What are 14 days?

A timeout requested the health care workers (HCWs) should always be seriously considered in this pandemic. The government should listen and act for they are the very health providers fighting against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on August 4, 2020.


A SOLDIER is trained to die. A health worker is trained to rescue people, to cure them. Two different tales of the tape, but they are needed by any nation. The former for discipline and strategic use of might to defend and win; the latter for science and cure. Both share one thing — grit. They serve the nation while we sleep. They are on the fringes to fight our wars.

A timeout requested the health care workers (HCWs) should always be seriously considered in this pandemic. The government should listen and act for they are the very health providers fighting against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). When they speak, politicians must listen, not ridicule or use the economic argument. Lives are important, and the economy will gain from it for a healthy populace means a strong economy. Simple as that, right?

One for the books
But no, it was not. What happened on July 28 , 2020 at the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) was that a call was made to put the National Capital Region (NCR or Metro Manila) under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), but it was not carried out when it reached President Rodrigo Duterte. So, the announcement on July 31 was for NCR to instead remain under general community quarantine (GCQ). Hence the appeal, via letter, was made publicly by HCWs on August 1. The events from that time to a presidential decision was one for the books.

Certainly, the pool testing suggested is methodologically weak; that it was made publicly bereft of science and tagged as an experiment was a collective ouch for most of us. And the so-called czars are talking more than implementing, thus the source of all the confusions now is bothersome. Were the czars officially appointed or were these self-appointments made or the communication was such that the term czar was loosely used? Wild.

It was clear earlier that standard-setting was by the IATF-EID, headed by the secretary of Health; the implementation of standards as by the National Task Force (NTF) on Covid-19, led by Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr.; and directly dealing with the local government units was done by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles was clinical in his briefings and was well appreciated by the public because of facts and not spins. He made things clearer. Today, we have a presidential spokesman who says more than what is needed, forgetting he is first and foremost the mouthpiece of the President. What he says has presidential imprimatur. He steps on the dais to enunciate presidential policies and positions on a given issue. To be spox of IATF-EID or NTF muddle presidential communication. To speak of an experiment in relation to a pandemic is worrisome. To clutter the airwaves with his own briefings, using his own experts often contradicting the daily briefing of the Department of Health has to stop.

One pay slip
Fourteen days are one pay slip. Would the private sector shout foul? Would a half a month’s salary for their workers make them worse off? Will the economy reel back badly in 14 days? When online businesses are booming and that’s why the taxman has landed on these entrepreneurs. Government should give them space in order that economic activities are enhanced even if online. We have been in all these gating protocols since March; so, what is 14 days, right? And the breather is not just for the HCWs, but also to “refine pandemic control strategies.”

What are the requests of the HCWs? The seven points were: “hospital workforce deficiency, failure of case finding and isolation, failure of contact tracing and quarantine, transportation safety, workplace safety, public compliance and self-protection,and social amelioration.”

The medical community, composed of the various associations of medical and allied professions, signed the letter. They had a zoom meeting with Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd on the morning of August 1. The Department of Health (DoH) made a statement and the Duque added his position on the request by afternoon of the same day.

If we had a sleeping or missing president, there would not have been an immediate reaction. On the same day, mid-afternoon of August 1, Duterte directed the IATF-EID to “act on these concerns immediately.”

Responses by government officials, elected and appointed, were made as comments to the call of the HCWs. Everything was fluid and all reported by the media. Proof that there is media still in what critics are saying a country where democracy is dead.

By the end of the day, the weary Cabinet members needed to agree among themselves so they could make a recommendation to the President on August 2. It’s good that the public health and the concerns of the HCWs won viz full opening of the economy. A small step to get all the bone-weary stakeholders take a collective breather and that includes the men and women of the DoH.

The Health secretary and his department have been maligned, questioned and been the designated punching bag in this pandemic. There has been a deluge of calls for the resignation of Duque. Guess that is true in any jurisdiction today. Globally, the secretary/minister of health is often at the receiving end. She or he is the dart board.

Armchair analysts, which are increasing as the virus morphs, are becoming staple food for news. They hit the leader of the department/ministry and that is a global behavior. The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also changing by the minute in their recommendations and protocols since nobody was prepared for this pandemic. While elected leaders need to be relevant so the best way for them is to ride the tide of what is popular, from resigning to questioning the data analytics when the numbers can be best explained. Earlier, they were calling for mass testing, even embracing rapid testing as the easiest way when science is not in it. They were questioning capacities and look where we are on that.

Do we set aside deaths and recoveries because the number of cases is increasing? Do we create an entry for cases that are still inconclusive or merely shock everyone that cases are one and the same? Do we set aside capacities which have been enhanced? Do we set aside people who want to be admitted to hospital at the slightest cough? Do we call to attention private hospitals who are making a killing by accepting mild or asymptomatic cases because these people can pay and they can still charge admission to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.?

Why do we have such low regard for our capabilities as a nation? Why do we doubt our leaders in a crisis? Could we find a better replacement if they resign? Would resigning be the answer? Over the weekend, the backrooms were busy from the national to local, addressing the requests and appeals of the health care workers. No, it will not be a reset but a breather for the HCWs and that is not asking much, right?

The announcement was made July 31. The appeal was made August 1 and PRRD talked to the nation August 2, all in a matter of two days. Yes, he said a mouthful, from corruption to the barangay captains who milked the Social Amelioration Program to rallyists and the communists and the vaccines plus solutions to help in easing out the two week time out. The actionable information was laid on the table; clearly a leader has to make a decision. If that is not presidential action, we probably were sleeping through it. Certainly, we will wake up with the issues addressed and there is one day to prepare everyone.

We can’t rely on government all the time. Let us do our own ECQ. As I said before HCWs should be the last line if only our barangays are working and the community is involved in the process. The barangay health workers have to be felt and the barangay officials need to seriously do their work. The barangays are the first line and the HCWs are the last. If it were the reverse, who would treat us?

When you are in the hot seat, always remember, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” A collective thank you to the quarterbacks, you know who you are.

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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