Duterte’s corrupt and incompetent Covid-19 response is falling apart

The corrupt and incompetent response of the Duterte regime to the Covid-19 pandemic is falling apart, leaving the health system unable to put itself ahead of the epidemic and putting the Filipino people ever vulnerable to the disease.

Dr. Tony Leachon, adviser to the Inter-Agency Task Force, resigned the other day after criticizing the lack of urgency, transparency and problems related to Covid-19 data management by the Department of Health and the IATF. As a result, Duterte’s pandemic response team is one health-oriented officer less and now more securely commanded by military officers.

The gross incompetence of the IATF to the Covid-19 pandemic is glaring. It has failed to stay ahead of virus transmissions because of its failure to prioritize measures to ramp up the capacity of the health system. Specifically, it has ignored the need to conduct country-wide free mass testing and contact-tracing, as the most crucial measure to determine the extent and direction of the spread of the virus.

The Duterte government’s system for gathering exact and real-time data is grossly inefficient, inaccurate and next to useless in a pandemic. The numbers being churned out daily by the DOH are actually several days late. The daily data-drop made available for public scrutiny are not always available. Because of these delays and lack of transparency, the DOH’s data system has failed to provide the much-needed basis to make informed, evidence-based decisions regarding the conduct of countering the pandemic. Lack of real-time information during a pandemic is criminal neglect on the part of the Duterte regime.

Without real time data, policy decisions affecting millions of Filipinos are made on the basis of non-peer-reviewed mathematical models and projections at best, or on arbitrary opinions of Duterte and his IATF fascist generals at worst. After months of repressive lockdown, the regime has now thrown caution to the wind and perpetrated a “bahala na kayo” attitude in the rush to open the economy and please its comprador and foreigh capitalist patrons.

In the case of migrant workers who arrived from abroad, a large number received their test results after several weeks or a month of waiting in poorly equipped quarantine centers, where many could have acquired the disease before being rushed home by Duterte’s order. A number of them later tested positive and served as transmitters of the disease to wider parts of the country, negating months of border restrictions and travel bans between islands and provinces. Duterte himself, with the help of his factotum Bong Go’s Balik Probinsya program, has singlehandedly caused the transmission of Covid-19 to all regions, threatening their already thin health resources and putting rural communities in danger.

According to the DOH, daily testing output is now set to reach 10,000, way behind the original target of 30,000 by the end of May. The DOH is the first to admit that testing output is adversely affected by the dilapidated facilities and lack of modern equipment of fund-starved public laboratories such as the RITM and profit-oriented private laboratories. Still, the Duterte government has ignored the clamor to ramp up spending in order for the government itself to lead in mass testing as key to addressing the public health crisis.

The DOH puts the current number of cases at close to 28,000, up by 9,900 cases from around 18,100 since the start of the month, or an average daily new cases of around 550 during the last 20 days, up by around 79.3% from the daily average of 310 during the month of May. In comparison, there were 2,081 cases in March, 6,128 in April and 8,736 in May.

The gross failure of the Duterte regime to effectively address the Covid-19 pandemic is made worse by massive corruption by Duterte himself, and his health and military officials. They have amassed billions of pesos in public funds through the purchase of overpriced personal protective equipment, testing machines, bribe-taking from big business and pocketing of social subsidies.

Duterte’s continued failure to address the Covid-19 pandemic from a public health or epidemiological perspective stems from his obsession with militarist methods and continuing pursuit of his scheme to establish a fascist dictatorship. He insists on blaming the people (“pasaway”) when it is his regime that should, in fact, be held to account for its failures and incompetence. He has roused widespread indignation in prioritizing the enactment of the fascist Anti-Terror Bill.

In this time of pandemic, it is the responsibility of the state to tell the people where the virus is, contain its spread through small-area quarantine measures, provide socioeconomic support for affected areas, and raise the capacity of the health system to treat patients, protect its health workers, while addressing the demands for jobs, higher wages and land.

Instead of health measures, Duterte continues to apply militarist measures of large-area quarantine. It has refused to increase subsidies for public education to allow schools to open and provide a healthy environment for students, and instead is insisting on its wholesale ban against face-to-face education and passing the burden on teachers and students. It has stubbornly refused to allow and subsidize jeeps and other public utility vehicles to provide the public safe rides.

The IATF continues to impose travel restrictions and checkpoints with the ultimate agenda of controlling the population and putting everyone under the state’s surveillance machinery. This is resulting in grave hardships on the Filipino people, especially, workers and low-income earners, and widespread corruption in the military and police force.

As the pandemic worsens, the gross incompetence of the Duterte regime, specifically the IATF and the Department of Health will become even more stark. The Filipino people enjoins all the remaining well-meaning officials and government workers, especially in the DOH, to join Dr. Leachon and abandon the militarist regime.

They would serve the Filipino people better by exposing the ills of the health system and the failure of the regime’s Covid-19 response. History will be kind to them if they decide to end serving a regime that has continued to criminally neglect the people’s public health and instead pursue its scheme of establishing a fascist dictatorship.

Duterte's corrupt and incompetent Covid-19 response is falling apart