This Week in Media (August 16 to 20)

COA woes lead the news despite surge and the highest daily count of cases during pandemic. Meanwhile, the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan causes population flight from Kabul, including Filipino OFWs.

THE SECOND week of lockdown saw the fall of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, to the Taliban — a long history of pain and anguish, which Filipinos had heard little of in the news except when violence threatened Filipinos working there. Typically, the coverage of the tragic ending depended on wire reports for more informed perspective on the withdrawal of the United States and its perceived abandonment of the Afghan people to the mercies of the Taliban. 

But local news attention was fixated elsewhere as the unfolding scandals flagged by state auditors revealed more irregularities in government transactions, with the Department of Health still in the center of the furor. Understandably, with government’s inept and inadequate response to the pandemic, the DOH had much to explain about the “deficiencies” revealed in their budget and procurement procedures.

Media did little more than follow COA’s reports and what Secretary Francisco Duque III and President Duterte had to say, mostly complaining about the charges without actually showing proof of integrity or innocence. The hearings in Congress did not necessarily discover new information beyond COA’s findings. But there was little sympathy expressed for Duque with some legislators questioning the propriety of Duterte’s rant against COA.

The COA report highlighted the plight of medical workers and coverage carried the statements of different medical professional groups expressing their grievances including the non-payment of hazard pay and other benefits as promised. Unfortunately, reports did not sufficiently recall that the dire situation had been left unresolved since last year.

It was not only DOH that felt the heat of COA’s review. Media echoed questions raised about the building of an infinity pool in the Philippine Port Authority’s headquarters in La Union. But little criticism was given to the glaring red flag raised by COA over funds received by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) from TESDA.

Delta, Lambda and the ECQ

Government confirmed Delta variant cases in the country on July 16, announcing quarantine procedures and saying patients had already recovered. Media published reports on the spread of the Delta variant outside the capital, citing warnings issued by DOH about how it was much more infectious than the Alpha or UK variant. Meanwhile, the arrival of the Lambda variant was first reported on Sunday, August 15.

Except as a response to the threat of these variants, government had little to say about its decision to declare another lockdown. News accounts said that government was adopting a policy to treat all cases as Delta. But what this actually involved was not explained. There was little information about the guidelines issued by the IATF to LGUs in reporting cases. It seemed as though the ECQ was simply re-imposing the restrictions as they had been before. 

Through the second week of the scheduled ECQ, little was heard about the government’s efforts to assess the severity of the cases. The count of recoveries seemed to show more resilience to Delta in the Philippines than what had been experienced in India or Indonesia. But at the same time of the ECQ, cases reached the highest levels ever seen since March 2020.

At this point, no one really knows whether the numerous cases actually involved the more dangerous variants. No one in government seems to be tracking the surge pattern that follows the relaxation of restrictions and the encouragement of domestic travel.

As of Friday, August 20, the count of cases reached 17,231, the highest it has ever been since the pandemic hit the country.  But on the same day, government had already announced that it was shifting from ECQ to the less restrictive MECQ. 

In a radio interview on August 19, Harry Roque disclosed that the decision to revert the quarantine classification to MECQ was done by secret balloting. As of this writing, media have not examined the basis of government’s decisions. In a way, probing may not yield much more sense than consulting with a Ouija board. Were we really dealing with a surge of the Delta variant as the government has claimed?

A review based on science seems called for. Media’s dependence on government sources has often brought their questions to a dead end. It is time for journalists to do their own research, check with other expert sources, both national and international and provide Filipinos with more information that will help them assess the situation; and just as important, determine for themselves the competence of or its lack in government.