MANILA - The Philippine government on Wednesday received a failing grade from several experts for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte's penultimate State of the Nation Address (SONA) where he is expected to unveil a coronavirus recovery plan.
In a media briefing organized by the group Citizens' Urgent Response to End COVID-19 (CURE COVID), experts from the health sciences and other disciplines found major shortcomings in the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis that led to an increase in virus infections and poverty.
Dr. Joshua San Pedro, cofounder of Coalition for People's Right to Health, said the country was back to where it started despite taking immense sacrifices from the lockdowns.
"Sa usapin ng effectiveness, medyo fail po tayo talaga. Kailangan pa ng improvement. Kailangan makita ang effectiveness nito. Back to square one ang nangyari," he said.
San Pedro cited the country's recent spike in new coronavirus infections, which has pushed the nationwide total to 72,000.
The Philippines is also the only country in the World Health Organization's Western Pacific Region with cases of community transmission, he said.
Among Southeast Asian nations, the Philippines has the most number of COVID-19 active cases, with over 46,000 recorded as of Wednesday, San Pedro added.
The health expert also said the Philippines hasn't attained its daily target testing capacity of 30,000, and that its health care system in the Metro Manila is again being overwhelmed by coronavirus patients.
For associate professor Maria Corazon Tan of UP Diliman's College of Social Work and Community Development, the government has failed to uphold transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights. It has also failed to recognize the critical support of local government units (LGUs), civil society organizations, and the private sector in dealing with the pandemic, she added.
"Batay sa tatlong ito, nakakalungkot sabihin na bagsak o fail ang rating natin sa ganitong approach ng ating pamahalaan sa pagsugpo ng pandemya," she said.
Tan criticized the confusing COVID-19 reporting and conflicting statements from various officials.
She also claimed a lack of transparency on the government's budget for coronavirus response, which according to data from the Department of Health (DOH) has ballooned to P386.6 billion.
The financing that has been secured for the Covid-19 response will be paid from 2023–2049, with an average repayment period of 15 years for each loan, based on the amortization schedules indicated in the loan agreement documents available on the DOF website as of July 1, she said.
Tan also denounced the government's militarist approach where some civic groups have faced harassment and attacks from state forces.
"Ano ba ang nagaganap? In the face of government neglect, civil society organizations (CSOs) and communities took it upon themselves to respond to the needs and help poor communities and sectors," she said.
"Instead of supporting these initiatives, the government harassed, attacked, imprisoned and killed members of CSOs providing relief goods to communities," she added.
'F AS IN FALFAK'
In his assessment following more than 4 months of coronavirus-induced lockdowns, former UP Diliman Chancellor and Professor Emeritus Michael Tan also gave the Duterte administration a failing grade.
"If numerical, might not even be able to give a zero, so F as in fail," he said in his report.
"Makatao kasi tayo so hindi numerical grade, ang ibibigay ko ay letter grade na F as in fail, F as in falfak," he added.
While every country was caught unprepared by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tan said some countries led by women, such as Denmark, New Zealand and Taiwan, have had the best responses to the virus.
"It seems women are better prepared to handle COVID-19," he said.
Despite having one of the world's longest lockdowns, which brought economic activities to a standstill, Tan said the spread of the virus in the Philippines was far from abating.
He also assailed the application of the rule of law, which adopted a police-centric approach, in particular, coercive and the excessive punishments, some of which were arbitrary.
"Generally, the lockdown was a war on the poor, whose living conditions further deteriorated," Tan said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Edelina dela Paz, chairperson of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), said COVID-19 further worsened poverty and inequality in the country as many already lack access to basic services.
She particularly criticized the health department for its "reactive" response to the crisis.
"Nakita natin na walang plano ang DOH. Napaka-reactive," Dela Paz said.
Since most members of Duterte's Cabinet are former military and police officers, the government should have tackled the virus with public health measures instead of a militarist response, she said.
"Bakit hindi sistematiko ang response ng gobyerno? Bakit pachi-pachi, bakit puro coercion, puro sowing fear? Dahil sino ba ang nasa gobyerno ngayon na nangunguna at sila 'yung mga nandun sa IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force). Most of them are really generals. Dr. [Health Secretary Francisco] Duque, sad to say, has really no experience on the ground at this time or he just follows as he's being told. So it's about time he step down," Dela Paz said.
To date, the Philippines has logged 72,269 coronavirus infections, of whom 1,843 died and 23,623 recovered.