MANILA - Bouncing back from the pandemic should be the Philippines' top priority, Vice President Leni Robredo said in her own report to the nation Tuesday, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his final State of the Nation Address.
"There should be no other priority but the pandemic and its effects. We need all hands on deck and laser-like focus," Robredo said in Filipino in her "Ulat ni VP Leni", live-streamed on Facebook.
"This should be mirrored in our budgets, in the agenda of every meeting within government, in every memo cascaded down the bureaucracy."
Aside from taking a toll on the country's health system, the pandemic also pulled down the economy last year to its worst level since World War II and left millions jobless.
The government's COVID-19 response leaves much to be desired, the country' second highest official said.
Duterte was criticized for not laying out in detail a plan to end the COVID-19 crisis in the Philippines, when he gave his last SONA on Monday.
"Itong final SONA ni Duterte ay parang lasing na naman ang Presidente sa pagsasabi ng same threats pero walang exit plan sa pandemic," Gabriel Rep. Arlene Brosas had said.
Duterte admitted in his speech he does "not know what to do" with the COVID-19 crisis at home. "I have to listen to the task force [on COVID-19]," he Duterte.
In her message, Robredo called for unity in the fight against the still raging health crisis.
"We’ve come to notice how, whenever problems arise, the first impulse of some is to look for a culprit, to look for a suspect to arrest, or to single out the next critic whom trolls can attack," she said.
"This has to stop. We are in the midst of a crisis. No one else but us gets infected, no one else but us suffers, no one else but us gets stalled on the road to progress."
"A challenge faced by one is a challenge faced by all; to neglect one means neglecting all; and to help one is to ease suffering for all," she said.
Despite its limited budget and political machinery, Robredo said her office had accomplished so much.
The Office of the Vice President has launched the Bayanihan e-Skwela, an online video series helping teachers and parents as the country's education system shifted to distance learning; sikap.ph, a jobs-matching platform for blue collar workers; and iskaparate.com, which brought small businesses online.
Robredo reiterated her recommendations of having an integrated system for testing, tracing, and treatment; faster vaccine rollout; allocating revenues from the so-called sin tax law towards pandemic needs; and offering aid and training opportunities to those who lost their jobs.
She said the government must also pay its debts to hospitals for continued operations, proper enforcement of the Universal Healthcare law and the passage of Bayanihan 3, the stimulus package aimed to address economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
"Our point: If it hasn’t been done yet, begin; if it’s already being done, intensify. There is no debate as regards the reality: Much is left to do to address, and lift ourselves up from this pandemic," she said.
The Philippines has so far tallied over 1.5 million infections, among the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Southeast Asia, while facing the threat of the virulent Delta variant.
It has administered more than 17 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Over 6 million people or 10.50 percent of its year-end minimum target have so far been fully vaccinated.