Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: April 2020
Monday, 20 April 2020 22:49

Shifting investment landscape

Something big is happening in the global supply chain, and if the Philippines plays its cards right, significant manufacturing investments may come its way in the wake of COVID-19.

China has long been the world’s manufacturer, but the novel coronavirus pandemic afflicting the globe has exposed the problem of the world economy depending too much on a single country for many of its products. With China becoming the first epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis, many foreign companies had to take a hit when their factories were forced to stop production as the country moved to contain the spread of the disease.

The health crisis also added to the complications caused by China’s trade dispute with the United States. Foreign firms had earlier shouldered increased production cost for their output coming from the mainland after the Trump administration slapped higher tariffs on thousands of imports from China.

As a result, many American, European, and even Japanese and Korean companies are reportedly now planning—or have decided—to relocate their production bases out of China. These range from automotive and parts manufacturers to IT companies and pharmaceutical and health care services firms.

The Japanese and US governments have involved themselves directly in the effort by offering incentives to companies to bring their investments in China back home to their respective countries. Japan, for instance, already has a $2.2-billion stimulus package to cover the cost for Japanese firms leaving China and returning to Japan.

The opportunity for the Philippines, however, is in the thousands of other companies planning to move out of China but not back to their home countries where production costs remain high.

Of course, the Philippines is just one of the possible recipients of these investment dollars leaving China. In fact, some analysts are not even including the country in their list of potential beneficiaries of the shifting investment landscape, pointing to Vietnam as the most likely pick.

According to Forbes magazine, “This ongoing diversification of the global supply chain creates ample opportunities for corporate investors and gives rise to new markets in countries like Vietnam, now getting the equivalent of a steroid shot to beef up their own economy.”

But the Philippines, battered as well by the COVID-19 pandemic, should fight for its share in this development by quickly undertaking what needs to be done to make it more conducive for investors to set up shop here. Pending in Congress are bills to open up more economic sectors to non-Filipinos (although a contentious proposal facing prolonged debate), a reduction in corporate income tax, and a review of the incentives currently available to foreign investors.

Already in place is the Ease of Doing Business Act signed into law in mid-2018, which hopes to further address bureaucratic red tape by improving the efficiency and transparency of government procedures at all levels, down to the local government bureaucracy. Also in place is the Revised Corporation Code of the Philippines, which amended the 40-year-old Corporation Code to create a more business-friendly environment and improve the ease of doing business here. Such easing of the process for starting a business in the Philippines can be a major factor in attracting companies moving out of China.

The 11th Foreign Investment Negative List, signed in late 2018, also further liberalized foreign participation and opened more sectors to foreign investment, allowing 100-percent foreign ownership in internet businesses, training centers that are engaged in short-term high-level skills development, wellness centers, adjustment/lending/financing companies, and investment houses.

The proposed second tax reform package intends to gradually lower the corporate income tax rate, which remains one of the highest in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. However, being tackled with this measure is the so-called “rationalization” of the various tax incentives given to foreign investors, a planned overhaul that is causing anxiety among some businesses. The sooner Congress hammers out the details of this reform measure, the better for the country’s business environment.

While the focus has understandably been on reopening the domestic economy given the tremendous repercussions of the lockdown, there is an urgent opportunity to be seized now that international businesses are looking for other places to relocate. The Duterte administration has a small window to act and make the country attractive enough for manufacturers getting out of China, especially since the Philippines’ foreign direct investments record has been a laggard compared to its neighbors. Here is a watershed chance for the government to make it right.
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GOING by all the publications, dialectics and analyses by doomsayers in social media, the pronouncements of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this column, predictive in one sense, should logically be written only in the year 2021, when the world has seen its way clear through, before the near annihilation of the human race has come to pass.

