The measure of a government in a crisis isn’t whether in the rush to act, mistakes are made and things go wrong, but how mistakes are fixed, and the time taken to sort out unanticipated problems when they arise.The past weeks have been a catalog of the public coping with restrictions, not all of them wise or even necessary. Just when it seemed the public was helpless, there have been instances during the fight vs. COVID-19 and the Luzon lockdown when public opinion, even expressed virtually, produced quick results from officials. This is a remarkable trend where officials who’d gamed social media have found their old swarming techniques useless. I put forward 10 examples.
1) Cancellation of the DOT scheme to stimulate tourism during COVID-19 crisis by having big mall sales.
2) Administration outrage over Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto finding local solutions led to other mayors adopting his solutions and the administration toning down its hostility.
3) DTI worked on the AFP and PNP to allow essential goods and personnel to travel; later expanded to allow all goods to travel.
4) Administration outrage over Vice President Leni Robredo finding transport solution for health workers shifted to scrambling to produce its own transport plan.
5) DILG “clarified” that quarantine passes aren’t national policy.
6) Public concern over proposed power to take over corporations led to Executive backtracking and Congress restricting the scope of emergency powers.
7) Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra relents and revises rules to permit use of confiscated medical equipment where needed, instead of just storing it as evidence.
8) Less-than-minimum-wage for volunteer health workers provoked outrage and led the DOH to announce it would “study” raising compensation.
9) Politicians hoping to get praised for being so hardworking that they got exposed to the virus, instead, by revealing exposure and results, became objects of public hatred for having access to testing kits amid the absence of mass testing plans.
10) Heavy-handed, even brutal, administration of quarantines, curfews, and checkpoints, even with the courts AWOL, led to military, police, and civilian officials at least making token reassurances that such behavior isn’t condoned and will be punished.
I asked if others could think of instances where public opinion led to the reversal/improvement of something wrong in the implementation of anti-COVID-19 measures during the Luzon lockdown and elsewhere. Veteran journo Inday Espina Varona added three: “1) DOLE order limiting financial aid only to regular employees expanded to casual employees in govt, and then the private sector, on the prodding of unions and activists on social media”; 2) “Negros Occidental governor recalled order banning govt hospital personnel from asking public for PPE donations within a day due to social media outcry from doctors and their public;” and 3) “DTI has new directive to allow senior citizens priority in shopping; previously, many LGUs banned seniors from going out to do shopping.”
Another reader responded, “[Rectifying] the ‘error’ of replacing current RITM director.” And there are others probably overlooked. As testing ramps up, PPEs become more plentiful, and LGUs and the national government learn to cooperate more efficiently, people will feel more relieved and willing to look ahead to life somehow normalizing again.
Even as the government is proving itself capable of adapting to a changing situation, a very interesting summary of the IATF-Private Sector meeting via Zoom last Sunday circulated online. My take: Interesting that the big corporate players have their own data scientists making estimates of when the pandemic will peak; that a Cabinet official identified “non-earners” as people to “isolate” moving forward; that there may be consensus for a two-week Luzon lockdown extension as government is only starting isolation facilities. People were quick to point out the absence of DOH, true; and it seems at least one big businessman at the meeting was mortified that the details leaked, but they should reconsider keeping things totally secret.
Instead of waiting hours for the President to go through the motions of saying things, the public would do well to read, discuss, and weigh in, on topics raised in such meetings. It would be an April Fool’s joke—and cruel—if those actively thinking through our national problems lack the guts to share even executive summaries of their discussions with the public that will be affected by their decisions.