“By the People… For the People!”

By: Almie Jane P. Catulay

    With so much going on on the COVID-19 global pandemic, it created economic crisis affecting supply-chains among countries. Governments have responded with lockdown measures to lessen the spread of the virus. However, the extent of these efforts still affects the lives of everyone, especially the poorest and most vulnerable people – be it climate crisis, employment losses, food and health security, lack of adequate education, increasing fatality rates and lessened international cooperation. Despite the human and health impact of the corona virus, managing the crisis across levels of government have greatly mitigated the territorial effects of the pandemic. The recent scientific advancement of vaccination to global health and good governance among regional and local units are significant factors to provide emergency management and policy responses on public safety.

    In the Philippines, the COVID-19 pandemic is severely challenging the country. According to case bulletin of Department of Health as of July 13, 2021, a total of 1,481,660 COVID cases has been recorded – of which 46,934 are active cases, 1,408,634 recovery cases and 26,092 death cases. Over 22 million Filipino children are out of school youth and 12 million Filipinos have lost their jobs according to World Health Organization-Philippines. Nationwide health emergency has been declared following a spike of new confirmed cases and local transmissions since the start of year 2020. The strict implementation of lockdowns and travel restrictions have closed big businesses and small livelihoods which critically crippled the Philippine economy. According to PMI Research and Analysis, Philippines’ economy suffered a deep recession in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19 pandemic which GDP contracting by 9.6% year-on-year. This was the largest annual decline ever recorded since National Accounts data series for the Philippines commenced in 1946. In relation to this, the Philippine government at all levels have reacted quickly, applying a place-based approach to policy responses, and implementing a national and subnational measures in response to COVID-19 crisis. Thus, this requires a very strong inter-governmental coordination.

    By Section 2 (b) of Executive Order No. 168 (s.2014) mandates the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the management of emerging infectious diseases to prevent and/or minimize the entry of suspected or confirmed patients with emerging infectious diseases into the country. The IATF have made concrete recommendations though resolutions which cover proactive measures and restrictions that will serve as a guideline from national level, provincial, municipal, down to barangay level. This is in order to slow down the surge in COVID-19 cases among communities and stop further the spread of COVID variants. 

The battle against COVID is not yet done with vaccine roll-outs. It needs more cooperation across municipalities and regions to minimize disjointed responses and competition for resources. Promotion of inter-regional or inter-municipal joint forces in vaccine procurement and campaign is vital to shield the community against the widespread of the virus.

    The period of state of calamity throughout the country is until September 21, 2021 according to Proclamation No. 1021 (s.2020) issued by President Rodrigo Duterte. In this case, mutual cross-border guidelines should be actively pursued as to promote clear response recovery across regions. This includes border closure and reopening, containment measures and exit strategies. Moreover, the use of e-government tools such as SUBAY App on e-Health passes will simplify, harmonize and accelerate COVID practices. This involves a solid information drive to establish well-informed citizens that knows about the effects of COVID-19 virus, importance of immunization through vaccines and what health standards to follow.

Based on March 18, 2020 Memorandum from the office of the Executive Secretary, the role of the local government units (LGUs), Philippine National Police (PNP), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), government owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs), government financial institutions (GFIs), state university and colleges (SUCs) is to adopt, coordinate and implement guidelines which the IATF may issue on the COVID-19 situation. The new normal spearheaded by DOH decision-makers provides control on infected areas by applying lockdown measures from Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) to Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) to General Community Quarantine (GCQ). The cooperation of all to follow minimum public health standards such as wearing facemasks, face shields and social distancing should be institutionalized in common/routine practices and remain even after the pandemic. 

The global supply of vaccines has made possible the deployment of safe and effective shots. As of July 11, 2021, the country has administered 13,196,282 doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far. However, the vaccine roll-out in the Philippines has also been constrained by lack of sufficient supplies imported. Hence, the general public is still expected to follow community quarantine protocol and policies. The extensive efforts of the Philippine department heads, agencies and instrumentalists of government is a key to success for the control and reinforcement of a centralized system such as contact tracing, identification of the mode of exposure to the virus and most importantly, the implementation of effective quarantine and proper isolation procedures.

The Philippine government needs to improve its design on carrying out comprehensive stimulus packages in promoting a tough recovery from COVID crisis. The contingency plan of actions by the governing body as well as the hope to halt the COVID-19 infections through effective immunization will save millions of lives. Vaccines remain the safest, most cost-effective protection against the disease and will provide a powerful tool to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, working in partnership with both public and private sectors will have the farthest reach and deepest impact of any public health program. The level of protection comes through a strong management effort to defeat COVID along with frontliners and health professionals.

Still, the future lies within our hands as we continue to fight like soldiers; as we make history for the hope of a better tomorrow. Just like what the famous quote from Abraham Lincoln  –  “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”