We need ground implementors… but politics gets in the way…

The trend of continuing increases in covid infections in the PH over the weeks to nearly 7000 a day from a few hundred is an indication of, beyond any political administration, of one of our weaknesses in practical, integrated ground responses to crises or logistically complex situations.  This demonstrates itself again and again in times of calamity, in the disorganization of our infrastructures, business or manufacturing ecosystems, laws and regulations.  That this covid trend has gone on for months when most other countries, except for the mentally and politically challenged ones, already have the infection curve flattened into sporadic localized outbreaks.  We are unable to collectively, to adjust to situations that require ground skills, hard decisions of changes of friends in management, and changes from hope-based frameworks to results-and-data-based ones.

The Philippines has improved in the treatment protocols by our hospitals and health workers.  It has reasonably delivered in 2 months on the assistance to workers through government disbursements, distribution of the social amelioration program, made more facilities available in beds, ventilators, masks, PPEs and medical supplies.  Private-Public partnerships have added quarantine facilities, lab testing capacities from 300 to over 35,000 a day.  We collect aggregate statistics of infections and mortalities in the city, large municipalities and country level.

But why are the infections still rising?  The data comes weeks late, the infected are not being effectively identified and quarantined.  Some decision-makers in government lack the discipline to study or to manage what’s happening on the ground… the information collected is not barangay operations level.  For months, it took most LGUs days to respond to a reported possible case, then when tested, the person may not be contact traced until the results come out more than 10 days later, when it is useless already, and the number of contacts traced is way below the world average— when Filipinos are known to be sociable.  The quarantine centers built by private donations and government were hardly used, there was no capacity planning for processing; food, processors, and supplies were not managed; neither the allocation of health workers, compensation and protection planning.  There was no managed barangay-level data on a central basis, when this is the heart of managing the infection source, the most crucial level, not the aggregates-levels.  There is no contact center to respond quickly, despite our pride in being the world’s contact center. The LGU personnel on the ground for a long time didn’t have central guidelines on a detailed operations basis on how to deal with potential reports of infections.   

Hopefully, and reportedly, these are now to be addressed, but expect delays.  Meanwhile, there are developments internationally that may help us, or create obstacles.  

China, having made large donations in equipments and supplies, has also pledged to make the vaccine a public good and priority allocations for the Philippines if these are proven viable.  Russia offered not only supply, but also possible production in the Philippines, if we want to and are able. Yet these assistances and their investments are downplayed, ignored, or criticized by the same media outfits and “nationalist-experts” who turn around and ask where the pledged assistances from these countries are, whereas much smaller assistances from the US, UK, etc. are headlined.  We can outline some details in later articles. 

Vietnam has announced it will buy 150 million doses of the Russian Sputnik Vaccine, some of which will be gifted.  While disputing territories with China, it courted and received nearly 10 billions of USD in investments from China last year.  Japan has disputes with China and yet Prime Minister Abe and President Xi are working on improving relations and are cooperating on fighting covid together.  Thailand has robust relations with Russia, China and the US.  For some reason even our Ambassador to the US, and our Senators are weekly criticizing some countries in unison with the US, but not questioning the US supporting giving up our Sabah to Malaysia, hiding of covid informations, interference in other countries, and military adventures.  We should instead befriend as well as push a bit against, all others, for the Filipino people.  The framework for outlooks should be the net benefit vs cost on the whole, over the medium and long term, and based on actual history of behaviors and commitments. 

We are now also part of the clinical trials of vaccines from the US and UK, drugs from Japan.  We have to remember though that whereas the EU, China, Russia, Germany, etc. have declared that any medical breakthrough should be for the world, and accessibly priced, the US has bought up almost all of the remdesivir for months ahead, tried to buy German vaccine maker for “exclusive US use” according to German health officials, and the US has stated that US companies have to serve the US and their profits are to be protected. 

We should strengthen our economy and the education of our people so we are not easily swayed by our survival needs or propaganda of others, whoever that may be.  The covid has made the world one big community helping one another, except for the US under Trump trying to divide and taunt the world, from Mexico to China to colored peoples, Muslims, Palestinians, Europeans, etc., as well as the very institutions of the United States.  

We should look beyond the short term pushing of both the US and China, and deal practically, diplomatically, and take advantage of an economy of China—  a neighbor destined to be twice the size of the US in 10 years—  and the US, which is still the richest and most powerful country for decades to come.  Not to forget ASEAN which is the second fastest growing region in the world right next to us.  These next 20 years can be the most exciting and fastest growth period for the Philippines, if we get our acts together.  

We must make it also a goal to spread the benefits among all our people, but the only way to institutionalise that requires for our people to do their part also by being open, practical, and spend time acquiring skills and knowledge, giving the perseverance needed with more logic than emotionalism and tribalism.  

Let us all work together relentlessly toward a more resilient and robust Philippines, more relentlessly than the virus, more steadfastly than the geopolitical and local winds that may blow.
____________________George Siy is a Wharton-educated industrialist, international trade practitioner and negotiator, serving as director of the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). He has advised the Philippines and various organizations in trade negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan and the United States. 

A similar version is published in ManilaTimes. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (idsicenter@gmail.com).

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