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Manila Bulletin - 2021-05-05

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A proper tribute

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JEJOMAR C. BINAY FORMER VICE PRESIDENT jcbinay11@gmail.com

The discredited Health Secretary, asked if the country could also experience the unprecedented number of infections and deaths from COVID19 being recorded in India, said that such a grim scenario could happen if the public fails to observe the minimum health protocols mandated by government. By now, it has become typical not only of the Health Secretary but of senior government officials as well to blame the public for any misfortune that might befall them and the country during this pandemic. Like most countries, we are experiencing a surge in infections. The total number has breached one million and is still rising. And for the Health Secretary and his cohorts in government, it is generally our fault. It should also be apparent by now that the last thing these government officials would do is to acknowledge their own shortcomings, to admit to their lapses and their chronic acts of inefficiency that has led us to where we are today. Decades from now, future scholars of governance and public policy will review the accounts of this pandemic and wonder why government, adequately warned about the emerging threat to public health and with adequate fiscal resources at its disposal, failed to act immediately. And even after more than a year, and the consequences of locking down the country’s economic centers and businesses already evident, it has failed to craft and implement measures to ease the discomfort and displacement of millions of citizens. Recall that in the early stages of the hard lockdown, thousands were stranded in Metro Manila and other localities, yet those in government acted as if these stranded kababayans did not exist. Instead of offering aid, as it is government’s responsibility to care for citizens in distress, it chose to dismiss them as hard headed and lacking in discipline. “Matitigas ang ulo at walang disiplina” would become familiar phrases, and a convenient label, even for those who had no choice but to brave the raging pandemic in order to earn and feed their hungry families. Blaming the citizens for government’s failing - ignoring in the process the basic duty to care, provide, and serve - has become part of the communication template. With no other source of daily sustenance, the poor and the newly unemployed had no other option but to accept the indignity of being insulted, hauled to detention centers for breaking lockdown regulations, and being made to line up in the baking sun only for a meager “ayuda.” Labor Day would have been a proper venue for government to present a new persona, to roll out a “care package” that would send the message that government has finally found its compassion and empathy for the poor and the suffering. But as we had expected, the government devoted much of Labor Day to ceremonial events, empty tributes, and the unveiling of yet another supposed comprehensive strategy to lift the conditions of the workers. It was the Trade Secretary who announced the existence of a National Employment Recovery Program, supposedly an eight-point strategy with a total funding of ₱1.4 trillion, to be implemented this year. It is intended, he said, to help some 4.5 million Filipinos who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Reviewing media reports about the program, it becomes clear that the socalled new initiative is in reality a compilation of existing and newly funded programs of the various departments and agencies, and a wish list of laws it wants Congress to approve. If government is really intent on showing gratitude to our workers, it only needs to do several simple things. First is to give them cash aid and other economic benefits sufficient enough to help them tide over the pandemic. Second is to guarantee the protection of workers who need to go to work by giving them free swab tests, and allowing the private sector not only to procure vaccines for their employees but to vaccinate them. And last, it should follow the example set by community pantries and provide food and basic items to those in need. Workers do not need platitudes or tributes to the value of their work, or promises of comfort in the years ahead. They do not need assurances of an improved future. They need concrete government presence now.

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