I will add my voice to the cacophony, not as an alarmist, but as a member of the most vulnerable segment of society that is bearing the pandemic’s brunt — the seniors with “preexisting health conditions.” By definition, the elderly are a repository of numerous illnesses over time. Death is inevitable, the cliché goes. But not this way! I have witnessed the passing of friends, their wives and kin, but I couldn’t pay my last respects as their remains were sent posthaste to the crematoria. Grief transmitted through Facebook, Messenger and Viber is the new kind of normal; as physical distancing precludes wakes and the traditional “lamay,” renewal of old friendships and catching up during such engagements. And no more nine-day novenas of final goodbyes to write finis to the departed’s life as dictated by centuries of tradition. Lockdown and social distancing have prevailed.

Warnings and lessons
Thus, this article portrays a chilling scenario, part of which is even now occurring, given current global dynamics. The period from the fading months of 2019 to the present will cursorily be put in frame, extracting valuable lessons in anticipation of another resurgence of this pandemic.

Early November 2019, the virus out of the exotic palates of Wuhan, China jumped from animal to humans and spread imperceptibly at first. China controling the narrative now stands accused of keeping this under wraps, wasting precious time. Thousands of lives could have been saved had China been more upfront. Only by January 9 was the first Chinese death reported. Lockdown was enforced in Wuhan by January 23 and the other Chinese cities thereafter. South Korea followed suit on February 23. By then, 46 countries were already reporting cases of contagion, and Italy and Spain were about to be ravaged.

The United States, whom many countries look up to for leadership, has irresponsibly abandoned this role and relinquished its ascendancy. It may be recalled that in 2015, the Republican former president George Bush predicted this exact type of pandemic cautioning preparedness. Then outgoing president Barack Obama 2nd briefed incoming president Donald Trump on a bureaucracy of quick response experts, which the latter subsequently dismantled. But, now a month after the Wuhan lockdown, Trump trivialized the contagion asserting it “…is very well under control in the US…and when you have 15 people [infected], within a couple of days [it] goes down to zero…” Ian Johnson a writer based in Beijing succinctly stated “China bought the West time. The West squandered it.” America most definitely did.

Only by March 19 and 20 did the states of California and New York declare their own version of a quarantine: “Stay at home” and “Shelter in place,” respectively. But still, Trump refused to call for a nationwide lockdown, leaving the decision to each of the states, all of which were seeing the early stages of contagion. The prognosis when this is over is 60,000 to 240,000 Americans dead.

To date, there is no known cure. The best scientists and even the credible person with the money to fund the research, Bill Gates, thinks that the vaccine against this virus will be developed is within a year to 18 months. Those hyping in social media that magical concoctions are available now are all fake news peddling false hopes. Meantime, we hope that the virus will not mutate to infect the young and the rest of the adult population. If it does, millions will die. The world’s health-care system will be overburdened and will collapse. Most probably, the proverbial “last country standing” will be China. One who giveth us the virus — and who may not taketh it away!

End of American century
At the outset, Trump declared pompously that the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) was tantamount to war. And he fancied himself a wartime president. Indeed, this was a worldwide conflict in which one protagonist dictated the frontlines, killing hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, without firing a single shot. Shades of Sun Tzu. No armada of ships; no bombers or stealth fighter planes; not even armies in the field of battle; and nuclear arsenals and missiles could not be deployed. All are useless before an unseen enemy. And the criminally incompetent wartime president is utterly clueless, presaging perhaps the end of American hegemony.

Historians have always maintained that empires fall, brought down by a culmination of centuries of the rot within. Thus, Rome’s downfall in 467 AD by the sacking of the city was inevitable. Future historians could draw some parallels not in the lingering decay of American society per se but due in part to one megalomaniac wartime president unable to use the full might of a great country, allowing the decimation of its people by his sheer ignorance, supported by an equally oblivious base and an intimidated but loyal political cabal. A Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

Enter the dragon
China, the totalitarian state, is ascendant which begs the question. Was she responsible for the virus from Wuhan? Was there collusion with the WHO to declare this pandemic very late? No matter. The wherewithal the world depends on to fight the virus now is stamped “Made in China.” As America and the world are ravaged, they must look toward China for their immediate needs; personal protective equipment, ventilators and all other medical supplies, which their own industries cannot produce on time. China obliges and ships to 100 other countries – establishing its new role as the world’s benefactor.

