"This was the main message of the President in his address."
As expected, President Duterte delivered a sobering assessment of the state of the nation. We are in a grim situation. The COVID-19 outbreak has wreaked havoc not only in the Philippines but globally. We have to prepare for more trying times. All of us will have to do our part to ensure that we will be able to rise and move on. But for that to happen, we must shape up. Yes, more than anything else shaping up was the call of that speech.
Of course, as in all SONAs, here and in other countries, there was an enumeration of promises done and promises of those still to be done. With the pandemic in progress, measures to improve our defenses and mitigate COVID-19’s impact on lives and livelihood were outlined across the hour-and- forty-minute speech. Contrary to the claims of those who continue to belie the alleged "inexplicable neglect to come out with a COVID-19 plan," specific measures to precisely enhance our ability to overcome the pandemic were indicated, starting off with a call for Congress to pass a second Bayanihan Act. The earlier one already contained, albeit in some instances gingerly, measures to address the outbreak.
If the earlier measures were not enough to address the pressing problems at that time, then we have to review and find out why. Was Bayanihan Act One, a fanciful response, devoid of any logic and, in fact, an act of tokenism to the nth degree? Was it an honest-to-goodness plan or just a wish list of sorts, a hodge podge of suggestions to combat the outbreak signifying nothing? Or it was a crude copycat of the WHO protocols with no relation to the realities on the ground? These will have to be to be looked into.
Now, if the measures indicated therein were inadequate, in what sense were these so? Were the guidelines so rigid? Loose? Unrealistic? Unimplementable? Were the resources unavailable? Were the personnel unprepared to undertake the plans? What really went wrong, if any? These and other concerns will now have to be scrutinized to the minutest detail if needed to come out with an enhanced response to this continuing outbreak.
I think the problem was essentially in the implementation of the plan. Yes, sir. We have a plan and a simple one at that. It's called Save Lives, Save Livelihoods.
On the matter of saving lives, the protocol is as plain as well: Test, Trace, Isolate, Protect. So, the question is: were we able to implement this protocol to a degree which would have gotten us to the same level of confidence as say, Thailand or Malaysia, among our neighbors in ASEAN. Never mind Vietnam or to a certain degree, Singapore. The former has maintained the discipline, patriotic fervor and thoroughness achieved through the country's liberation struggles. We do not have a similar experience after World War II.
In the case of Singapore, the country's graduation from an under-developed (developing) economy to a developed (almost developed or middle income as how some economists call it) has given it the means and information to address the pandemic more adequately than ours. As for Thailand and Malaysia, the only difference I would concede is the fact that both countries are constitutional monarchies: Thailand has a King and Malaysia an Agong (a designated leader among its sovereigns). Apart from that, we should be at par in terms of resources, information and education. In fact, some would even suggest, we have more in dexterity (mas maabilidad). So, we go back to implementation. We really have to focus and shape up.
The same may be said of the other part of the equation: Saving livelihoods. The plan is equally plain—as best as we can enhance agriculture and create production centers in the countryside, save the millions of SMSEs employing the bulk of our workforce; retrain and, as warranted, make entrepreneurs of our workers including the thousands of returning OFWs; reform our tax and incentives system; provide adequate, affordable and easy financing for businesses; provide means to maintain the health of our financial system and extend payment terms for debtors-in-need. These and other measures to restart the economy and save jobs have been on the table for consideration. Some of these, such as the tax and incentives reform measure as well as the financing for SMSEs, have in fact been out there even before the outbreak. Again, it is a matter of implementation.
Then, there is the matter of monopolies, rent-seekers and related abusers of government resources or government-issued privileges. The question of reforming the manner by which basic services and utilities from water, power, communications, transport, among others, are being provided has been out there waiting to be tackled and resolved to benefit the public long before COVID-19 reached our shores. That the President had to mention the same "threat" all over again and ordered those in control to shape up or else is a stark reminder of the power and longevity of those holding sway over these sectors. Again, it's a matter of implementation.
Finally, mention should be made of the fact that the "shape up" order was equally addressed to those providing basic government services or those monitoring and regulating certain sectors like DoTr and its agencies like LTFRB, MARINA, PPA, CAAP in transport or DoE in the case of the power industry or MWSS in the case of water and sewerage in the Metro Manila and suburbs areas and LWUA in the case of the provincial water utilities or DITC and NTC in the case of the telcos. And, of course, all other agencies including LGUs providing front line services to our long suffering public. It is time to shape up. Otherwise, be prepared to be shipped out.