POSTSCRIPT / April 16, 2020 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Watching how gov’t decisions are made

WE the people had a rare peek into how life-changing government decisions are made when Malacañang presented on television its Monday Night Live show hosted by no less than President Duterte.

Billed as a briefing on government moves to protect Filipinos from the coronavirus (COVID-19) scourge that erupted last December in China and has now infected at least 2,005,600 around the world, 5,223 of them in the Philippines, the show looked at times like a Blame Game.

In his opening salvo, Duterte attacked the communist Left for the absence of a national ID that, he said, could have ensured the smooth and even distribution of cash and relief goods to those languishing in the lockdown areas.

The President failed to mention that he already signed RA 11055 way back in August 2018 that integrated government IDs by establishing a national identification system. The “Left” and others objecting to it have long lost the fight, leaving the implementation to the government.

Duterte also sideswiped the United States, whose number of infected victims (614,250) and dead (26,065) put it on top of the global COVID-19 charts, prompting it to invite foreign health workers, including Filipino nurses, to consider moving to the US.

Ang problema ngayon itong Amerikano,” he said. “You could have relied on your own human resource — ibig sabihin, dapat kayo, umasa sana sa mga sariling mga tao ninyo.” (The problem now is the Americans. You could have relied on your own human resource.)

Maristela Abenojar, president of Filipino Nurses United, remarked on ANC: “We want nurses to be hired with full security. There are volunteer nurses who have been asked to sign a waiver saying should they contract COVID-19, the health department would have no responsibility over them.”

Adverting to an opinion of Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. that the government cannot stop departing Filipino workers who have valid contracts abroad as that would be an impairment of the obligation of contracts and their right to travel, Duterte said:

“I’d like to take the opposite view that itong ganito sa ordinary times, talagang hindi kayo mapigilan at walang makasabi sa inyo umalis kayo o huwag, tanggap kayo, magpirma ka ng kontrata. But during an emergency yung sa ibang bansa, gaya ng China, pag sinabi ng China para, para. Pag sinabi ng China bukas, bukas.

Ngayon, yung Hubei, saan nanggaling itong corona, naka-lockdown. Ngayon open na sila, open na ang airport. Kasi nung sinabi ni… ng authority ni Xi Jinping, stay home for 59 days, naputol nila ang… Wala talagang lumalabas ni isa.”

Reacting to reports that a patient in Cabanatuan had died after being rejected by six hospitals, Duterte warned that if the reports were true, he would throw the book at the hospital officials.

He vented his ire on hospitals rejecting patients. He warned: “Itong namatay na hindi tinanggap ng anim na hospital (sa Cabanatuan), I don’t know if this is true. You know guys, mali ‘yan. So pag totoo ‘yan, I will really ask the justice department to prosecute you kasi alam ninyo na hindi pwede ‘yan, especially the government hospital.

Merong gobyerno. You could have just looked for a house there na ano o kwarto kung saan adjunct diyan sa hospital at i-sanitize na ninyo at doon ninyo nilagay.”

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles told media the next day that the President has approved a P50.8-billion wage subsidy for around 3.4 million middle-class workers whose jobs were affected by the Luzon-wide lockdown.

Called the Small Business Wage Subsidy, the program will benefit workers of some 2.6 million micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) forced to stop operations. The individual subsidy ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 would be given for two months starting May 1.

The program was presented to the President by Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez and his team during a meeting in Malacañang of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases on Monday night.

Unlike informal workers, the beneficiaries are easier to locate and identify through their records with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Social Security System.

On Duterte’s tapping big business’s help in funding the government amelioration program for affected workers, Arthur Tan, chief executive of Ayala firm Integrated Micro-Electronics Inc., said Tuesday the government should not be over-dependent on the private sector.

With his company into manufacturing abroad, producing electronics for the automotive, industrial, and aerospace market, Tan has seen how other countries responded to the crisis. He shared his observations during the online general membership meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines.

He said the problem should be viewed not only from a health perspective but also from an economic angle, because the economy supports people.

“We all want to help,” he said. “But if the idea is that we’re going to help to the level that there will no longer be an economy to come back to, I think that’s false hope.”

Many big companies were asked at the beginning of the lockdown to provide free lodging and transportation for their employees. Businesses firms were also asked to keep paying their idled workers.

Toward the end of his briefing, Duterte said: “I have a sort of a note from President Xi Jinping expressing his full support for us at this time and citing what we did to help China and of course to erase the… not really erase but to counter the malign that they were suffering at early at this stage.

“Hindi naman nila kasalanan galing yung — who would really want to invent a microbe to kill humankind pati ‘yung iyo. So he says that they are ready and I would like to thank President Xi Jinping for his support. At kung galing lang China, wala kayong problema?”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 16, 2020)

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