Compliance and equity
As President Duterte has said repeatedly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the only solution to the spread of the coronavirus is the emergence of an effective vaccine. It seemed that in his view, the more standard protections—frequent hand-washing, wearing masks and face shields, keeping one’s distance from others and quarantining—were but temporary stopgap measures until the miraculous vaccine or vaccines emerged.
What the President and many others frequently failed to mention, though, was another crucial factor in the battle against the virus: human behavior. Compliance with all the rules and guidelines issued by authorities was just as crucial as the many other steps that needed to be taken to protect individuals, families, and communities from COVID-19.
As Dr. Daisy Fancourt of the UK COVID-19 Social Study at University College London wrote in The Guardian, “Compliance has been one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented concepts of this pandemic.” In the initial days of the virus in the UK early last year, despite dire warnings of the onset of “behavioral fatigue,” compliance was very good, indeed exemplary, with 97 percent of respondents expressing compliance with the rules. “During emergencies,” said Fancourt, “humans are actually primed to act in the collective interest.”
But in the months that followed, there occurred a marked decrease among the public’s willingness to abide by the rules. And this, said Fancourt, may be traced in part to the case of Dominic Cummings, senior adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who breached strict lockdown rules when he traveled from London to his family home over 400 kilometers away. Cummings later left his post.
“Goodwill turned to anger and upset, largely targeted towards the government that defended Cummings’ actions,” noted Fancourt. “Trust in the government to handle the pandemic took a sharp downward turn in England, from which it has not recovered since.”
In these parts, the end, or at least a semblance of control over COVID-19, looms nigh with the anticipated arrival and approval of vaccines. But problematically, surveys report a still substantial proportion of Filipinos resisting the idea of vaccination due to fear of side effects and lingering doubts about the safety of vaccines. This hasn’t been helped any by the air of mistrust created around the entire issue of immunization, what with reports of smuggled unauthorized vaccines used furtively by select individuals, among them the presidential guards, as well as politicians, the moneyed, and Chinese overseas gaming workers. “A black market for illegal coronavirus vaccines is thriving in the Philippines,” the Washington Post has reported.
And as if to add insult to injury, the most prominent case of an official violating the rules on social distancing, that of Sen. Koko Pimentel who broke quarantine to accompany his pregnant wife to a hospital, has ended in the dismissal of the case. That the dismissal hinged on a technicality, despite the same rules having been used to arrest thousands of other alleged violators—many of them subjected to prolonged detention and harsh punishment—leaves a bitter aftertaste, and once more puts the lie to government posturing that the law is being applied equitably.
There’s an ongoing Senate hearing on the national government’s policies and preparations for the expected nationwide roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines. So far, the explanations have fallen far short of the demands of transparency and accountability. Former general Carlito Galvez Jr., appointed the “vaccine czar,” has come under fire for refusing to give details about the price negotiations on the Chinese vaccine Sinovac, which is being touted energetically not just by Galvez and presidential mouthpiece
Harry Roque, but even by President Duterte himself.
Questions continue to surround the vaccination months ago of the Presidential Security Group, since the Food and Drug Administration had not greenlighted the importation, much less the use, of any vaccine, whether from China or elsewhere. A clear violation of the law, but Duterte allies have predictably rushed to the administration’s defense. Sen. Bato dela Rosa insisted nothing illegal took place, even declaring that “FDA-approved o hindi, buhay ko ito. Wala akong pakialam diyan sa FDA, kung approved nila o hindi ’yan basta buhay ko nakasalalay, I have to decide for my own life.”
A lawmaker—and former chief law enforcer—scorning the law. There, in a nutshell, is the mentality of entitlement, privilege, and self-interest that seems to permeate the country’s circles of power. Equity, in terms of access and affordability, remains an elusive goal. No wonder Filipinos remain skeptical, cynical, and resistant, resentful of the uneven toll of hardship borne by the rich and the poor in these parts.
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