America’s global preeminence has always depended not only on its resources and might of arms, but on the legitimacy of its democratic domestic governance and institutions, however flawed, and its collective will to assume world leadership based on “right is might.” This whole sordid affair has exposed the weaknesses of America’s democratic system, highly dependent on an illiterate, charismatic but domineering leader’s skewed world view and the acquiescence of an intimidated political leadership ceding to him in essence, these cherished ideals.

The America of the post-World War 2 era is fading. The US instituted the Marshall Plan reconstructing Europe, establishing its imprimatur on the post-world war geopolitics. China could now be implementing its own version. Its Belt and Road Initiative strategy, encircling the globe with its economic tentacles has found its exclamation mark with Covid- 19.

Thucydides trap
Harvard’s Graham Allison’s book Destined for War expounded on the “Thucydides trap” — that “it was the rise of Athens and the fear that this installed in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Taking off from this postulate, China, the rising power, threatens to displace the ruling power, the US, in a war that is likely but not inevitable.

In the current context, China is not at war with America. The whole world is at war against one enemy, Covid-19, with nary a single missile launched. When the smoke clears, China emerges triumphant.
Published in LML Polettiques
Now more than ever before, we are told to “listen to the experts,” to defer to the science, and let evidence be our guide as we try to address and grapple with the pandemic.On one hand, listening to science is far better than listening to our politicians’ fearless, fact-less forecasts, or letting our feelings guide us. Thus, it was reassuring that, a day after the President threatened activists in his late night speech, the Department of Health’s Dr. Beverly Ho affirmed “siyensya” (science) as the nation’s guiding principle.

It was equally reassuring when Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles declared: “The DOH will still study the need to extend this quarantine or not. Where this discussion is concerned, science is in charge. We hope that is clear to everyone.”

But what exactly constitutes “science”? Who exactly are the “experts”?

These questions have been vigorously debated by sociologists, such as Reiner Grundmann (2016) who defines “experts” as those who “mediate between the production of knowledge and its application; they define and interpret situations; and they set priorities for action.” They are even more relevant now that scientific knowledge is being invoked to make life-and-death decisions.

The case of the now-ubiquitous “curve” is an illustrative example. While there is general consensus over the need to “flatten” it, the exact contours of the curve are subject to debate. For the Philippines, for instance, we have seen a number of projections—some of which have already been proven wrong—even as their own authors have warned about reading too much into them.

The traction of these tentative-at-best forecasts speaks of people’s desperation to know what the future holds—and the fractious nature of “expert knowledge.” We think of science as “objective,” but faced with an “infodemic” of competing scientific claims, we fall back on our feelings, choosing which “facts” are consistent with them.

Another example is the use of face masks by the general public, which, for the longest time, health authorities advised against. “Seriously — STOP BUYING MASKS!”, US Surgeon-General Jerome Adams emphatically tweeted on Feb. 29. As with other governments, however, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now endorsing the use of masks “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

This case reminds us that “expert knowledge” is iterative, and what experts ultimately say is not free from political and social pressures, as well as new knowledge.

The World Health Organization is no different. Many observers have pointed out its belated declaration of a “pandemic,” as well as its inexplicable exclusion of Taiwan. Far from being an infallible and objective authority, the WHO’s response reveals the limits of expertise and how it gets translated into policy.

All of the above should temper our expectations of what “experts” can do. First of all, they cannot predict the future and, thus, we cannot read too much into their projections and prognostications. Thankfully, true experts understand and disclose the limits of their expertise.

