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HomeFeaturesJUVENTUS: Of change and systems

JUVENTUS: Of change and systems

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Filipinos do not deserve a bad system, we need a more efficient one.

When the nation, our city, and province decided to lock down and quarantine ourselves for some time to fight against the COVID-19 epidemic starting from the Ides of March (the 15th), I had expected that tough and concrete measures would be taken by the national government headed by the Chief Executive, the President of the Republic, and by the Local Government Unit heads, too.

I had braced myself, even though it was tough, for a prolonged wait beyond the middle of the month of April which normally would have been an enjoyable time. I had expected a clear line of communication between the government and the Filipino and Negrense people.

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How wrong and how sad most of their actions turned out!

From that mid-March juncture, a series of missteps and infuriating actions were taken by government officials which served to expose and bring to light the massive structural and systemic weaknesses of our current unitary presidential system in place through the 1987 Constitution.

Congruent to the exercise of powers of the legislative and the executive, the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act” was enacted in late March. This grant of emergency powers allowed the President to, among other things, “expedite and streamline the accreditation of testing kits and facilitate prompt testing by public and designated private institutions of persons under investigation and persons under monitoring”, and to “ensure that all Local Government Units are acting within the letter and spirit of all the rules, regulations, and directives issued by the National Government”.

The proclamations, issuances, and overt acts of the National Government which came after the passing of the act and directly pertaining to the two aforementioned policies have been found wanting.

As to the latter portion dealing with Local Government Units, it was on the 1st of April wherein the National Bureau of Investigation summoned the Mayor of Pasig City for the alleged violation of the Act. The month following that, when the Mayor of Marikina decided to open a COVID-19 testing center in his jurisdiction, that testing center was only accredited two weeks later towards the end of April.

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These two did not play well with some citizens, who viewed the government as running scared of the potential that local governance brings. Concurrently, the City of Iloilo took matters into their own hands by formulating their own health initiatives, a noble act.

According to Lew Daly, “subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority. It also sent an ironic message about their feeling apprehensive about the principle of subsidiarity, which was a key tenet as to why the current President was elected into power.

Moving to the former portion, it is clear that the government’s intention in their grant of emergency powers was to “ensure that there is significant funding to undertake” the immediate and ample provision of healthcare, including tests and treatments to patients, PUIs, and PUMs, to mitigate, if not contain the transmission of COVID-19, and to protect the interests of the Filipino during these challenging times. It would have then been prudent for the government to emulate the German model of testing, tracing, and treatment wherein according to The Guardian the Germans have been doing close to 1 million tests every week. More reports by Deutsche Welle said that they used a contact tracing application to assist their efforts. Both measures resulted in a good outcome: their lockdown has already been lifted, while the Philippines’ continues until the end of this month.

Given the vast authority granted by the emergency powers Act, and the example of Germany along with other successful countries (Taiwan, New Zealand, South Korea to name three), it greatly confounds one to think that the Presidential Spokesperson said the other day that “As much as possible, we are raising our testing capacity that’s why we’re aiming that we reach 30,000 (a day), but in terms of mass testing like what is being done by Wuhan where they’re testing all 11 million residents, we don’t have a similar program and we’re leaving it to the private sector.”

This comes after all the funds borrowed from international institutions abroad, supposedly to help suppress the spread. And after such proclamation, a lawmaker claimed that the government is not mandated to spend for mass testing.

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While the term itself (mass testing) is subject to dispute, it should not be a burden for the government to throw its weight at the root cause of the problem, to test more, to trace better, and to greatly amplify medical response.

There should have been no problem for the government to replicate successful models which worked in other countries, but as of the third week of May, those efforts have yet to be seen. Some of their responses are lacking and fall short of what is expected to address this crisis.

What exactly is happening? Well, whatever happens, citizens should not stop wanting better services, better practices, and better systems equipped towards meeting their needs and expectations. As long as what one argues for is based on scientific fact and proven results, there should be no backing away from advocating it.

It is evident that our experience with a highly-centralized state with an ultra-powerful executive has dampened the competences of local and national government in addressing this pandemic. In the words of Malou Tiquia, we have to revisit the idea of parliamentary form of government, even at the regional level. By jointly fusing the prerogatives of the executive and legislative, both swift policy-making and efficient mechanisms for governmental accountability are instilled within our leadership. The government will be able to perform more efficiently and find itself capable of communicating coherently and sensibly.

The opposition would benefit, too, as they can check if the government is carrying out their respective tasks and mandates.
Adhering similarly to the precept of subsidiarity, the diffusion of power towards local stakeholders makes more and more sense.

The role of the LGUs in addressing this crisis speaks volumes about why it is necessary to grant them more powers: for the reason that they are closer to what is happening within their territory; they are closer to their constituents. Some are equipped and ready to fight the pandemic and other crisis using their own resources, and that kind of capability indicative of strong local autonomy should be fostered and participated in by their stakeholders.

It is that very adherence to the principle of local problems being addressed by local solutions which will shape better governance and a more proactive citizenry interested in the affairs of their region and country.

Quarantine has not only exposed the Filipinos and Negrenses to a deadly virus, but to the fact that this old system we have now is breaking apart at a faster rate than expected. Its limitations have become more noticeable. It has also exposed the people to the possibility of a better quality of life with more proven practices and means of governance. The reconsideration and rebuilding of our political and economic milieu is long-overdue. It must begin immediately to bring our country into the 21st century, to make no more excuses for a lack of accountability and transparency.

As I posted the other day, it pays to correct the constitution, because this will lift us all up in the long run. We deserve better systems.

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Gabriel Christian J. Lacson
Gabriel Christian J. Lacson
“Those who look only to the past or to the present are certain to miss the future.” - John F. Kennedy

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