This Week in Media (August 9 to 13, 2021)

Olympics cheer winds down; gloom of COVID and climate crisis returns

WITH THE worsening crisis of COVID-19, Filipinos heard loud and clear the global alarm over climate-related disaster. Media did not pick up as quickly on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which warned of existential threats to a country surrounded all around with rising seas.  

There was enough bad news, perhaps, as media took count of hospitals in Metro Manila run over with COVID cases and dealing with the shortage of oxygen tanks. DOH reported on Monday, August 9 that the country is back to a “high-risk” classification due to a 47% increase in cases over a two-week period. More than 12,000 new cases were reported for two consecutive days this week, a figure that news accounts described as the highest daily record since April this year.

As with rising infections among children, public officials began to push for vaccination for minors. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a public briefing that this called for study of vaccine effects on children and the supply of vaccines.

Meanwhile, the distribution of financial aid or “ayuda” finally rolled out on August 11, five days after ECQ went into effect. Reports noted that the process was more efficient and orderly this time for some LGUs in NCR, as DILG and DSWD sent representatives to facilitate and ensure smooth distribution. However, some cities and municipalities outside NCR that were likewise placed under ECQ have not received their allocated aid from the national government.

In light of these multiple challenges, the Commission on Audit released a report on August 11 flagging DOH’s deficiencies involving PHP67 billion worth of public funds intended for COVID-19 response. COA identified irregularities in procurement, lack of documentation and unobligated and undisbursed funds. 

The issue gained front page treatment and inclusion in the first minutes of TV newscasts. Reports listed COA’s breakdown of the staggering figure, which is clearly bigger than the Philhealth’s PHP15 billion fund allegedly lost to corruption. 

Opposition lawmakers were quick to react, some of them reviving calls for Duque’s resignation. Journalists naturally sought Duque’s side, but all he could say was that all funds were accounted for. 

ANC’s Rundown interviewed Zy-Za Suzara, executive director of the Institute for Leadership, Empowerment and Democracy, to discuss what the COA report meant. Suzara said that more than an accounting issue, the findings of the COA point to a failure in leadership and governance. With the unused funds, she said there was an “inability on the part of DOH to buttress the pandemic response.” Suzara added that the pandemic was no excuse to skirt laws and there was apparently no oversight within the department to ensure compliance.  

COA reports tend to have little follow-through, perhaps because of their technical nature. The media should know better than let this DOH failure pass.

Climate report

One would think that the Philippines’ vulnerability to climate and weather extremes would elicit a sense of urgency in finding solutions. But most of the media ignored the IPCC report released on Monday, August 9. 

While not entirely new and unsurprising, the findings released reinforce the urgent call on governments to act immediately based on their commitments to the Paris Agreement. As a developing country, the Philippines may not be a major actor in the deceleration of carbon emissions, but it is definitely among the countries first to feel the rising sea levels around the world.  

The issue did not make front pages or rundowns. Online news sites led the rest of the media in highlighting the relevance of the report. CMFR cheered the news organizations that provided a local perspective on the report. Media, however, should not stop here in covering the climate crisis. 

Olympics season ends

The country welcomed home its bemedaled boxers after the Tokyo Olympics closed on August 8. Sports federations and officials interviewed by the media said they are looking forward to a bigger victory in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

CMFR’s content analysis found that beyond the games and features on the athletes, the media refrained from discussing the hardships and challenges that they went through, particularly with funding and training support. An In Context piece provides background on the legal framework of sports development, calling for more attention to how the government supports its national athletes. Is the interest in these personalities seasonal? How do we develop a rational sports policy, given so many other development needs?

The first step is for media to engage in broad-based discussion, now that these athletes have proven what they can do with hardly any support.