I’VE caught several press briefings of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in recent days, and I have to say that his handling of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is quite impressive. He always details the plan, takes responsibility for every step the state takes, doesn’t sugarcoat the gravity of the situation, but manages to convey calm and security to whoever is watching. Some friends in New York have made this observation: “Similar to what is happening back at home, folks here are satisfied with the local government than federal,” one friend said in a message. Perhaps the parallelism is all too real.
Here in the Philippines, the past week has shown us the difference between local governments that do, those that do nothing, and those who simply…disappear. Once told by national government in so many words that the bulk of the responsibility in running the enhanced community quarantine will be left to local governments, some went ahead and did their thing. The local chief executives of Pasig, Valenzuela, Marikina, Makati, Manila, Iloilo City, and Roxas City went ahead and took their task seriously, often surprising the public (and generating envy from non-constituents, if I may add) with their out-of-the-box thinking and quick action. Unfortunately, the mayors of some cities are now mere memories, worthy of airtime in the now-defunct portion of the late Inday Badiday’s show Eye to Eye, where she makes public service announcements for missing persons.
Every day, the news seem to get bleaker and bleaker: more of our frontliners are falling ill because of lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), our hospitals have been forced to go on radio programs to appeal for PPE donations. Our health care workers, instead of being assured of transportation and mobility, have had to deal with red tape from the Inter-Agency Task Force, who demanded that they get additional permits when they have their PRC and hospital identification cards. And yet, congressmen had the gall to hold up a sign with cut-out letters pasted on Manila paper that said: “Together with doctors and front liners, we went to work for you, so please stay home for us.” The collective cry of disgust was instant: as of this writing, the phrase “ANG KAKAPAL” was third top trending topic in the Philippines on Twitter, garnering about 14,900 tweets.
And because these self-proclaimed frontliners/congressmen went ahead and passed without much thought President Rodrigo Duterte’s bill to grant unto himself emergency powers to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the bill itself wasn’t given a thorough review. A bid to give an already powerful Chief Executive should always, always be scrutinized in the most judicious way, without sacrificing precious time. One wonders how many of these congressmen called their resident legal eagles when the draft was submitted to Congress—to parse through the provisions and consider its impact and necessity.
Without even traversing the slippery slope of whether we trust the incumbent asking for more powers (most presidents post-EDSA encounter this sort of resistance whenever emergency powers is raised, if I recall correctly), perhaps the question we should be asking is: is it necessary? Has the current administration exhausted the entire width and breadth of powers available under the 1987 Constitution to combat the pandemic and if so, did they come up empty-handed? Or are they empty-handed because they are running around like headless chickens? (No offense meant to headless chickens.)
Let’s see what we have so far: a community lockdown announced without any detail at all, leaving people to their own devices; an enhanced community lockdown that apparently had no mobility plan for essential workers, no plan for ensuring the continuous movement of the food supply chain. Barangay captains enforcing quarantine schedules based on fake news. The less fortunate left with no options for food, just the admonition of “sumunod na lang kayo,” or “walang namamatay sa gutom.” These are lines fit for telenovela kontrabidas, not government officials in times of crisis.
So no, please excuse everyone who thinks that this ploy for emergency powers is nothing but a whim on the part of the current administration, but we’re not having any of it. They can’t even properly wield the authority that they have now to address our problems, and they want more? Hard pass, please.
Everything that they need to do now–ensure the unimpeded movement of goods to and from Luzon, funding for family food packs to reach the most vulnerable (this is why you have the Quick Response Fund plus the Calamity Fund, not to mention the money that PAGCOR and PCSO contribute to the Presidential Social Fund), or buying the needed medical supplies for hospitals (emergency procurement is allowed under existing procurement rules, especially when a state of calamity has been declared)–is all within reach at the moment, with the current authority that the Chief Executive has. It’s also not as if the private sector hasn’t stepped up to help that you need takeover powers to force them. The request defies logic, really; all circumstances point to their penchant to asking for emergency powers as a band-aid solution to complications they themselves caused.
Since lives are at stake, I hope fervently that those in the upper echelons start making decisions that can do good for the people they protect–ones that can flatten the curve and slow the spread of the coronavirus, while making sure that people are properly informed so they can follow the rules, and sending aid to the vulnerable in the urban poor sector. And finally, that they get over themselves beyond cheap Manila paper signs and empty virtue signaling and show real, tangible support for our front liners.