Sunday, August 01, 2021

Editorial: Covid-19 response, a big test to local officials

WHEN Covid-19 struck the Philippines a year ago, government officials struggled to deal with something they have never encountered before.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we were bombarded with a series of guidelines that seek to curb the spread of the disease. Then, the guidelines between local government units and the national government differed from one another. This resulted in confusion among the citizens.

The Inter-agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) stepped in and somehow harmonized policies when it comes to Covid-19 management. At the same time, the national government began rolling out its Covid-19 response to help hospitals and those affected by lockdowns.

However, each local government unit (LGU) still had several other Covid-19 responses to further curb the spread of Covid-19. In Davao City, for example, we saw the implementation of the food and medicine pass, clustering, and a 24-hour liquor ban when the city was placed under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in 2020.

Amid the pandemic, the city government also made strides when it comes to improving its trace, test, and treatment efforts. This included intensifying its contact tracing efforts with the Safe Davao QR, establishing test and swab facilities to detect Covid-19 patients and carriers, and expansion of temporary treatment and monitoring facilities.

With the vaccination rollout, the city government is also implementing it the best way it can. It has issued several information materials to increase vaccine acceptance and how one can get one.

While there are commendable actions by the local government and national government when it comes to its Covid-19 response, it is not flawless. We have heard of complaints from netizens about inconsistencies in the implementation of guidelines. For example, the issue on face shield over the week where government officials could not decide whether it stays or goes. There is also the existing issue of the required motorcycle barrier.

The Covid-19 pandemic, in its own crazy way, has shed light on the capabilities of our officials. It showed how government officials in leadership roles, from the elected officials down to the directors and supervisors, perform under pressure and in situations like the pandemic. It has also highlighted how interconnected each part of the government is in implementing plans and policies.

For example, the pandemic has shown the crucial role of the barangay government unit in ensuring that the policies and programs of the national government and local government are felt by the people. Covid-19 has opened the eyes of barangay officials that they are not in their positions for just being merely there. Rather, they are placed there because they have a big responsibility in serving the people and implementing the plans and programs of the national and local governments.

Sadly, we also saw that several barangay officials have failed to understand their responsibilities. Earlier this month, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año said the agency has charged six village officials in the country for superspreader events. Last year, the Office of the Ombudsman suspended 89 village chiefs for six months over anomalies in the implementation of the social amelioration program (SAP).

Aside from the barangay officials, we also witnessed several local government leaders seemingly break under the pressure of the pandemic. The second wave hitting Mindanao right now has thrust several leaders into the spotlight with the citizens keeping a keen eye on what they are about to do.

Despite the failures of some, we also see the rise of true government leaders. Those who are truly capable have shown efficient leadership, made sound decisions, listened to the needs of the people they serve and remained calm and decisive. These types of local officials eclipsed those who are considered "epal," those who are taking the jobs lightly, and those who are unqualified, to begin with.

In a way, the Covid-19 pandemic is testing our government officials and leaders in how they deal with the situation -- from managing the spread of the disease to leading the people. We try not to think about it but, the Covid-19 response of those who are in position now will weigh heavily on the citizens when deciding who will choose next to lead them.


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