Second, they do not have immunity from critique. As Prof. Randy David wrote, “We should keep observing, asking questions, and thinking of alternatives.” We should not just demand evidence-based policies; we should also demand scholarly rigor from this evidence. Just because a journal article or an “expert” says something doesn’t mean we should uncritically accept it. On the other hand, precisely because science is imperfect, we need more of it, not less, allowing “expertise” to emerge from peer review and consensus.

Finally, we should be critical about the ways science is translated into news (and rumor)—and how it is mis(used) by political actors. All too often, media outlets are quick to exaggerate claims that scientists themselves refrain from making. Moreover, the quarantine may be based on science, but stifling dissent in its name certainly isn’t. Simply put, we cannot allow our politicians to use science as a shield for their misguided actions.

Needless to say, science, properly understood, remains our best—and only—framework for overcoming the pandemic. However, to mobilize its full potential and to avoid mistrust, we need to know the limits of those who claim to speak in its behalf.

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IN this penultimate week of the quarantine, I am more than convinced that the Deegong did the right thing. But it may have to be extended* until “the curve is flattened.” Bureaucratic incompetence caught our government flat-footed — given that China’s lead gave us months of warning. Although its data are suspect, China’s immediate response was admirable, logical and remedial, focusing on the virus, arresting its spread by expanding healthcare capacity. Its drastic methods are something to be emulated — massive field tests to cull out the positives; trace those infected; then quarantine and apprehend both, if necessary. In contrast, the United States, similarly challenged, prioritized instead an economic stimulus and interest rate cuts, shoring up the economy and its stock market to the delight of Wall Street. Thus, federal states are faced with a severe shortage of critical tools to fight this pandemic — from personal protective equipment pr PPE to hospital ventilators. New York is now the virus’ epicenter. President Trump has been irresponsibly in denial for so long, overruling his own health professionals and wasting precious time. At this current rate of engagement, prognosis is a possible 140,000 to 240,000 dead — maybe more.

Historical pandemic precedents
This pandemic is now deadly. Historical precedent harks back to Europe’s deadliest outbreak 1,500 years ago — “The Plague of Justinian [in] 541 AD. The first recorded outbreak of bubonic plague kill[ed] 40 percent of Constantinople. It eventually eliminated one-half of the human population — in Europe — between the years 550 and 700. This is known as the first pandemic.”

The Spanish Flu of 1918 lasted three years, claiming 17 million to 100 million lives. The world’s population then was around 1.8 and 1.9 billion. Extrapolating with the current world population of 7.8 billion, a staggering 2 billion (26 percent) could possibly be infected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

Unequivocally, our technology and science are far advanced today, but so is the virus. It too has mutated continuously over time, relying on human hosts. And the way Man has been irresponsible toward Nature, the latter is simply retaliating.

China’s preferred defense mechanism, lockdown/quarantine, turned the world upside down. But another tragedy awaits in the wings. Lockdowns here and abroad exposed what have been simmering beneath the economic and social surface — the disparity between the “haves and the have nots.” I see my own family as a microcosm mirroring society’s suitability to survive. In fact, my grandkids treat the quarantine as an enforced vacation with their lolo and lola here in Davao. Mom and Dad’s problem was how to occupy their time during lockdown. True, aside from online assignments and lessons from their schools, there are amusements and entertainment like Netflix, Xbox, IPads and DVDs filling their time. Internet reigns supreme.

But how about the children on the opposite end of the spectrum without access to the internet and therefore no online games occupying their time? Malls, gaming parlors, movie houses are closed for the duration. How are the masa and their children coping?

Economic stimulus
Now that we are on this topic, will the P260 billion injected into the economy benefit directly, among others, those wage earners who must forego daily wages during this lockdown? These are the Filipino “isang kahig, isang tuka,” or in the street lingo, “one day, one eat”! With our inherently defective system of governance, how is the inevitable leakage and rent-seeking handled? I have no answers and no suggestions. In this deep crisis, the default impulse is to save oneself and family first. This is simply the first rule of survival. Where do we go from here?

