Dropping the ball

"But wait. There’s more."


Being a health worker is a challenging job under any circumstance. After going through the rigors of schooling, on-the-job training and residency then actual medical work - whether in the big city hospitals or in rural health centers - the toll on body and spirit, not to mention on families, is truly unforgiving.

But no matter. Most of our health workers have labored on working long hours, caring for the sick and continuously upscaling their knowledge to keep up with the changing times. Although a good number of them have been somewhat called out for migrating to other shores and taking care of other than their own after being nurtured by taxpayer money through their schooling and early working years, they have done justice to their professions. Those left behind have had to make do with whatever the country can provide which to most, specially of those serving in the public health system, means truly dedicated work. And more so under this pandemic.

So it must have really been very disheartening to most of them to learn that their seniors, those to whom they have pledged their utmost best, have dropped the ball. Not just once. Or twice. But many times over if they go through the list of fumbles over the past ten months since the start of the lockdown.

Beginning with the earlier reassurances, even dismissive statements of Health Secretary Duque and his cohorts at the DoH, our health workers were left to their own devices to handle the coming storm. So there was a mad scramble in propping up the health system resulting in questionable guidelines and, of course, highly problematic procurement of equipment and other essentials, i.e., PPEs, test kits, laboratories, etc. To think that we were pumping money like crazy over the years at least to have our government hospitals including the health centers in each and every municipality prepared for any eventuality. So pithy was our initial response that even the Bureau of Epidemiology website, the very site primed for basic information on this virus, has yet to be used and updated. Even the accreditation and use of LGU and privately funded laboratories got delayed no end thanks to the timidity (some said incompetence) of DoH leaders. Definitely, the DoH leadership dropped the ball on this one. 

Then, when the basic essentials finally got procured at top prices, the DoH as IATF chair and prime mover, could not even muster the needed personnel to man the all too important task of providing timely and proper information on what needed to be done. So slowpoke has the DoH leadership been that they even fumbled the shifting of personnel from Samar (the least Covid 19 affected area) to Cebu (a very congested one) when the latter's cases abnormally spiked. The leadership dropped the ball once more.

When the DoH finally got a handle on their personnel concerns, came the matter of delayed payments for deceased or hospitalized health workers as provided for under the Bayanihan, Heal as One Act. It took a swipe from President Duterte to get Duque to move and start paying the covered health workers. The sense of urgency and proactive response from the DoH was simply underwhelming. Apparently, they have gotten so used to dropping the ball without any consequences that they have left their sense of duty and honor at the roadside. Dropping the ball has become such a bad habit. I could go on and on listing all the ball dropping done at the level of Duque and, to some extent, other members of the IATF.

But wait. There is more. This latest brouhaha over the procurement of the Pfizer vaccine takes the cake. Reports have it that as early as August when the race for a vaccine to save the world from further devastation from the runaway virus, Foreign Affairs Secretary TeddyBoy Locsin and Philippine Ambassador to the United States Babe Romualdez were already in touch with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a possible allocation of the Pfizer vaccine which, at that time, was the most promising among the dozen or so manufacturers. Being a long time ally and in an effort to balance the country's "pivot to China," Pompeo apparently got Pfizer to allocate 10 million doses for the country. Not only that. The US apparently got the World Bank and ADB to provide financing for the purchase which was also accepted by Pfizer. From there, the ball was passed on to Secretary Duque to get the said agreement through the DoH/DoST permitting process, the IATF and the Office of the President. In short, through the bureaucratic maze.

Of course, Duque and his group including vaccine czar retired General Carlito Galvez were also negotiating with other vaccine manufacturers to ensure that the effort to get the country vaccinated, as it were, would not be another problem. Well, to their complete surprise and utter disgust, Duque and company mismanaged the entire Pfizer operation resulting in the withdrawal of what appeared to be a very beneficial arrangement two weeks ago. Somebody, as Locsin said, dropped the ball. 

So, with such a frenzy of ball dropping by no less than the country's top health official I am at a lost on what to advise our hard working, professional health workers to do at least to inoculate themselves and their profession from a disgrace not of their own making. Sadly, we have yet to embrace the healthy tradition of Japan and other countries in the region where honor and dignity are prime virtues.   

The reason proffered by presidential spokesman Harry Roque: not being a lawyer Duque had to wait for the "look see" by the lawyers of the said agreement. Roque should have just kept his mouth shut. It turned out there was nothing to "look and see" even by the brightest lawyers Duque could muster as the vetting had been done many times over. Otherwise, the package would have been thrown to the wastebasket by Locsin, the World Bank and ADB. 

Topics: Jonathan Dela Cruz , Department of Health , DoH , Health Secretary Duque , Foreign Affairs Secretary TeddyBoy Locsin , Philippine Ambassador to the United States Babe Romualdez , US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo , Pfizer vaccine
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