Can the Deegong hack it?

Can the Deegong hack it? Featured

Economic collapse and death of thousands

FIVE months into the pandemic and six to eight weeks of quarantine and lockdowns, several countries intent on mitigating the contagion and reopening their economies came out with varying strategies and results. Some opened their economies too early and were hit by a second wave, while others are now in the process of economic recovery, with the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases and deaths reduced to acceptable minimums.

Vietnam and Taiwan could be examples of the latter. These countries correctly read the footprints of an epidemic from Wuhan and, anticipating a pandemic, their quick reaction, closing their borders, saved them countless lives. Their governments were prepared for the outbreak even before their first cases.


But their subsequent moves could be the gold standard for the mitigation and eradication of Covid-19. They ramped up their infrastructure for testing in real time, with results allowing them to identify the positives to effectively put in place contact tracing, applying the latest technology. This made it possible to identify the probables and start the isolation and treatment process, as well as the enrolment into their excellent healthcare systems.

These allowed them to open their economy in stages observing normal health protocols: wearing face masks in public, physical distancing, frequent washing of hands, etc. Taiwan for one has even started manufacturing and shipping personal protective equipment masks, gloves and health paraphernalia to other countries.


With a population of 96 million and a gross domestic product (GDP) of $261 billion, Vietnam’s profile is comparable to the Philippines, with the latter’s 108 million population and GDP of $383 billion. But its approach to mitigating the effects of the contagion sets it apart.

Vietnam’s healthcare system, hammered under decades of socialism, is much superior, having internalized the health mantra of “testing-tracing-
isolation/treatment” (TTT). Vietnam likewise did not have the wherewithal for a mass TTT, but went for a “selective but proactive prevention,” targeting clusters of outbreaks. More importantly, its leadership “…has not hesitated to restrict movements where needed, balancing overt caution with precision.” (The Diplomat, April 18, 2020). Checkpoints were put up to minimize inter-community virus transmission and medical facilities for testing and treatment were set up in tandem. But my take on Vietnam was its leadership’s appeal to the nationalist spirit of its people, inspiring in them the same patriotism that propelled the people to fight and defeat a great enemy — America — during the Vietnam war. Surely, the same resolve surfaced against this pandemic.

Vietnam is now far ahead in reopening its economy. The Asian Development Bank has forecast Vietnam’s economy to bounce back to 6.8 percent in 2021 — one of Southeast Asia’s fastest growing economies. As of this writing, Vietnam has less than 350 Covid-19 cases with no deaths. An impressive achievement.

The Philippines

If the reckless euphoria of the first days of the modified enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao were portents of things to come, I am certain that in restarting our economy, from 1,000 to 50,000 to 100,000 Filipinos will die. But I also accept the imperatives of Philippine economic recovery, though we may not be able to resume the old rhythms of Filipino life. Economic resurgence and Covid mitigation are both central to the well-being, if not the survival, of the Filipinos. “Saving lives or saving the economy” is a false choice. This conundrum cannot be reduced to a “zero sum game.” Both need to be saved or both are lost.

My column last week was a cursory study of the type of leadership demanded in these critical times, comparing the United States and the Philippines. President Rodrigo “Deegong” Duterte is comparatively superior, given that US President Donald Trump is utterly dismal. But the Deegong’s actuations of late leave much to be desired. Police chief Debold Sinas of the National Capital Region Police Office became a cause célèbre when he flaunted his disdain for quarantine rules he himself was mandated to enforce. By itself, it seems peculiarly insignificant. But social media has a way of blowing things out in the open, turning the sordid affair viral, no doubt fueled by people’s pent-up anger over a long lockdown. And this buffoon of a general provides the sparkplug by displaying contempt for the rule of law.

Worse, the President was nonchalant about the whole affair at a critical juncture, when on that day 10,463 Covid-19 cases yielded 696 deaths. Such cavalier behavior erodes the trust of people in a leadership — centered on the Deegong himself. And people’s trust is the one ingredient Duterte can ill afford to lose. And he could be losing this fast.

Duterte, no doubt, is the most powerful president the Philippines has ever produced, with the exception of Ferdinand Marcos. With a compliant House of Representatives headed by a marionette of a speaker, a cowed Senate with a pipsqueak of a minority and a judiciary stuffed with his appointees, the classic concept of co-equal branches has been shredded. Duterte has virtually assumed the mantle of a benevolent dictator upon the people’s sufferance and the acquiescence of Congress and the men in black robes. At this time of the pandemic, where desperate people’s lives and Philippine society itself are in great mortal danger, perhaps a dictatorship is inevitable.

Where are we today

The Philippine Institute for Development Studies has declared that economic losses will hover between P276.3 billion at best and P2.482 trillion at worst. And we are on track to a jobless rate of 40 percent and beyond, not even counting the “informal sector” — cigarette vendors, street goods hawkers, etc. Such statistics no longer mean anything. Duterte has already declared we are running on fumes. No more money. The original P270-billion-plus outlay for subsidies is kaput. What comes next is hunger and deprivation. Our health system sucks, courtesy of our politicians over the decades and will be overburdened. This social volcano is now simmering. It could erupt resulting in chaos. And God help even us in the gated communities. (“Alternative aftermaths” The Manila Times, April 22, 2020); (“Economic recovery and the second wave,” TMT, April 29,2020).

His mandate

In reopening the economy, the Deegong needs to understand the emerging trade-offs. Many of the “pasaway” (stubborn) from the slums will contract Covid-19, inducing the coming wave, and die. In essence, they are the targets of the “Balik Probinsya” program, their elimination an intended consequence — easing the burden and stress for the middle class and the elite. But such is the sordid calculus of survival. The natural process of the Malthusian Catastrophe combined with Darwin’s concept of natural selection are inescapable.

These are the moral choices DU30 cannot bluster his way out of, unlike his histrionics, cursing God and the pope and disparaging women. This moral dilemma Duterte must confront will define with finality his presidency and his legacy. His 80-percent public approval rating will not amount to a “warm jug of spit.” This is no longer a matter of political will. As the economy plunges deeper into recession, he will have to choose. Is he prepared to sacrifice 100,000 souls for the good of the 105 million?

If he succeeds, the Filipino may forgive him all his transgressions. He could even be a great president, serendipitously!000
Read 214 times Last modified on Wednesday, 27 May 2020 10:51
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