An urgent SOS from our frontliners

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    ‘What the good doctors said in essence (again, too polite and professional to express directly) — and what citizens have been saying for the past few months — the leadership of the DOH is not doing its job. It has no plan.’

    THE alarm has been sounded—loud, clear, incessant as bells. But will they listen?

    I watched the press conference streamed online by different medical societies and associations a few days back and the first thing that struck me was: “Wow, they’re all here.” From the Philippine Medical Association, the Philippine College of Physicians, and 38 other medical societies, our entire medical community turned up and united to take this stand and ask the government to implement a two-week return to the enhanced community quarantine.

    “Unprecedented” was the next thought that entered my mind, knowing that the medical societies tend to keep to their own fields of concern in ordinary times, rarely banding together to speak publicly and in such a grave manner. Professionals to the core, many of them chose to keep quiet or simply stay out of non-medical national issues. But it seems the time for silence has now passed, judging by the common sentiment aired by the representatives of the different societies during the press conference.

    Their appeal is simple: a two-week ECQ will allow our frontliners to recalibrate and re-strategize about how best to deal with the still surging COVID-19 cases. They appealed to the Department of Health to come up with a plan and to lead our doctors and health workers in fighting this pandemic. The message was diplomatic, but quite strong and clear: “We propose the ECQ be used as a timeout to refine our pandemic control strategies addressing the following urgent conditions or problems: hospital workforce efficiency, failure of case finding and isolation, failure of contact tracing and quarantine, transportation safety, workplace safety, public compliance with self-protection, social amelioration,” said Dr. Jose Santiago, president of the Philippine Medical Association, while reading the open letter.

    What the good doctors said in essence (again, too polite and professional to express directly)—and what citizens have been saying for the past few months—the leadership of the DOH is not doing its job. It has no plan. Our health care workers and hospitals are in reality on their own when it comes to fighting the coronavirus. And yet, these appeals have fallen on deaf ears, brushed aside and even jeered by our own public officials, who have spared no effort to promote their supposed efforts to help Filipinos through these tough times.

    This obstinate opposition to any outside opinion was on full display when one of the government czars (at this point it’s easy to confuse and forget them, too many czars and too little results) said that the IATF would meet yesterday (the press conference was last Friday) to discuss the recommendations of the doctors. Apparently, those in government simply did not deem the alarm raised as urgent enough to schedule even a video conference among decision makers on the same day.

    President Duterte tried to save the day by convening the IATF and speaking to the public last Sunday evening, except that the entire address was derailed by other issues—the NPA, threats to barangay officials for alleged corruption, and other meandering issues. The President seemed to lose track of the most urgent matter at hand (and why they called the meeting in the first place) until Secretary Francisco Duque prodded him about his decision regarding the IATF’s proposal to impose a modified enhanced community quarantine in NCR and neighboring areas.

    While the President did give his assent to the proposal, there was little else by way of policy pronouncements regarding the rest of the concerns raised by the medical community—nothing on a road map addressing hospital workforce efficiency, failure of case finding and isolation, failure of contact tracing and quarantine, transportation safety, workplace safety, public compliance with self-protection, social amelioration.

    Instead, the President lambasted the medical community for speaking out—they could’ve sent a private letter instead, he whined. Do not demean the government, he lamented. Don’t start a revolution, he added, much to the surprise of ordinary folk who were listening. Clearly, the President was misinformed about the tone and tenor of the appeal delivered by the medical community. While urgent, none of the statements could be construed as calling for a revolution or even disrespectful of power, unless you are a blind fanatic dead set on protecting your idol, at whatever cost.

    Despite the assurances of his mouthpieces to the contrary, complete with their attempts to spout platitudes to honor our front liners, we now have it straight from the horse’s mouth: despite your sacrifices, despite your selflessness—you either agree with us or suffer the ire (and corresponding verbal abuse) from the Commander-in-Chief. Isn’t that wonderful?

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