Seares: The Cebu situation: outsiders see 'political issues, floating mistruths'

News Sense

"All local officials there must come together. The concerted effort of all is the solution ...It is important that the actions of each leader is unified so that the people aren't confused... There are no definite political issues. It's just that there is no coordination." -- Environment Undersecretary Benny Aporda, "a representative' of Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, June 27

"There is this misconception, that Covid-19 is not actually as severe as dengue or TB... There are a lot of mistruths floating around." -- Ted Herbosa, adviser to national task force on Covid-19, June 26

ENVIRONMENT Secretary Roy Cimatu -- a retired general whom President Rodrigo Duterte designated as his and IATF's representative to Cebu City on implementing the national policy on coronavirus -- talked little on the Cebu situation. Cimatu only publicly said what were "needed" to be done: namely, enforce the ECQ rules strictly and "harmonize" the conflicting reports on the coronavirus data.

As to agenda of the visiting panel from IAFT, that was made clear in a press-con held in the city last Tuesday, June 23. The group from Manila, which included five Cabinet secretaries, through Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, said they were not conducting an investigation to find out who was to blame for the fiasco.

But listen to two insiders who joined the heavyweights in their Cebu visit.

[1] Ted Herbosa, one of the task force advisers, talked about "a lot of mistruths floating around," which must have influenced residents to take the quarantine regulations lightly.

[2] Benny Antiporda, a DENR undersecretary, described as a representative of Cimatu, saw "political issues," which, when pressed to explain, turned out be "lack of coordination."

'Nothing extra on table'

In an interview on The Chiefs aired on Cignal TV's One News Friday night, June 26, Ted Herbosa, adviser to the Inter-agency Task Force for Managing Emerging Infectious Diseases who joined the visiting IATF-MEID group, said they're "putting nothing extra on the table" of Cebu City but to help implement the guidelines already set in place by the national government and the LGU.

But in the same interview, Herbosa noted "misconceptions and mistruths that may have resulted in greater transmission of the virus." Explaining, he said, "apparently, there is some opinion in Cebu City that ... Covid-19 is actually not so severe as dengue or TB or influenza. There is this misconception, there are a lot of mistruths floating around." Which resulted, he said, in "greater transmission of the virus and more people getting admitted to the hospitals." Those are "preventable deaths," he said.

Gwen is in province

Herbosa didn't name Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia but he must have been referring to her. Guv Gwen has been the only LGU leader (a) publicly saying that Covid-19 shouldn't be blamed for many of the deaths as they were mainly caused by other illnesses such as flu, TB, dengue, etc. and telling people not to fear coronavirus so much; and (b) pushing the local practice of "tuob" or steam inhalation as alternative to hospital care.

In a number of broadcasts from Capitol reporting on the health emergency, the governor shifted from her early hardcore stand on CQ regulations as the province was upgraded to general quarantine, explaining that before she had no data with which to combat Covid-19. She now feared the virus less, after knowing more about it.

A substantial flaw in that theory is that Guv Gwen "evangelizes" from Capitol and her supporters are from the towns and component cities, which do not include Cebu City. Gwen would've something to do in the spike of new cases, "overflow in hospitals" and number of deaths in Cebu City if she also had tremendous influence in the city. She must get that much credit to deserve that much blame.

Coordination, not politics

Confusion over geography and political clout is also apparent in Benny Antiporda's initial tagging of "political issues" as the culprit in the Cebu situation. Asked to specify, he mentioned "lack of coordination" between the barangay and the governor's level.

Antiporda may also be confused. Focus of the problem is Cebu City: lack of coordination could be on enforcing the guidelines in the city mayor's executive order in some barangays where regular officials compete with City Hall people in the mayor's information and liaison offices (Milo).

It's not in the province, where no dissent has been heard from any of her political rivals.

The apparent lack of coordination could be between the province and Cebu City, a relationship that has not erupted in battle but has not also been cozy. Cebu City's alliance with two other cities, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu, whose ties to the province are older and stronger, seem to create some source of irritant. Capitol checkpoints have not honored Cebu City travel passes.

LGUs know better

The local leaders are supposed to know the problem more accurately than outsiders who fly in and become experts in a matter of days. But that's what happens when those involved appear not to solve the crisis in their own yard.

We should be thankful for whatever national help we get. Unfortunately, a flawed view of what has gone wrong may not jibe with our own way of looking at the crisis.

But let's wait for what Cimatu actually advises the President and what the President orders.


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