8/01/2020
There is no plan

So, two more weeks of this.

To be honest, I've been expecting, for the past couple of weeks, that we would be brought back under "enhanced community quarantine", or perhaps its slightly milder version. Cases have been going up, in record numbers these past few days. Manila being a pretty busy place, more or less the crossroads of everything, most of the cases are here. Much like four and a half months ago, the major hospitals are announcing that they can no longer accommodate potential new cases.

Sure, the government has been pretty upfront about their hesitation to bring back the capital under ECQ, this being the center of the whole country's economy and all. We can't afford to close things again, they said. The best we can do is have everyone follow minimum health standards and have local governments impose lockdowns when needed, they said.

To be honest, that seemed like a plan, or something close to it. Perhaps I still had some faith that the government actually did something when we were stuck at home for roughly three months. I mean, yes, our leaders may be confusing at the very least, but from my own dealings with certain agencies I know that the need to look good for the voting public does not always square with the real work being done in the offices and on the ground.

But something shifted along the way, not necessarily in the last month, but in the past four and a half. It became clear that this government is intent on doing as little as possible while making it look like a lot more is being done. (Just take the constant theme from all those public statements: we all just need to be more disciplined so we can get this over with.) Okay, perhaps not as little as possible, but between the seeming lack of strategy, the definite lack of accountability and the more definite focus on other things, it's hard to really put your trust in our leaders.

And then the president just had to confirm all that this week, essentially saying nothing about a plan forward to mitigate the crisis during the State of the Nation Address, save for how we can't go back to normal, whatever that is, without a vaccine, which happens to be coming, like, really soon, from our friends at China, and they'll prioritize us because we've been so sub-- nice to them, and have we told you China is our friend?

The main story in today's Inquirer is about the president doubling down on his belief that we can't do anything without a vaccine. "I could not have uttered a single sentence about [a] road map to recovery because the medicine must come first," he said in yet another televised IATF meeting.

Finance secretary Carlos Dominguez affirmed the president, saying that we Filipinos can only start living a "normal life" when that vaccine does arrive, adding that the economy is starting to pick up its pace again after hitting its lowest lows in the early days of the lockdown.

Now, I get why the economy has to be reopened. You can't keep virtually all the economy closed in the name of keeping people apart for so long, not without doing pretty big damage. It was a knee-jerk reaction, shutting everything down; no wonder in the first couple of weeks of community quarantine they quickly backtracked by being more specific about what kind of industries are allowed to reopen, particularly crucial players in the food and pharmaceutical supply chain. And since the government isn't willing to continue (or even implement) welfare programs for those who are still not allowed to make a living - something about being conscious of our credit rating - it might as well have people put on masks and be allowed to do some of the things they were able to do in the old days.

That's fine and good, but this would work with the assumption that other efforts will be going on. And yes, perhaps we're finally starting to sorting out our capabilities to test and our capacity to care for our sick, but after over four months, have we, really? Yes, the cases were bound to go up, but we wouldn't be having 5,000 new cases a day if there was no-nonsense messaging on what we can do, a clear testing policy, and a proper contact tracing system. Instead, we're all constantly implored to suck it up, be a little more disciplined and to sacrifice just a little bit more.

The continuing lack of certainty means the economy wouldn't pick up the pace as much as the government would want it to. Malls remain empty. People, for the most part, continue to stay at home. Of course, I am aware that I am talking of a perspective made from high up a condominium building and not from cramped inner-city slums. But here's something that's true regardless of economic class. Many remain out of work, whether due to government restrictions or businesses downsizing to ensure their survival. Many others continue to work, but for less money, the threat of losing their jobs altogether continuing to hover. That means less money to spend, and for an economy that relies primarily on money going round, that's not good news.

But as we've seen from how many people seem to be buying baked sushi from their friends, people are willing to spend, for as long as they are assured they won't get terribly sick from doing so. That means two things: we would continue to do as we've been asked to do these past four months, and the government should do more to instill in us the confidence that we are in relatively safe hands. Instead, we have groups representing doctors and other medical frontliners begging to put the capital under ECQ once again, if only just for two weeks, so they can have a breather of sorts while continuing to deal with an overwhelming number of patients, and in some cases, becoming patients themselves. The government, of course, said no, only to later say they'll think about it, perhaps after realizing that this belief is more popular than they thought and, hey, it can't be bad for this government to look like they're on the side of the people once again, right?

Perhaps by this time tomorrow we'll have two weeks of something stricter than what we currently have. It may not be good from a psychological point of view, to realize that we've taken a step back after seemingly making some progress, but one, we've kind of expected it, and two, people outside the medical community are calling for a stricter lockdown, too. But this doesn't mean the government will be let off the hook. Far from it. The government must double, triple, quadruple its efforts to ensure we've got our grips on this disease. The government must work hard to gain our trust, and not act as if it's entitled to it.

But that would be extremely difficult. It's become clear in the past few days that it does not have a plan to deal with this pandemic beyond keeping people stuck at home, waiting for improvements that go deeper than reinterpreted numbers and punchy sound bites, and waiting for a vaccine whose timeline remains uncertain. There's no telling, even, that the government will be able to properly distribute this vaccine to every single Filipino - although, considering the president vowed that drug users will never get their hands on it, it's clear they don't intend to.

It's clear that, for the foreseeable future, we're pretty much like "endo" employees. We do our part despite being only given two-week contracts over and over. We don't get what we'v worked for, what we truly deserve. Remember that issue, by the way? We haven't really gotten around to that. Just a lot of bluster, and then, nothing. You know where we're heading.

And your responses...

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