This Week in Media (AUGUST 2 to 6, 2021)

THIS TIME last year, a broad alliance of medical professionals and healthcare workers had called for a “time-out” to give the overwhelmed healthcare system time to recover and to recalibrate anti-COVID strategies. From GCQ, the president approved a shift to MECQ for NCR and other areas for two weeks, but grudgingly: he berated frontliners for not taking up their concerns privately with him, and accused them of “fomenting a revolution” against him.  

But the doctors had only showed up the government’s lack of action. Specialists all, they enumerated the more urgent needs, prescribing adjustments needed to deal with the situation. 

The same convergence of circumstances is being replicated today, with the number of COVID cases rising to once again test the capacity of hospitals to care for patients. Alarmingly, government seems once again at a loss about how to deal with the more infectious Delta variant, what with delayed policy announcements about restrictions. NCR has been put under the strictest ECQ from August 6 to 20. As of this writing, DOH has confirmed that there are Delta variant cases in all 16 cities and one municipality of Metro Manila. 

Before the lockdown, the police had already been redeployed to control travel and enforce curfews, but as in previous ECQs, their checkpoints caused traffic congestion at border crossings.   

An improvement on the conditions during the first ECQ in March 2020, public transportation is available this time. However, with Delta’s higher transmissibility, public transportation also exposes the commuting public to infection. 

The media reported PNP’s announcement that persons authorized to go out could use public transport only if they do not know how to drive, which cut down the use of private vehicles. Within 24 hours, public backlash forced the PNP to revise that  policy, but it still required workers to present the business permit of their respective employers, as well as a certificate of employment containing their name, the name of their driver, and vehicle details. Media did not note how this late announcement made it difficult to secure all these documents. They did not point out that this requirement would exclude from work the self-employed and casual laborers. 

But nothing is more indicative of government ineptitude than the lack of funds for “ayuda”: this expense was not included in the budget for 2021. CMFR jeered the media’s coverage that stuck to quoting what officials had to say, even when they could not provide real answers. Hardly a proactive stance, this failure to allocate funds for the possibility of another surge is an egregious example of  government failure.

With the vaccination program underway, the ECQ poses a challenge to those scheduled for vaccination. The Palace assured the public that the lockdown would not prevent people from being immunized. But the day before the re-imposition of ECQ in NCR, on August 5, thousands trooped to vaccination sites in the cities of Manila and Las Piñas. Media interviewed some citizens who said that they had to make sure to be vaccinated before the lockdown because they would neither be able to receive cash aid, nor be allowed to go to work and do essential errands. 

Media reported national and local officials’ blaming all this misinformation on the spread of “fake news.” But largely missing in the coverage was any reminder that President Duterte’s own threats that unvaccinated people would be arrested or escorted back to their homes by the police, which he said in separate taped addresses on June 22 and July 29, helped fuel the panic.

Reporting the exchange between OCTA Research which claimed there was already a “surge” of COVID cases and DOH’s denying it, media also missed highlighting the fact that hospitals were fast reaching their full capacity.

Pinoy pride in Tokyo

The winning streak of Filipino athletes in Tokyo helped drive away  the blues caused by so much bad news. Hidilyn Diaz’s inspiring victory at the Tokyo Olympics sparked increased public interest in the event and in sports in general as stories on the country’s medals made the front pages and broadcast news. 

This week, boxers Nesthy Petecio and Eumir Marcial bagged silver and bronze medals, respectively. Petecio is notably the first Filipina boxer to earn an Olympics medal for the Philippines. Carlo Paalam, also a boxer in the flyweight division, is assured of a silver medal and will compete for gold on Saturday, August 7. The current count of four wins breaks the country’s long drought in medals since 1932, when the country won three medals in the Los Angeles, California Olympics.

These Filipino athletes also brought to the public sphere a graciousness and civility that have not been seen or heard for so long in Duterte country. Causing a surge of genuine national pride, they readily shared their triumph with their compatriots, and expressed their goodwill for their teams, their coaches, and even their rival athletes.  If only public officials could learn from their example.