‘How nice it is to do nothing, then rest’
“HOW sweet it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward.”
We were reminded again of this proverb we picked up in Spanish 101 (“Qué dulce es no hacer nada y luego descansar.”) as we watched President Duterte fade from the TV screen after his weekly report on Tuesday from his “perpetual isolation” in Davao.
The connection between the proverb, which we often quote, and the President may not be immediately evident to some, but it could soon be as people’s savings shrink and anxieties soar while his generals play war games with the unseen coronavirus encircling us.
We were waiting for Duterte to spread on the table during his TV show a comprehensive action plan to subdue the virus that has infected some 200,000 Filipinos, killed more than 3,000 of them, and messed up the livelihood and the civil liberties of millions.
The President did not present such a plan. But providentially, Vice President Leni Robredo did when she spoke at 6 p.m. Monday, 14 hours ahead of the 8 a.m. Tuesday airing of Duterte’s pre-recorded report.
Robredo’s address, beefed up by 11 proposals, was live, on time, and in Filipino. It was clear, specific, organized, and doable. It took her 20 minutes to deliver the 2,400-word statement dwelling on how to improve the economy while fighting the pandemic.
Duterte was stung by what she said toward the end of her statement that there appears to be “no leader at the helm, no direction, no clear horizon as to when and how this pandemic will be addressed.”
Robredo had said: “At kung walang mamumuno, tayo mismo ang hahakbang, tayo mismo ang magtutulungan, tayo mismo ang bibitbit sa isa’t isa. (If there is no one leading, we ourselves will make a step, we will help each other, we will carry each other.)”
“Tayo mismo ang tititig sa mukha ng krisis na ito at buong-tapang na ihahayag: Maaari mo kaming mapaluhod, pero hindi kailanman mapipigilan ang paulit-ulit at taas-noo naming pagtindig. Pilipino kami. Mas malakas kami sa anumang pagsubok. (We will look into the face of the crisis and bravely say: You may make us kneel but you will not stop us from proudly standing up. We are Filipinos. We are strong in whatever problems we face.)”
Duterte asked Robredo not to “add fuel to the fire”. He said: “Ito namang kay Leni and her ending statement, kung hindi ko raw gawin, ng gobyerno, gagawin ng tao (if I will not do it, nor by the government, the people will do it).”
He told her in Filipino: “Do not destroy the government because it will also destroy the people. If the government is destroyed, we will all float dead. Even if you say I will die tomorrow, that cannot solve the problem of the country.”
In her address, Robredo said there need not be any conflict between attacking the problems of the pandemic and those of the economy: “Address the pandemic, and we set in motion the gears of the economy.”
She stressed, however, that an underlying element for the revival of the economy is TRUST in the government’s capacity to do things right, instead of the administration’s leaving things to the private sector and then blaming the people when things do not turn out right. Her proposals:
* We should look after medical front liners, the hospital and health care systems, the efficient gathering of data, and faster turnover of testing results. The data collected can guide planning and action. She cited data of the Department of Health showing that only 48 percent of severe and critical COVID cases were admitted to the proper hospitals. Half of those who died failed to gain admission into any hospital.
* Contact-tracing needs improvement. Based on data given by contact-tracing czar Mayor Benjamin Magalong, she noted that 37 persons should be traced for every one tested positive. In the national capital, only five persons who had come in contact with a confirmed carrier are being traced.
* Robredo endorsed a bill of Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo on unemployment insurance which would give financial aid to those who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic as well as counseling, retraining, and job matching for them.
* Businesses whose products, services, and setup directly address the pandemic should be assisted. Examples are garment manufacturers that can be realigned to making personal protective equipment (PPEs). They should be helped in meeting required standards.
* Also help Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) requiring an online digital payment system. Small community-based businesses also need assistance in opening bank accounts. Their closure had affected some 2.6 million individuals. Local governments can be mobilized to help.
* Overseas Filipino Workers returning in big numbers after being displaced need quick assistance. Reintegration and livelihood programs should be opened for them.
* On hunger, the ayuda or cash assistance program for the poorest of the poor should be improved to include more beneficiaries over a longer period. More money should be allocated and steps taken to plug leakages.
* Related to hunger is food production. Assistance must be maximized to farmers, fishermen, and livestock growers. Support infrastructure should be improved to protect the supply chain and improve the returns to producers who have consistently contributed to strengthening the economy.
* The crisis has shown the urgency of correcting income inequality across businesses and industries. The review of income disparity must include health front liners and teachers. Their heroic role in fighting the pandemic has shown they deserve society’s repaying them.
* The pandemic has highlighted the need to upgrade the digital infrastructure. Improved internet access will boost distance-learning and improve the efficiency of various business models one of whose components is communication.