God knows I have so many issues against this government for bureaucratic incompetence and some policies bordering on the criminal; and a loathing toward the sycophants whose reflex mode is to grovel before the President. But this time, I add my support to this president to lead us out of this quagmire. We sink or swim together! Yellow, Blue, Red and White! Covid-19 does not distinguish between colors.

To appreciate the universe of this pandemic, I reprint excerpts from my column, (The pandemic of 2020, The Manila Times, Jan. 29, 2020).

“We are facing one of the biggest threats in the world today: the possibility of the annihilation of our species, the human race, no less, and only one country so far has understood the magnitude of the impending disaster and has responded accordingly. This is the spread of coronavirus. The disease first detected in the central China city of Wuhan in December 2019.”

The biggest tragedy is yet to come upon the introduction of the vaccine which the WHO (World Health Organization) predicts will be available only by 2021. While Covid-19 ravages the world in 18 months, not enough can be produced and distributed on time. The developed countries having first crack at these billions of doses; nary a dose will spill over to the impoverished countries of the Third World hampered by incompetence, logistics and greed; further decimating their already weakened population. Darwin’s law of natural selection will kick in – which simply means, the fittest will survive; a logical compliment to the hypothesis that results in a Malthusian catastrophe (“Covid-19 conspiracy theories,” TMT. April 1, 2020).

The world’s two remaining main protagonists are at center stage today. The incidence of new infections have abated in China while America’s numbers are just trending up. But in the Philippines, we are in for a deadly summer as health professionals are just predicting the explosion of contagion once testing is ramped up.

China-America-the Philippines
Which brings me to my last contentious issue overarching our foreign relations: the Deegong’s infatuation with China and the seeming denunciation of anything American. President Duterte declared an independent foreign policy that makes the Philippines “friend to all, enemy to none.” An admirable but slightly naïve appreciation of serious and complex foreign policy realignment reduced to the personal level. This pivot away from America was in essence the correct move given US intermittent interference and outright violations of Philippine sovereignty. But in the process of moving away from “big brother,” it has seemingly gone overboard — giving China license. And China has shown only disrespect for our sovereignty.

Rolly Narciso an MBM classmate propounded succinctly: “The China violations are actually more serious (Spratly Is., POGOs, main drug source, illegal workers, tax evasions, dummy investors, etc.) but got treated with nonchalance.” Now add to this Covid-19 from out of the exotic palates of Wuhan.

The Deegong is aware but profoundly silent. Is he intimidated or is this silence his paean to an unrequited arrangement he tried to hammer back in 2017. I wrote then: “It was no less a maudlin and yet naively erotic performance when the Deegong in his attempt to cut our umbilical cord with America, declared pompously that it was a ‘triumvirate of the Philippines-China-Russia against the world.’” In retrospect, the Chinese and Russian leaders’ reception of this statement was with an insouciance akin to adults invited to play in a sandbox by an overzealous child.

Yes, we mimic China’s lead and are thankful for its generosity. But must we give up our self-respect and be drawn totally into its web?

*This was written before President Duterte announced the extension of the enhanced community quarantine to March 30.
Published in LML Polettiques
Alexis de Tocqueville’s America was supposed to be long gone. Seeing political centralization as the great woe of the French state — which had been periodically wracked by violent instability since 1789, and would be again in 1848 — the young French aristocrat found a possible cure in the highly decentralized system of Jackson-era American government. Political life, he wrote, was overwhelmingly concentrated at the local level, where town meetings still decided most matters of significance. Counties were administrative divisions that mostly existed on paper, state governors were kept on an extremely tight leash, and the federal government was still in its infancy, its powers strictly confined to a few undeniably national concerns.

