The Manila Times
NO HOLDS BARRED
Rep. Edcel C. Lagman’s
Weekly Thursday Column
IN my column of April 29, 2021, I underscored that the 2022 elections will be a referendum on President Rodrigo Duterte’s chaotic and feeble response to the pandemic. It will also be a crucial test of the Filipino voters’ capacity to render wise judgment on a president’s dismal failure to save lives and livelihoods from Covid-19’s controllable virulence.
Duterte’s anointed candidates and his furtive allies will have extreme difficulty defending his indefensible lackadaisical response to the Covid-19 pandemic. They could not negate the universal prognosis of world economists and medical experts that the Philippines will be last in the Asia-Pacific region to recover from the pandemic, both in economic recession and health issues, due to Duterte’s flawed and ineffective management.
Corollary to the postmortem of Duterte’s pathetic pandemic response is a review of the presidential candidates’ respective initiatives and performance in arresting the onslaught of the pandemic. They must be gauged based on their remedies to the contagion.
Of the six presidential aspirants, Vice President Leni Robredo has the most varied, innovative, and successful projects and programs assisting healthcare frontliners, the marginalized and disadvantaged sectors, and senior citizens to survive the pandemic.
The Office of the Vice President (OVP) receives among the smallest budgets in the bureaucracy but consistently receives the highest audit rating from the Commission on Audit for frugal, prudent, and forthright utilization of funds.
The OVP’s miniscule budget is pittance compared to the annual appropriation of over P8-B for the Office of the President. The President also controls the disbursements from the contingent and calamity funds amounting to billions.
After deducting the allocations for mandatory personal services and regular maintenance and other operating expenses, not much is left for VP Leni’s ongoing projects. With the emergence of the pandemic, she has had to stretch her budget to fund pandemic response activities.
Despite the OVP’s meager budget for Covid-19 response, Leni, with the help of volunteers and donors who trust her competence and integrity, has accomplished numerous effective programs from the inception of the pandemic and onwards, like the following:
1) Free dormitory for frontline healthcare workers, which Leni and her Angat Buhay partners opened in Cubao, Quezon City on March 26, 2020, a week after the first lockdown. A free dormitory in Cebu City was also set up.
2) In mid-March 2020, the OVP began free shuttle service for health workers. Starting on August 4, 2020, eight routes passing several major hospitals across Metro Manila were operationalized. On July 6, 2020, the OVP also provided free shuttle service in Cebu City with an initial three routes.
3) Bayanihan E-Eskwela was launched by Leni on Oct. 5, 2020, providing instructional videos for teachers, parents, and students to help them transition to distance learning. Leni said that with videos uploaded to the Bayanihan E-Eskwela YouTube channel, children need not stop their schooling while face-to-face classes are still not allowed.
4) On March 29, 2021, a free mobile antigen testing program called “Swab Cab” was introduced in areas with rising Covid-19 cases to help local government units (LGUs) quell transmission, particularly in the Covid-19 hotspots of Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, and Cavite.
5) On April 7, 2021, the OVP implemented its Bayanihan E-Konsulta, a free medical teleconsultation referral service on Facebook and Messenger for outpatient cases in the National Capital Region and nearby provinces to help decongest hospitals following the record spike in Covid-19 cases. Non-Covid patients can also avail of this free service. At its height, Bayanihan E-Konsulta received more than 10,000 consultations in less than a week and Leni personally manned the graveyard shift in order to relieve overworked volunteers.
6) On June 21, 2021, Leni launched the Vaccine Express for the rollout of vaccines to target sectors and communities. She started with the vaccination of tricycle, pedicab, and delivery riders in Manila in coordination with Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagoso. It was expanded to other Metro Manila cities, Naga City and Iriga City in Camarines Sur, San Pedro City in Laguna, San Fernando City in Pampanga, Capas in Tarlac and Cagayan de Oro City, among others, with the help of LGUs. The principal beneficiaries come from the A5 category of the “most vulnerable and indigent.”
7) Leni’s other projects include hot meals for health workers and other frontliners; food packs for the rural and urban poor and public transportation drivers; P14-M worth of University of the Philippines coronavirus test kits distributed to testing laboratories; P20.43 million worth of gadgets for students attending online classes; no less than 42,000 Philippine-made personal protective equipment sets; and assistance to locally stranded individuals.
The import of Leni’s initiative transcends the number of beneficiaries served and the amount utilized. It is her sincerity and devotion to help the needy and the nationwide experience she has acquired that matter the most.
For his part, Mayor Isko built for his Manila constituents 16 quarantine facilities, a Covid-19 field hospital, two swab laboratories, a dialysis area for Covid-infected patients, and storage facilities for vaccines. Food boxes were also distributed to Manila residents to cushion the impact of the pandemic.
Senator Manny Pacquiao donated five buses to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and 600,000 face masks to multiple frontline government agencies. In partnership with FundLife, he distributed “safe-at-home” packs and provided digital vocational training to vulnerable girls in Cebu and Leyte.
Former Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., two weeks before he filed his certificate of candidacy, donated 13,000 rapid antibody test kits to the First District of Quezon City.
Except for assenting to the Bayanihan Acts, Senators Ping Lacson and Bato dela Rosa have no record of any other pandemic response.
Since the pandemic will continue to beleaguer the next administration, a presidential candidate’s successful nationwide experience in combatting Covid-19 will serve the incoming president in good stead.