than flattening COVID curve. What will the government do? Where are we headed? What are the short and long-term (or at least until June 30, 2022) objectives?

What we need in this awful crisis are inspiration and leadership, from a president of all Filipinos and not just of Davaoeños, Dennis Uy and other campaign donors.

It’s ironic that the battle cry against COVID is healing as one. How can this be achieved when we can see that some are clearly more equal than others even in the enforcement of quarantine rules? And how can the nation be one at this time when town mayors, instead of focusing on the catastrophic public health and economic tsunami that continues to roll across the country, are preoccupied with the highly divisive Charter change initiative so they can lift their term limits and get more money from the national government?

* * *

SONAs are typically tedious to listen to, especially the unavoidable part where the achievements of the past year are enumerated. (The SONA is, after all, a report to the nation.)

It’s unfortunate for this administration that the COVID-19 pestilence struck during Duterte’s watch. He himself has openly lamented this, asking why it happened in his time.

This year, for the first time since the Asian crisis two decades ago, the Philippine economy is contracting, and analysts are saying that the contraction will be worse than in 1998.

COVID has inevitably set back the government’s flagship Build, Build, Build program. The pandemic is adding millions to the ranks of the impoverished, jobless and involuntarily hungry.

The past 12 months will also be remembered for the shutdown of ABS-CBN at the height of the pandemic, and the rants against the “oligarchs” while Duterte cronies are flourishing.

It’s a period that will be remembered for the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States after Washington canceled Sen. Bato dela Rosa’s US visa (the scrapping of the VFA is on hold).

The past 12 months will also be remembered for the administration’s embrace of all things Chinese – from their ships that sink our fishing boats, to the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators, to the cruise ship tourists from Wuhan who were allowed to disembark in Manila even as the COVID virus was already raging in that Chinese city.

* * *

Today in the SONA, people want to hear a clear, viable plan for dealing with the health and economic disaster that we are going through.

The game plan has to be something better than what we have experienced in four months of lockdown – now described as the longest in this COVID-ravaged planet.

From the start, health experts have stressed the importance of massive and accurate testing, effective contact tracing, quarantine and isolation. Such moves spared Vietnam, for example (418 cases out of a population of 97.3 million as of yesterday, 365 recoveries, no deaths) and Taiwan (458 cases out of a population of 23.8 million, 440 recoveries, 7 deaths) from crippling prolonged lockdowns.

Today we have sufficiently ramped up quarantine facilities, but contact tracing is a mess, especially (as Malacañang itself has admitted) following the confusing guidelines on home quarantine for mild and asymptomatic cases.

As for COVID testing, it’s a luxury beyond the reach of many, especially those who have lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic.

* * *

Around the world, governments and politicians are being judged by the national response to the pandemic. Those up for election are likely to be hit. US President Donald Trump has publicly indicated he could lose.

In our country, a popular message since the start of the community quarantine is that people should stay healthy to be able to retaliate in the 2022 elections.

President Duterte will have to counter criticism that the economy would not have been so battered by the prolonged lockdown if the government had done better in COVID testing, contact tracing and isolation.

His administration will be remembered for the Mindanao peace process that created the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (and buried Mamasapano), the cleanup of Boracay, universal education all the way to college, universal health care, mental health care, more protection for persons with HIV/AIDS, and quite a number of infrastructure projects mostly under BBB.

But Duterte will also be remembered for the unprecedented Oplan Tokhang, the burial of Ferdinand Marcos in the heroes’ cemetery, POGOs and mañanitas in the time of COVID.

Based on his rant that was edited out of his speech in Jolo, Duterte considers the shutdown of ABS-CBN an achievement, crowing about cutting down to size the Lopezes as well as the likes of the Ayalas, Manny Pangilinan and Lucio Tan.

What Duterte and his allies may want the nation to forget is COVID. Inevitably, the administration and its leader will get the blame for people’s suffering in this pandemic.

The memories can be positive, of course, if the response can improve in the coming weeks.

This is where the SONA and leadership come in.

For the sake of our nation, we can still turn this crisis into an opportunity, and we can emerge better and stronger, in terms of both public health and the economy.

Everyone clearly has a role to play; healing as one is not just a motherhood statement. But the orchestra director is still the government led by the president.

Credit belongs to : www.philstar.com

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