Until several weeks ago, it was hard not to think that contemporary America had turned Tocqueville’s analysis completely on its head. Following the Civil War, the vast expansion of federal power that was deemed necessary to guarantee the rights of freed slaves against the states that had enslaved them, and to enforce Reconstruction while it lasted, famously (though more gradually than some have implied) accompanied a grammatical change in the way we describe the United States, from plural to singular: “The United States are” became “the United States is.” Early 20th century Progressives led the growth of a federal bureaucracy, which expanded with the New Deal and the Second World War until, by the end of the 1940s, it was common to speak of a federal “administrative state,” attached to the executive, ruling the country, unaccountable to voters.

All of this led inevitably to the moment just before the current crisis hit, in which national politics, blaring on TV screens and dominating social-media feeds, seemed to crowd out state and local politics. The newspapers that had reminded Americans of the importance of these closer, smaller realms declined and disappeared. Ticket-splitting, which could be considered an indicator of the strength of the Tocquevillian tradition, hit a new low in 2018.

Intermittently, Beltway writers issued calls for others to abandon the swamps of Washington and rejuvenate local institutions and state politics, which served mainly to illustrate the desperation of the situation. All the major political issues — drug legalization, gay marriage, abortion — were either removed from state purview by Supreme Court fiat or seemed destined sooner or later to receive such a treatment. It appeared increasingly clear that the federal constitution was a pretty relic of the Tocquevillian era, prized mainly by nostalgists, serving a legitimating role in an order that no longer had any space for it, like the Roman Senate under the Empire.

Then a pandemic struck. The initial federal response was faltering, with test kits malfunctioning and the president downplaying the risk. So states — and, in many cases, local governments — came to the fore. California’s Bay Area issued the first “shelter in place” order, followed quickly by a similar order for the rest of the state. Governor Gavin Newsom has proclaimed California a “nation-state.” New York, which was next in line for lockdown, has seen its governor, Andrew Cuomo, emerge as a leading protagonist in the struggle to combat the virus. Cuomo’s bullying style, a nuisance in tranquil times, now soothes the frayed nerves of New Yorkers, in the latest demonstration of Machiavelli’s tenet that men’s characters fit some times better than others. Crucial, life-and-death matters were suddenly in the hands not of the federal government but of state and local authorities.

The public-health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus has proven that you can’t fudge federalism. It isn’t enough to set up formal federal bodies and give them constitutional powers; sub-national units must have traditions of independence and popular sanction to actually use the powers they’ve been given. The viral pandemic has given the lie to systems in countries around the world that are federal on paper but unitary in fact.

Spain’s autonomous communities were supposed to have very extensive powers, including over decisions relating to public health — until, on March 14, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government declared a state of emergency and announced that the central government in Madrid would be assuming control.

In Italy, decrees isolating first a handful of northern towns, then the region, and finally the entire country came at every stage from the central government. Regional presidents such as Lombardy’s Attilio Fontana, unable to put in place firmer measures themselves, were reduced to begging the central government to do so.

In the United Kingdom, devolved governments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland —governments that some thought were moving toward an ad hoc form of federalism until the pandemic — have had no opportunity to exert influence on the response to the virus. They have been forced, as have local councils across England, simply to implement the decisions made in No. 10: first, a laissez-faire policy intended to build “herd immunity,” then, following predictions of mass death resulting from the strategy, an escalating about-face ending in nationwide lockdown on March 23.

In Germany, it’s true, the states (Länder) took the lead, with Bavaria locking down two days before the rest of the country — but reports circulated that Angela Merkel was nervous at the prospect of divergent policies across the country. She quickly directed the federal government to retake control of the fight against the virus by banning gatherings of more than two people.

Only in Brazil, where president Jair Bolsonaro has refused to institute a nationwide lockdown, taking to national television to proclaim the coronavirus a “tiny little flu” and attack the World Health Organization for its “destruction of jobs,” have federal units had a real chance to step up. State governors in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have led the response, introducing lockdown measures within their jurisdictions, and making themselves targets of the president in the process.

