When death from the pandemic became a more frequent occurrence in Cebu City in June last year, people reacted like a swarm of bees when their house was in fire. They were not just the usual critics and their paid hacks who cursed and insulted Mayor Edgardo Labella; they included otherwise sane and reasonable people, demonstrating how fear could adversely impact a person’s capacity to reason.
While some of the criticism were probably deserved, most bordered on the ridiculous such as when the mayor was blamed for the spike in Covid-19 cases and the long line of patients waiting to be accommodated in the private hospitals.
They acted as if it was Labella who brought the pandemic to Cebu and was responsible for its rapid spread, conveniently omitting the fact that Covid-19 was a new threat that nobody in the world was prepared for.
Labella bore the attacks in silence. Many times, especially when even his allies insulted him, his friends urged him to speak up but were told each time to not mind them and to let God take care of the rest. There is only one enemy and it is Covid, he would explain.
The province at that time had relatively fewer cases, a situation that Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia sought to preserve by regulating travel from Cebu City to the towns. There was no panic among her constituents and she escaped criticism from even her political enemies.
It is not so anymore. From sanctuary, the province is now a Covid hot spot with more deaths reported daily than in any of the cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu. And Garcia has received more than her fair share of scorn from her critics. Unlike Labella, however, Garcia is not taking the insults lying down. There is now a video circulating in social media of her angrily telling her detractors to replace her next year if they think she was not doing her job.
The main gripe against Garcia is that she has not paid enough attention to modernize the province’s hospitals in order that patients in the towns do not have to be brought to Cebu City for hospital care. The hospitals are also understaffed, it is alleged.
A few weeks into her current term, I interviewed the governor if it was true that she was considering outsourcing most of the personnel in the provincial and district hospitals. She confirmed that such was the plan and gave two reasons: make the operations more efficient and not saddle the provincial government with the burden of disciplining erring personnel.
The way she explained it, the plan was good and workable. If the hospital is run by personnel from a private contractor, hiring and firing will not turn into another political circus as allies and supporters can no longer intercede for one who desires to be hired or is in danger of being fired.
At that time, the coronavirus was still unheard of and the province’s hospital system was operating rather efficiently within its limitations. But with a raging pandemic turning the system upside down, I think it is time for the governor to revisit her strategy and reduce, if not remove, the hospitals’ inherent limitations including the lack of equipment and trained specialists to operate them.
There is really no need to talk about who replacing whom and when. As Labella said last year, there is only one enemy.
August 11, 2021
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