Of course, there is a plan

We need one but to say there is no plan in managing the pandemic is erroneous. One has to understand PRRD and how he decides, the value of gut politics or author Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of “blink” in relation to decision makers.

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on April 7, 2020.


Let us be clear. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) was elected without any playbook. He won by throwing aside the tried and tested political/campaign playbook to everyone’s shock. Not that a playbook is no longer necessary in campaigns, politics or governing, much less in crisis or risk management. We need one but to say there is no plan in managing the pandemic is erroneous. One has to understand PRRD and how he decides, the value of gut politics or author Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of “blink” in relation to decision makers.

Blink is the power of thinking without thinking. Unconventional if one is trained in a very scientific manner. PRRD was mayor for 23 years. That will tell you the kind of lens he carries, considering, “all politics is local.” Gladwell made reference to “thin-slicing, or our ability to use limited information from a very narrow period of experience to come to a conclusion. This idea suggests that spontaneous decisions are often as good as — or even better than — carefully planned and considered ones.” On the other side of this array is the analysis/paralysis variety and we have seen in his past four years in office that PRRD prefers snap judgments. Not that it is wrong, but it is not how we are programmed to appreciate and understand big data.

We know a plan written in stone is not the way to go in a state of flux. This means anyone who comes to the table prepared somehow controls the discussion and can help more because all you need to do is put structure in the process. Agility and adaptability rules. The fact that there is much listening and backdoor collaboration are proofs that all hands are on deck. These actions are not seen by all.

Still, it is not comforting to see that the Philippine Statistical Authority does not have a seat at the table; the chief statistician of the nation is needed now. It is not encouraging to see various departments doing their surveys independent of each other, using the National Telecommunications Commission text blasting that would “generate massive bias by self-selection.” The National Economic and Development Authority links for consumers and business surveys were “dead links” when it was blasted Monday morning.

Why do I say there is a plan? Because the policy process is working sequentially and very much calibrated: two proclamations, one on public health emergency (March 8, 2020) and the other, state of calamity (March 16, 2020). Then he convened Congress for a special session on March 23, 2020, knowing he would need funding to confront the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Republic Act 11469 was signed into law on March 24, 2020 and its implementing rules and regulations formulated on April 1, 2020. From community quarantine to expanded community quarantine covering Luzon, he got people to follow and address the seriousness of the pandemic. The weakness was in communicating clearly, but since PRRD is viewed as a strong leader, the default explanation was martial law, which was not clarified in the process.

On this third week of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), a plan is evolving with strategic design, line of operations, an organizational structure at the national, regional and local levels and 13 defined critical tasks. In fact, at the local government unit (LGU) level, the concept of operations is “detect-isolate-treat.” They have phases and timelines, and even expectations for the concept of operations. There are three inter-agency task groups with their respective Implan (implementing plans), with detailed action plans. There is a task group response operations divided into sub-task group for health operations, sub-task group for mitigation operations and sub-task group for peace and order operations. And this does not take into consideration the plans of local chief executives who are very proactive in putting in place their own mitigation protocols.

In crisis, it has been drilled that all publics must speak in one voice, as this way there is clarity in the message. That is probably where the problem is. At the back of the mind of every government official, be they national or local, is the most basic communication diagram: sender, message and receiver. At the message level are various channels and a lot of noise — chatter and clutter. And that is how false news is authored. Unless government has defensive and offensive communication protocols, all of us will be swimming in data and information we will interpret on our own because there are no protocols being followed and, worse, no discipline to stick to message.

In order to speak in one voice, it should be clear to all what the problem is because in determining such, we will be able to come up with the right mix of solutions. The identification of problems and solutions constitute a plan of action. There are two problems in this pandemic: how quickly can we address Covid-19 and how do we reboot our economy?

Addressing Covid-19 is a health problem, which means we need to breathe and live data. Data will determine spread and allow us to put together a contagion protocol. Data will guide the ground in three ways: by default, we are all persons under monitoring, which necessitate monitoring via health screening and contact tracing to manage potential risks; those classified as patients under investigation from mild to severe that would need testing and self-quarantine; and Covid-19 cases, which would need medical handling. All these data are useful for impact, tracking and trending analyses. Data is the basis for what is known as actionable information for scenario building, horizon planning and policy formulation and adoption.

The debate on mass testing or targeted testing all boils down to data at the ground level. Day in and day out, we see that the data at the national and the local levels are not the same. That does not give us, the public, the assurance we need that everyone is on the same page. We cannot afford to window-dress official data because we will come up with wrong solutions to a health issue.

Proclamation 922 declared a public health emergency throughout the country. Proclamation 929 was issued declaring a state of calamity throughout the Philippines because of Covid-19. The declaration was for a period of six months, with ECQ from midnight of March 16 to April 12. The period would have been good to put together a modeling at the national and LGU levels. These are lacking still.

Actionable information is “meaningful data that is useful to making a decision or solving a problem. Data has to be timely, accurate and precise, credible, and relevant. Analysis is turning data into actionable information. When official data is questioned, we will have a problem in getting everyone to agree to a solution such as the case of the extension of the ECQ. Analyzing literally means “taking apart,” i.e., sifting through something, breaking it down into its components to better understand it. And this is where we can see that government is rowing in various directions.

There are no shared protocols in this pandemic. There is the humongous Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) in labyrinth design, which does not use the Cabinet system and even the Cabinet clusters that could have vetted things and put together a whole-of-government approach, though this is being addressed of late. There are two periodic briefings, that of the Department of Health and of late, the IATF-EID. And then there are releases being made by other secretaries, independent of the briefings. There are briefings tagged as #LagingHandaPH by PTV 4 and that of the Presidential Communications Operations Office. The use of government channels is not maximized. Still, as we progress in this pandemic, we see things evolving and urgent matters addressed.

One thing I agree with, a presidential address cannot be a sideshow for someone else’s teeth or one’s beef with the left. In the various national addresses by PRRD during this pandemic, the controlled environment does not work well because it is not him. The freewheeling delivery on the other hand, compromises presidential messaging and getting out to the public the essential information needed to be communicated in these extraordinary times.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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