"This is our foremost concern."
"We Recover As One" is the 76-page paper which NEDA Acting Director General Karl Chua and his staff recently issued for peer and public review.
This should be a must-read for all, administration critics included, and all those skeptics who have been haranguing us with all kinds of asides about the government's lack of planning, shooting-from-the-hip kind of governance.
This should, all the more, be mandatory reading for those in government specially its media and information officers tasked with convincing the public of the merits of this undertaking and ensuring that the directions and tasks proposed in this recovery plan are properly and responsibly implemented. So important is the need to provide the right information at the right time that the plan dedicates one whole chapter detailing the protocols for information gathering, dissemination and management. But we are going ahead of the Report's main features which no doubt will populate the President's fifth SONA on Monday.
The report details a comprehensive set of measures to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and enable the economy to recover and transition to a new normal. Acknowledging that a lot of changes have happened and a new environment has set in, Chua noted that the report “provides guidance as to what priority policies, programs, and projects the government can undertake to facilitate the transition not just to a new, but a better normal.”
Noting the need to enhance our ability to limit transmissions and provide health care to those needing them as a continuing priority, the report also estimates the social and economic costs of the different grades of quarantine across the country which has definitely stunted growth at all levels and provides a set of measures, policies and programs meant to rebuild consumer and business confidence. Equally important, the report outlines measures needed to ensure the country’s resiliency under a new and better normal.
Of course, these coping measures will require not just proper and responsible government action but the full and undivided cooperation of the private sector and an informed and highly motivated public. For that to happen, government must be able to clearly define the objective measures to limit and flatten (here we go again) the pandemic’s curve; the way to stem the social and economic losses resulting from the quarantines and the packages necessary to get us out of the near abyss we are falling into.
For now, our main concern is to balance the need to limit the transmission and enhance our capacity to deal with the virus and restarting the economy. That means addressing the fears and concerns of our people, regaining their trust and confidence and providing the necessary spark to wisen and starting up. This is where the administration’s information and education program comes in. Without the right, proper and timely information, we will remain on edge notwithstanding all the precautions and assurances which our leaders may issue. The Report provides a step-by-step protocol to precisely undertake that delicate task which, sadly, has been wanting if not unnerving since the imposition of ECQ nationwide.
We cannot afford to have the Health Secretary, for example, coming out of the woodworks to issue that mind-boggling statement that we flattened the curve in April yet without even bothering to provide data and statistics to precisely explain why. And, worse, to come back a few hours after to recall his statement and say that we actually “bent, not flattened” the curve.
That made things even more problematic as the DoH’s own spokesman announced, at around the same time, a spike in the number of new cases nationwide.
Neither can we afford a situation where bits and pieces of information from the LGUs, the regional health offices and other “sources” crowd out the official DoH data sinking the public’s confidence even more in the facts and figures being issued daily by that agency. Not even the effort to “harmonize data collection and dissemination” or changing the data metrics which has been announced time and again by that department can stem the tide of skepticism which has crept in as far as government’s data on the pandemic is concerned. It will probably take some time, if ever, for the DoH to regain lost ground. But we remain hopeful that pretty soon the administration’s information and media relations group can recover and straighten out things.
As for the measures, administration officials have admitted that we are running out of funds to support the programs under the first Bayanihan-To Heal- As One act so there is need for a second one which I suppose President Duterte will propose in his SONA message. As it scanned and collected the data and experiences in the various sectors from the time the ECQ was imposed up to the time the Report was issued, it contained a series of proposals meant to respond to the priorities from the economic (agriculture, industry, services, MSMEs, transportation, etc) to the social (SAP, health and medical, education, etc) to the environmental, technology and related concerns and imperatives under a new and better normal, as Chua described it.
Mention was made of the need for Congress to pass the stimulus and tax measures to jump tart the economy. How soon these can pass through the legislative mill will have a lasting impact on our ability to truly restart the economy towards a better normal specially since the budget which President Duterte will propose will contain not just the needed funding priorities in response to the outbreak but the requirements of the upcoming elections in 2022. It is, in very real sense, a Covid 19-cum-election budget which makes it specially critical as its impact will go beyond the administration’s term.
Which brings us to another point. Will the President introduce in this 5th SONA message
the electoral reforms he promised at the start of his presidency? Having experienced the questionable actions taken by Smartmatic, the Comelec’s technology partner in all of our automated elections, he has an obligation to finally put all the fears and concerns raised against this company to rest. Will he go headlong to do that as he is now trying to do with his other promise to put finis to the outsize control and influence of the oligarchy over our economic and political life. We will soon find out.
For now, our foremost concern is how, together as one nation, recover as one.