For decency’s sake | Inquirer Opinion
Hints and Symbols

For decency’s sake

/ 05:07 AM March 22, 2021

In February, Ecuador health minister Juan Carlos Zevallos resigned from his position after he was criticized for irregularities in vaccine rollout.

In Peru, foreign minister Elizabeth Astete also resigned in the middle of a political scandal over officials getting COVID-19 vaccines before the general public. She was the second official to resign over such scandals; the country’s health minister had also resigned following reports that their ex-president had received his own vaccinations way back in October. This president himself had been impeached after being found “morally incompetent.”

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Argentina’s health minister Ginés González García also resigned from his post after accusations about VIPs and other well-connected persons jumping the queue and receiving vaccinations outside of the government’s prioritization scheme. The president called for his resignation, saying that García had been a good health minister but that his part in this scandal was “unforgivable.”

All these scandals are lamentable, especially as they happened in nations that were hard hit by COVID-19 and were now left reeling from people’s resentment and loss of public trust. Still, comparing the situation with the Philippines’ own just underlines how vastly different our government’s response is to such matters.

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It is plain to see that public trust has never been a priority in our country’s COVID-19 response. Of prominent officials who were part of “irregularities” here, none have received their just deserts. Whether it was violating quarantine, holding large gatherings, participating in VIP testing, or getting COVID-19 vaccines early, no act has been foul enough to receive a heavy reprimand from the President (who has bent these rules himself) — rather, more often than not the individuals responsible have been under his easy protection. Certainly none have had the grace to resign from their posts.

And then there is our health secretary, Francisco Duque III. He’s been under fire for several issues since the start of the pandemic. I’ve seen the hashtag #DuqueResign so many times that it feels like a recurring trend. The Senate called for his resignation during the investigation for massive corruption in PhilHealth. Groups of health workers have repeatedly called for the same, calling out the secretary’s incompetence and negligence in handling the pandemic, as well as the department’s lack of data transparency and incidences of mixed health messaging. He has been criticized too for not speaking louder on issues that affect public safety, such as the (scientifically insupportable) decrease in minimum distance between passengers in public transport. He has been criticized for not calling more strongly for an early travel ban, both during the start of the pandemic and during the advent of new variants. More calls for resignation were made after the secretary “dropped the ball” in vaccine procurement last year. Just this week, the group Filipino Nurses United called for Duque’s replacement as well, while calling for an improvement in the working conditions of health workers, including adequate compensation and regularization for contractual workers.

Despite all this, the health secretary continues to muddle along. After incompetence upon incompetence, he continues to place the blame of rising COVID-19 cases on “quarantine fatigue” and on the public breaching health protocols, even being televised distributing face shields to underscore his point. He continues to be unsympathetic in his privilege, recently saying he’s had 56 swabs which were all negative due to his carefulness. (I know many health workers in the frontlines, handling patients in the ER and wards, who have not been swabbed even once.) In maintaining his position under the President’s inexplicable trust, he continues to display an insensitivity and willful ignorance that continues to cost health workers, and the rest of the public, dearly. How many more must call for Duque’s resignation? Does public trust really mean nothing?

One recalls how President Duterte issued a warning to Toll Regulatory Board officials in December to fix the system of issuance and use of RFID stickers. “If you cannot perform what is expected of you,” he’d said at the time, “the best you can do, for decency’s sake, resign and do not wait to be fired.” If only he had the same standards for the premier health official in the country as we deal with our biggest health crisis yet.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, Francisco Duque III, government incompetence, Hints and Symbols, Kay Rivera, Rodrigo Duterte
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