Pandemic is litmus test for local officials

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    THE onset of February 2021 is significant because it marks the first full year of the extensive presence of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in the Philippines. The first suspected case in the country was investigated on Jan. 22, 2020. The following February was a period of frightening community transmissions with some 633 cases by March 1. Before the month of March ended, the World Health Organization had to declare a worldwide pandemic of COVID-19.

    In these past 12 months, the national government has relied on local government units (LGUs) in implementing strict lockdowns, including the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and its concomitant strictly stay-at-home policy. Following the economic standstill that resulted from the long lockdown, local officials such as governors, mayors, barangay chairmen and kagawads were again utilized to distribute subsidies of cash and goods, protective and sanitary supplies, etc.

    ‘… how can he be allowedto receive salaries for the time that he has never reported for work inside the city hall?’

    The pandemic, therefore, has become the litmus test on the leadership and efficiency of mayors and barangay heads. Several of them like Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto displayed extraordinary energy and caring for their constituents, doing whatever is necessary to fight the epidemic and mobilizing the citizens to get involved and cooperate.

    Others like Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte and Navotas Mayor Toby Tiangco are not as effective, if recent online comments of their citizens are any indication. Both cities are known to follow the policy of strong-arm implementation of health protocols like wearing of face masks and bullying people who fail to observe protocols.

    At least, Belmonte was often in her office at QC City Hall to act on complaints and tap the wrists of her over-eager protocol implementers. In Navotas, the mayor was reportedly seldom seen at city hall.

    In fact, Mayor Tobias Reynald “Toby” Tiangco is facing a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman due to his reported failure to physically report for work, which resulted in unreasonable ordinances being imposed in the city. Former barangay chairman Estelito Bautista filed the complaint for graft, breach of conduct, and violation of the Local Government Code, accusing Tiangco of not reporting to Navotas City Hall since the community quarantine was first implemented on March 12, 2020.

    “How can he responsibly perform his duties if he has not reported for work since then?

    More importantly, how can he be allowed to receive salaries for the time that he has never reported for work inside the city hall?” Bautista asked the Ombudsman in his complaint.

    While it is up to the Office of the Ombudsman to probe the merit or lack of merit of this complaint, we recognize the logic behind the Department of Interior and Local Government’s policy of requiring all local officials, especially mayors, to be in their respective stations during emergencies such as typhoons, earthquakes and epidemics.

    The DILG realizes that the LGU is the face of the State in the community, in the grassroots level, and if the the mayors are not physically there, who will hear the voices and the plaints of the people?

    It is no wonder that DILG Secretary Eduardo Año himself cracks the whip on absentee mayors

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