Burnt out and hunkering down
President Duterte’s decision to grant the appeal for the reimposition of stricter quarantine on Mega Manila is a welcome development for the medical community. It allows for a possible pause in the burgeoning number of COVID-19 cases and for “burnt out” health professionals to recoup their energies and refine their strategies against the pandemic.
But the decision was not without the usual shoot-from-the-hip of Mr. Duterte’s spokesperson, who early on Saturday declared that the lockdown imposed in March had “served its purpose” and that the government would now focus on “other strategies” to rein in the pandemic. That within hours Harry Roque would take a less supercilious tone and announce that the President had directed the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to look into the concerns raised by the medical community in a letter — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the IATF would discuss the matter on Aug. 3; Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea jumped the gun on him and called the Cabinet to a meeting that very night of Aug. 1 — suggested that Malacañang was seeing the wisdom of listening to voices other than its own.
It’s about time.
Still, something worrisome emerged from Mr. Duterte’s announcement late Sunday night of a reimposed modified enhanced community quarantine on Aug. 4-18, which is stricter than the general community quarantine that he had ordered continued on Aug. 1-15. Segueing to a fine pique, he assailed the medical community for making its appeal public, in an online press conference, when, he said, it could have made its case directly to him. He accused it of “demeaning” the government. He railed at those he described as “sigaw-sigaw ng rebolusyon.” He challenged those making a “spectacle” of being “ready to stop [working] tomorrow” to, as it were, make his day.
Does this pique indicate a gulf between ruler and ruled, where the latter appeals for attention to its dire straits of which the former appears totally unaware — and angry that the information is getting to him edgewise? Has the President become isolated? Are his minders not telling him enough? Is it true that gaining an audience with him or even getting his attention is like punching at the moon?
And the Department of Health led by teflon man Francisco Duque III? Per Dr. Mario Panaligan, president of the Philippine College of Physicians which was among the 80 medical societies that made the appeal, the PCP wrote to the DOH in April to reserve test kits for health workers to be deployed on a two-week duty rotation. Three months later, nothing.
At any rate, Panaligan disavowed any thought of revolution and thanked Mr. Duterte for the MECQ. Other health professionals also said as much in media interviews. But one pointedly said, correctly, that the stricter quarantine to give health workers a breather was only one factor in the issue, and that whether reforms would be put in place remained to be seen.
In making its appeal to the President, the medical community cited “overwhelmed” hospitals in the National Capital Region as well as government “failures” in case-finding and isolation and in contact tracing and quarantine. It raised concerns for health workers’ “transportation safety, workplace safety, … self-protection and social amelioration.”
Vice President Leni Robredo and certain other officials backed the points raised as well as the necessity of meeting the health workers’ need for a “timeout.” Even the DOH, in a statement dated Aug. 1 but released only the next day—somehow suggesting, in these fraught times, a hesitant commitment—promised to upgrade its strategy within the week and to augment the health care workforce in the NCR.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, who is understandably concerned about how a new lockdown would impact the nation’s economic health, saw no reason for stricter quarantine. Lopez also questioned the accuracy of “critical hospitalization rates” and claimed that hospitals were “not allocating the mandated bed capacity for COVID-19 cases.” That he quickly modified his position to sound supportive of health workers suggests an uneasy sense of the growing weight of public indignation.
That same uneasy sense seems to have moved Roque to explain the President’s pique as arising partly from the rising anthem of the protest movement — the Filipino translation of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from that Broadway immortal, “Les Miserables.”
Meanwhile, the public health crisis still raging all these months, the people are hunkering down for more pain and suffering. MSMEs are about ready to throw in the towel, if they haven’t done so. Hunger looms. We must pull together to arrest the virus’ further spread, and give our valiant, much-beleaguered health frontliners time to breathe.
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