Of course, it can’t be said that the present resurgence of federalism in Brazil and the United States has happened under the best of circumstances. And it’s too soon to determine how a decentralized administration helped, or didn’t help, the response to the virus. But for now, it’s enough to take stock of how robust and relevant previously marginalized political institutions suddenly seem. They are a piece of the old constitution still with us, having showed signs of life at a moment when, across the world, many of their counterparts did not.
Published in News
Tuesday, 07 April 2020 07:59


Editorial Cartoon.
Published in News
WITHOUT sinking into cliché, the nation should seize this time of crisis and challenge by the pandemic as an opportunity to advance and implement some major initiatives and reforms.

It is indeed true to say that a crisis can be a powerful spur to action.

Writing in the Psychology Today journal, the psychotherapist Mel Schwartz said insightfully:

“Crises come into our lives, no matter how we may try to avoid them. They are troubling, unwanted experiences or events that take us way out of our comfort zone. Typically, crises result in some type of loss. The very nature of a crisis is antithetical to our core values of certainty and predictability as they vanish in an instant.

“We desperately try to restore order to our lives as chaos seems to prevail. Yet, if we learn to reframe how we see crisis, we might actually take advantage of it. There is the potential for alchemy as the crisis unfolds into a gain, provided we learn to stop resisting the unwanted change.”

He was targeting his advice at individuals; as with individuals, so with nations.

This present time of travail and pain, which has disrupted so much of our individual and collective life, can also be an opportunity or turning point for our Filipino nation.

It can be such if, nationally, we use it as a catalyst to achieve major changes and reforms in our country and in our national life.

Consider how different the national condition will be if instead of solely fixating on the terrible problems and choices that the coronavirus has brought to our country, we seize the moment to effect reforms in our government system and in our national life.

If this emergency has taught us anything at all, it is clearly the fact that our public health system in our vast archipelago remains inadequate, ill-equipped, and unmodern to meet the challenges that have been engendered by a national emergency as crippling as what we are facing now.

Think of what will happen if we shift our attention from the immediate crisis to the challenge of building a public health system that can effectively serve our 108 million people.

Consider what will happen if the money raised now for the pandemic were turned also toward building up our public health system.

Second, as has been suggested by one senator, we can seize the moment as an opportunity to implement the national ID system, which has been fully approved and funded, and yet still has not gotten off the ground.

According to Sen. Win Gatchalian, had our national ID system been in operation already, we could have launched a quicker health and calamity response to the pandemic because we could have traced quickly persons suspected of being infected with the coronavirus disease.

The ID law was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in August 2018 in order to establish a single official identification card for all citizens that would interconnect all government-issued IDs. The government started pilot-testing the national ID system last year, which was set to run up to June this year before formally rolling out in July next year.

Amid the current emergency, Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd has disclosed that the DoH encountered difficulties in tracing people who came in contact with Covid-19 patients because some have incomplete or erroneous contact details listed with airline companies.

In contrast, Taiwan and Singapore were able to use their respective national database to trace their citizens’ travel history.

Third, our current experience in this emergency can be used as a launch point for an earnest disinfection and sanitation program to clean up our national capital and entire capital region in order that Manila can truly rise as a prosperous, modern and livable metropolis.

It is a sad commentary on Manila that, today, our restaurants cannot open their doors during dining hours without being invaded by flies and other pests.

Other Southeast Asian capitals, like Bangkok, have wonderfully conquered this horrible limitation through a continuous and effective disinfection and sanitation system. We have made a start at disinfection and sanitation during this crisis. Imagine how different our lives and our prospects will be if we continue this permanently and do it nationwide.
Published in News
Editorial Cartoon.
Published in News
Friday, 03 April 2020 09:51

PNP: We won’t shoot them dead

MANILA, Philippines — No, the Philippine National Police will not shoot dead those who will disrupt peace and order during the enhanced community quarantine, PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa assured the public yesterday.

