posted April 07, 2021 at 12:20 am
by  Ernesto M. Hilario
"So, who’s really in charge?"


The term is short for “situation normal, all fucked up.” According to the Dictionary of American Slang, this term was in wide use in the US Army during the Second World War. Its original connotation was that the situation was “fucked up” owing to an excess of Army rules and regulation. But over the years, its original meaning has been forgotten or ignored so that the word is not considered taboo. Snafu now means confused, snarled, haywire, completely mistaken, ruined, spoiled. Or a “situation confused by a lack of intelligent direction,” even “any unnecessarily complex plan, action or thinking.”

The word aptly sums up our situation at present after a year of battling the COVID-19 pandemic. The Malacañang spokesman recently described government efforts to deal with the contagion as “excellent,” a claim vehemently disputed by many in completely unflattering terms. And the Palace stand has not been helped any by the viral video of a barangay official preventing a food delivery rider from picking up an order of “lugaw” or rice porridge by insisting that the food item was not considered “essential,” thus racking up thousands of angry, even virulent responses from netizens. 

 The viral video illustrates what’s wrong with the Duterte administration’s woefully inadequate handling of the COVID-19 pandemic from March 16, 2020 to today, more than a year later.

We’re back to square one in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, said Sen. Joel Villanueva as the government announced a return to the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), also known as a “lockdown.” No, said former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral, that’s not quite accurate, as we’re actually ten steps behind square one. They were among those who bristled at the presidential spokesman’s statement that the administration had done a fine job in containing the contagion, and telling us, the citizenry, in effect, not to worry, but be happy instead.

But how can the citizenry not be worried sick about catching the deadly virus when the claim of an excellent job by the national government in combating the pandemic flies in the face of facts, or the exponential rise in COVID cases in late March up to now?

That leads us to ask: Who’s really leading the charge against the coronavirus?

Well, we don’t really know. We’re told that it’s none other than the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EIC).

From what we’ve gathered, the ad hoc group consists of no less than 26 members, led by Health Secretary Francisco Duque as Chairman, with Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles and Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu as co-chairmen.

The other members are the secretaries of the various departments: Agriculture, Budget and Management, Education, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Information and Communications Technology,

Interior and Local Government, Justice, Labor and Employment, National Defense, Public Works and Highways, Science and Technology, Social Welfare and Development, Tourism, Trade and Industry, Transportation, and Presidential Communications Operations Office. Completing the roster are the Executive Secretary, Presidential Spokesperson, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, and the heads of the Commission on Higher Education, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and the National Economic and Development Authority.

Of the 26, six are former military or police officials: DENR’s Roy Cimatu, DND’s Delfin Lorenzana, DILG’s Eduardo Año, DSWD’s Rolando Bautista; DICT’s Gringo Honasan; and TESDA’s Isidro Lapeña.

With such a top-heavy organization that’s supposed to craft policy at the highest level, do they even get to meet after every milestone in the anti-COVID response, or after every week? Or do they just send their underlings to IATF meetings?

We suspect that it’s simply impossible to corral the 26 IATF members in a single room to thoroughly and intelligently discuss a mainly health issue and for them to offer sound solutions other than lockdowns in one form or another.

If all 26 members are present in every meeting and are given, say, five minutes to say their piece on every aspect of the problem, every meeting would take more than two hours at least.

We suspect further that not having any background in epidemiology or related disciplines, the bureaucrats making up the IATF policy-making body simply cannot craft an integrated or holistic or science-based approach to combating COVID-19, unless they rely on consultants to do the thinking for them.

That’s where the consultants consisting of medical doctors come in. We see a few of them on TV but at least one appears to have been forced to resign after pointing out lapses in the government’s handling of the pandemic. We don’t know if they personally attend IATF meetings or not.

The IATF also consults Metro Manila mayors to seek their approval of policies about to be implemented in the National Capital Region.

After consulting the health experts and the Metro Manila mayors, the IATF policy-making body hands over the implementation of policies to the National Task Force consisting of the Department of Health, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Bureau of Fire Protection, Philippine Coast Guard, and barangay tanods.

After the policies have been set in stone by the 26 bureaucrats, then the implementation of these policies, such as localized lockdowns, is up to the police and the military.

Alas, it’s at the ground level where things sometimes go haywire, as in the “lugaw” incident, and where the snafu is all too plain to see.

(More on Friday. Send comments to [email protected])

Topics: Ernesto Hilario , Snafu , COVID-19 pandemic
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