Editorial: Rope-a-dope

(Editorial Cartoon by John Gilbert Manantan)

HERE is a simple study in contrast. In early February, when Vietnam confirmed six cases of Covid-19, it immediately imposed a 20-day lockdown in an area of 10,000 residents. Policemen were immediately deployed to man checkpoints in the area’s exit routes. The Philippines, on the other hand, discovered its first Covid-19 cases on Jan. 31, 2020—a Chinese couple from Wuhan Province who arrived in Mactan-Cebu International Airport, stayed in Cebu for some good hours, left for Dumaguete City, and eventually submitted themselves for check-up in a hospital in capital Manila. Quite a voyage they took, and yet hardly did government move with utmost urgency. We were to implement quarantines in the middle of March yet, living up to the derogatory notion of “Filipino time.”

Here is more. Both countries, Vietnam and the Philippines, imposed a mid-March general lockdown in crowded cities, but already at this time Vietnam had isolated thousands of suspected cases in military-run facilities. People didn’t budge; they understand the risk of having porous borders with China, and they had the clearest of lessons since the 2003 Sars outbreak.

To recall, the Department of Health (DOH)assured it had ample lead time in February to prepare for a major surge. And so a tipped chart we had by April, the number of cases rose exponentially.

As President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his fifth State of the Nation Address, the DOH’s daily bulletin showed the country had surpassed the 80,000 mark, 20,000 more than what the scientists from the University of the Philippines had projected for July.

So it might be true, we’re dealing with this pandemic playing like a “dope in the rope,” to use the boxer Muhammad Ali’s fight term, which means deferring an offensive and just allowing the enemy to unleash his punch arsenal until he hits fatigue. In this pandemic, that strategy might be true to how government is playing it—the figures consistently rise while it waits for the vaccine.

Even as trillions in funds had been used up, they seemed to have not been spent as efficiently as they should have been, achieving supposedly the nearest goal of flattening the curve. And, yet, we failed.

The Bayanihan 2 sets large funds for logistics to be used in the health crisis and to reinvigorate the economy. These are the bold strokes, but they can only be as good as how detailed the plans will be on how the fight should be carried out on the ground.

Vice President Leni Robredo laid down pretty much concrete measures in dealing with the health crisis. She zeroes in on the importance of fast and accurate data management as crucial in the management of this pandemic. The former DOH advisor Dr. Tony Leachon was quick to concur. To recall, his very first sound bite after leaving the government team was a critique on data management and the lack of urgency.

Trillions in funds for Bayanihan 2, yes. That could afford government the better ideas to spare it of more embarrassing missteps.


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