"Do we not have the local expertise?"
Right from the start, let's give credit where credit is due: The combined efforts of government, private sector and civil society have in no small measure helped in curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
At the same time, perhaps we need to point out that our best efforts may not have been good enough as we have not adequately used our own science and technology expertise and resources to address a grave public health crisis requiring a mainly scientific approach.
Take the case of Indonesia, one of our two closest neighbors to the south, which has taken a bold step forward in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic by developing its own vaccine.
According to a recent news report, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has already formed a team that seeks to "improve the synergy between the government and research institutions in research, development, trials and the implementation of knowledge and technology" to develop a potential vaccine to be named after the colors of the Indonesia flag, Merah Putih, or red and white.
The development of an Indonesian vaccine against the deadly coronavirus would be undertaken by a national consortium under the Research and Technology Ministry and the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology. The consortium would be composed of the heads of various agencies tasked with economic development, health, research and technology; health; political, legal and security affairs; foreign affairs, industry; trade; education and culture; and food and drug monitoring.
What this vaccine development reflects is Indonesia’s technological progress in various fields, including healthcare, research and IT infrastructure.
Indonesia's pro-active effort to develop its own anti-COVID-19 vaccine is in stark contrast to what the Philippine government is doing, which is to manage the coronavirus outbreak not with science and technology, first and foremost, but with harsh measures aimed at keeping entire cities and provinces under lockdown for nearly six months now.
While the government has opted to implement strict quarantine rules, including the deployment of armored personnel carriers and heavily armed police in areas where there's been spikes in Covid-19 cases, it has also chosen to just wait for the development of vaccines by other countries, such as China, Russia, and the United States, among others.
My question is this: Why didn't the Duterte administration even think of initiating the development of a vaccine or cure for COVID-19?
Scientists at the University of the Philippines were able to develop a COVID-19 testing kit soon after the pandemic reached our shores early this year. But there's been no initiative, as far as we know, to do serious research and development on a vaccine up to now.
Do we lack the necessary expertise and resources to carry out a similar effort by the Indonesian government?
Or has the government been totally overwhelmed by the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic that it cannot think beyond lockdowns and virtual house arrests of whole populations for extended periods?
Part of the problem, we think, has been the Duterte government's over-reliance on former military and police generals to hold the fort against the onslaught of the deadly disease.
Then we have a health secretary whose lack of decisive leadership in managing the crisis has spawned widespread clamor for his resignation or dismissal.
An even greater problem is the apparent difficulty by the government in deftly managing the public health crisis.
From where we sit, lockdowns should be accompanied by corresponding measures in the health sphere, including intensifying mass testing, contact tracing, and isolation of suspected disease carriers, apart from significantly enhancing the capacity of the existing health care system to treat patients.
Our anemic and woefully inadequate response to the health crisis should perhaps be assessed in light of what China, where the pandemic began, has achieved in fighting the pandemic.
By August, a report in the New York Times revealed, life was already starting to look normal.
"In Shanghai, restaurants and bars in many neighborhoods are teeming with crowds. In Beijing, thousands of students are heading back to campus for the fall semester. In Wuhan, where the coronavirus emerged eight months ago, water parks and night markets are packed elbow to elbow, buzzing like before.
"While the United States and much of the world are still struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic, life in many parts of China has in recent weeks become strikingly normal. Cities have relaxed social distancing rules and mask mandates, and crowds are again filling tourist sites, movie theaters and gyms.
"'It no longer feels like there is something too frightful or too life-threatening out there,' the report quoted a resident in the southern province of Guangdong."
Conclusion: What are the prospects of the Philippines returning to normal or near-normal, for that matter, say, within the year?
Nil, from where we sit, and unless the hoped-for vaccine from other countries arrives soon enough, we're going to be trapped in the same morass for perhaps the good part of next year.