“Of course not. Probably the President just overemphasized on implementing the law in this time of crisis,” Gamboa said in an interview. “We see the strong message and I think all the PNP personnel understood it.”

A visibly incensed Duterte issued the order after members of urban poor group Samahan ng Magkakapitbahay (Samana) staged a protest over the alleged lack of food distribution in a slum community in Barangay Bagong Pag-asa. The rally turned violent as police dispersed the demonstrators after an hour of negotiation.

Martial law is also not an option, even as Duterte does everything in his power to ensure peace and order while the country is battling a public health emergency, Secretary to the Cabinet Karlo Nograles said.

Asked how far the President would go to ensure peace and order, Nograles said, “Obviously, in a state of calamity, there has to be order. So it is important for Pangulong Duterte to maintain order, especially in this time of crisis and in this time and in this state of calamity. That’s the point which the President wants to emphasize there.”

Under the 1987 Constitution, the President may suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law for a period not exceeding 60 days in case of invasion or rebellion or when public safety requires it.

Gamboa said policemen will continue exercising maximum tolerance and vowed that all their actions in dealing with protesters are always within the bounds of the law.

“When you don’t implement things within the bounds of the law, then it’s against the policy in law enforcement,” he stressed as he noted that policemen would not hesitate to arrest unruly demonstrators who would jeopardize the administration’s efforts to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

At least 150 persons took part in the rally, violating quarantine guidelines against mass gatherings.

Gamboa has ordered the Quezon City Police District to file charges against the protesters to send a message to the public that they are serious in implementing the law.

He appealed for Filipinos to remain patient as the government is doing everything to address their needs during the health crisis.

“No less than the President addressed the public last night that patience should be our virtue and he even assured that nobody is going to get hungry,” he noted.

Duterte, on Wednesday, ordered the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to shoot dead those who would create situations that disrupt peace and order in the country.

In his taped public message, Duterte was visibly angry after the left-leaning group Kadamay supposedly instigated the protest actions over food distribution issues in San Roque, Barangay Bagong Pag-asa.

“We have a public health concern, and this should not be complicated by a peace and order concern,” Nograles said as he called on the public to obstruct plans to create confusion among the populace.

“The President has raised a point: the government will not allow any group to sow confusion and take advantage of the situation while we are all worried for our lives and the health and safety of our fellow countrymen and yet, there are groups that would want to muddle the situation,” he emphasized.

While the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) did not discuss the issue, Nograles revealed that the President has consulted with the Cabinet’s security cluster.

The Palace assured the public that the government would be implementing measures that are bound by the law.

“The government will follow the law. Government will follow what is legal. Government will follow what is right and we ask for the cooperation of everyone,” Nograles said.

The country remains under a state of calamity and a state of public health emergency, which were separately declared by Duterte last month to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Right now, it’s a public health issue. But if there will be groups sowing violence and would take advantage of situation, then it becomes also a peace and order issue. It was not a peace and order issue until there were quarters which took advantage and sowed violence,” Nograles said.

“Right now, the President regards that it’s already a public health issue, and if you put into the picture the issue of peace and order, we will have some problems. So, let it just remain to be a public health issue and concern which we are currently managing. Don’t let it be a peace and order problem,” he emphasized.

While Sen. Panfilo Lacson agreed that Duterte was just exaggerating, he said the riot should be investigated to find if it was just a “hunger-driven spontaneous act of people who lost their patience out of exasperation, or a politically-instigated act of violence by sinister groups out to take advantage and destabilize the administration and duly constituted authority.”

As a former PNP chief, Lacson said investigators could look into the possibility that Wednesday’s incident was a “dry run” to test public sentiment and the law enforcers’ ability to respond.

He noted that Kadamay posted on its Facebook page an invitation to an event scheduled for April 1. – With Cristina Mendez, Cecille Suerte Felipe
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