DOH vs DILG vs the people

"We should not not leave matters to chance."



So, who are we going to follow on the matter of minors in malls? Should we heed the advice of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III whose handling of the government’s response to the pandemic as IATF Chair has been marred by all sorts of bungling – from misrepresentation of scientific and medical concerns to misinformation on the state of our health system to misallocation of limited resources to outright lying on a number of critical issues?

Or would it be better to follow the advise of DILG Secretary Eduardo Año whose enthusiastic (some say over-enthusiastic) endorsement of the basic protocols and eagle-eyed monitoring of any possible lapses in the implementation of reasonable (I say reasonable because on the issue of “tandem riding” and in-between” shields was somehow misguided) guidelines has been quite exemplary?

Simple lang yan, our neighborhood pundit said: Go with the one who walks the talk – Secretary Año. As a trained military man and an intelligence officer at that, his feet are on the ground. He is not an ivory-tower-rocking-chair kind of person. He earned his spurs the hard way, has walked miles and miles to feel the public pulse and knows where the possible “gaps” as far as implementing accepted guidelines are.

In the case of this minors-in-malls issue, the DILG announced some days back that “children may soon be allowed inside malls if accompanied by parents even in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ).” There should be no problem with that especially since we are now in our 10th month of lockdown and everybody including children but especially parents and adults should already be well aware of the basic health protocols. That we should remain vigilant in going around and avoid large crowds as much as possible should have been drilled no end by now.

To the DILG’s summation of all the needed precautionary measures to minimize if not altogether avoid any and all kinds of risks, health or otherwise, for minors-in-malls, all that Duque could say was “we discourage this as children may not manifest severe symptoms but can spread the virus to others.”

What kind of proposition, much less science is that? Has there been any solid evidence showing that indeed children are the super spreaders that Duque claims them to be? We have been seeing more and more younger people getting together and moving around (and these are not just the everyday workmen) and yet our positive cases have been on a plateau for weeks.

What are the chances, anyway, that children with parents in tow will be running around the malls like crazy and start spreading the disease, if they ever get one anyway, to each and every one coming their way? Do we have any evidence to show that they will be going wayward once they step into the malls and be as unruly and misguided as Duque would like us to believe? Or would they be more prone to heed their parents’ advice and the drilling not to overstep the bounds so that they do not catch the virus and get more time later to be outside of their cooped existence? Kids are basically extroverts, they want to be going around, play and be with other kids their age. They need to interact with people, not just stay indoors.

There is even growing evidence now that the more we restrict children or even adults for that

matter from interacting, from having a kind of social life no matter how limited this may be, the

more their mental and physical health deteriorate. So why should we start promoting this bunker kind of mentality, this cooped up operation as the norm to prevent the spread of the virus? In other countries and to an increasing degree, medical and scientific experts, getting people exposed to each other albeit with the basic protocols in place is a healthy initiative and a faster way to get communities back to a new normal.

Shouldn’t we give people, even children, a certain latitude to take care of themselves? Should we now take responsibility away from each and every individual to take care of themselves specially their health and well being? Are people like Duque better placed to take care of one’s own kids or even family? Should we start treating people as robots, unfeeling, easily manipulated and unthinking just because we have this pandemic? That would be the biggest mistake, the surest letdown.

Which brings us to another level of debate. As the renowned pundit and author Janet Daley put it so correctly in arguing about the new set of restrictions being implemented in her adopted country, UK: “Who is morally responsible for decisions about one’s own life or death? The state? The family? The individual? The community? If not the individual or the family, what institutions should we entrust with that responsibility and what sort of  qualifications (scientific? spiritual? judicial?) are appropriate for it? Following on from that, do people have the right to risk their lives?” 

Answering her own questions, Daley noted: “In general use the answer is: yes, providing it puts no one else in jeopardy. But applying that rule to the present emergency is difficult: if you are considered to be at high risk from the virus, are you within your rights to take a chance of catching it because, for example, you do not believe that a life kept in isolation is worth living? Presumably you could thus be guilty of becoming a burden on the health service which needs to provide care for everyone – but that applies as well to people who smoke or drink excessively and so far anyway, we have not made those activities illegal.”

She then propositioned: “If the Government really is to assume the extraordinary authority which it appears to be taking over what were until very recently regarded as the most personal aspects of life – what distance must be maintained between friends, how many members of a family may be in proximity with one another, whether you can hug your grandmother – complete with surveillance measures to ensure that such judgements are enforced, then it is not just the details that need to be debated.”

Things can really get complicated as one can see. But ten months into the lockdown and knowing what we know now that we did not know then, it is time we asked these questions and got the public to debate them. We should not leave everything to chance, much less to the whims and caprices of those in official positions who have varying views of how things should be anyway. 

Topics: Jonathan Dela Cruz , Department of Health , DOH , Health Secretary Francisco Duque III , Department of Interior and Local Government , DILG Secretary Eduardo Año
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