President Duterte’s dilemma

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On Monday, June 15, beleaguered President Rodrigo R. Duterte will make a very important announcement that may either make or break the success of the government’s response against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

With all the valuable data poured into his lap, among his options are: to extend the general community quarantine (GCQ) in Metro Manila and Cebu City or to place these country’s metropolis on modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).

But the real dilemma of the president is how to balance public economic need versus public health safety issue. We can hear marginalized people who are constrained from earning a living say that they are “saved from the virus but not from hunger.”  Definitely, the Social Amelioration Program, the support from the Department of Labor and the Department of Agricultural and other aid from government’s coffers are not sufficient to alleviate their plight. The question of whether or not they received these dole-outs is another matter.

The death of a stranded overseas Filipino worker waiting for her ride home to Bicol is but a faint glimpse of the state of government service amid the pandemic. A tip of the proverbial iceberg of “kapalpakan” and “hit-and-miss strategy,” according to groups critical to the government. Of course there are many successes and best practices in the overall government’s response to the pandemic but in the end, it is the people’s general welfare that matters.

According to a study by the World Bank in May, “an estimated 60 million people may fall into extreme poverty due to the pandemic, which would erase three years of progress globally.”  In 2015, there were 734 million people or 10 percent of the world’s population in extreme poverty, which is defined as living on less than US$1.90.  

World Bank Group President David Malpass, in a statement said, “To return to growth, our goal must be rapid, flexible responses to tackle the health emergency, to provide case and other expandable support to protect the poor, maintain the private sector and strengthen economic resilience and recovery.”

On the other hand, the president will surely consider the rising foreign and domestic debt of the country. Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III bluntly told congress that the trillions of pesos in stimulus bills, which they passed to revive the post-pandemic economy cannot be funded.   Among the programs that legislators wanted financing were the proposed Php 1.3-trillion Accelerated Recovery and Investment Stimulus for the Economy (Arise) and the Php 1.5-trilion Covid-19 Unemployment Reduction and Economic Stimulus (Cures).

Domiguez said that if these proposals are considered, the 2020 budget deficit would increase to Php 3.0-trillion or double the current deficit of Php 1.613-trillion, which is equivalent to 8.4 percent of gross domestic product.

But Covid-19 is still a big and health issue.  A team of mathematicians from the University of the Philippines has recommended a status quo or even higher restriction of the general community quarantine (GCQ) in Metro Manila and Cebu City.  They cited the average transmission rate of the country of 1.2 which is better the previous weeks of 1.3-1.4 but will still increase confirmed cases in the country to 40,000 and deaths to 1,850 by the end of June.

One UP professor succinctly said “If we cannot solve the biology, then we will not have recovery.” In truth and in fact, a reliable vaccine may not be available for general public use until January or February 2021.  The country has recently accepted the offer of China to be part of latter’s test on possible Covid-19 vaccine.  Earlier the country also joined similar tests conducted by the World Health Organization.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque anticipated that there are only three options for the president which are the MECQ, the highest level of restriction, and the GCQ and the modified GCQ. Under MGCQ, public gatherings would be allowed up to 50 percent of a venue’s capacity, and more public transportation would be permitted.

According to the data of the Department of Health, the national caseload reached to 25,392 with 504 “fresh” cases as of June 11. Meanwhile, the local health office of Cebu City had recorded 167 new infections on Friday, June 12, bringing a total confirmed cases to 3,361 with 1,710 recoveries and 33 deaths. So everything is now in the hands of the president. Let us hope that he will side on the greatest good for the country.  Let us also do our share by donning our face mask all the time, maintaining physical distancing, observe personal hygiene and go out only when necessary.  “Bawal ang pasaway sa panahong ito!”

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