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Duterte’s visionary leadership against COVID-19: A timeline

Features | Laurice Angeles

“I assure you that everything is safe in our country.” Hearing this from a determined and temperate man, the country’s leader no less, is reassuring to his countless supporters and hopeful constituents as the COVID-19 pandemic started ensuing. Amidst criticism, he assured, “Have faith in the government. We will do our very best.” This is President Rodrigo Duterte’s world-famous leadership style — making promise after promise as the Philippines’ pandemic situation progresses into a likely disaster.

Early on, Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III urged Filipinos to “stay calm and remain vigilant.” Indeed, there was some type of relief given as Duque guaranteed the public that they had the situation under control well after detecting the first confirmed case in the country, even being set immediately into action. Duque also boasted DOH’s strong surveillance system, contact tracing, and close ties with the World Health Organization at that time. Alongside that, Duterte attempted to ease public agitation by deeming the virus spread “not really that fearsome.”

However, despite the confident reassurance, DOH later admitted that they only contacted 17% of the passengers in the same flight with the country’s first COVID-19 patients. Soon after the incubation period of the first cases, they stopped contact tracing and focused instead on what they called “preparedness.” As Filipinos were still hopeful that everything would shortly go back to normal, this only seemed to be a slight mistake in a carefully planned set of actions. Yet the situation just about went straight downhill from there.

Duterte had a plan.

It turns out that there was indeed a planned set of actions after all. That is, Duterte chose to instill “peace and order” through militarism, another unique approach that made him quite well-known. A lockdown was implemented in March 2020, which police enforcers and barangay officials managed to abuse, and different types of community quarantine were unrelentingly implemented after. Even so, the number of local cases continued to increase.

With the apparent inefficiency of this approach, it was getting frustrating for the general public. More Filipinos lost jobs and went hungry. Not only that, the response of DOH was also slow, always somehow delayed, and overall lacked a sense of urgency. The scientific community, resonating the plight of the public, called for a more scientific approach starting with immediate mass testing during the lockdown. DOH, however, being greatly determined by their foresight, claimed to have prepared and planned for mass testing but deemed it to be unnecessary at that time.

Hopeful prospects turn up again.

“I promise you, by the grace of God, I hope by December, we would be back to normal.” News of developing COVID-19 vaccines started to spark hope in people from different parts of the globe and this was Duterte’s promise by the end of July 2020. Without proper mass testing and a few more months with no significant government action, this promise was a breath of fresh air. He swore to get funds for vaccines and even boasted of China’s vow that the Philippines will be their priority in vaccine distribution. Even so, the Philippine government claimed to have reached out to various COVID-19 vaccine developers from different countries including the US and UK.

In the month after that, the Philippines ranked first in Southeast Asia as the country with the most number of COVID-19 cases, and 20th in the world in October, all while having the longest lockdown as well. By December 2020, over 23,000 Filipinos were still infected with the deadly virus, and the first batch of donated vaccines reached the country by February 2021.

As Filipinos mark a year after the first enhanced community quarantine in March 2020, the first local transmission of the more infectious UK variant was recorded in the country and the daily number of local COVID-19 cases shot up to a record-breaking 8,019. With the situation this much worse, the government responded as they did a year ago — another lockdown with no other sustainable measures.

A couple months ago, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr., a retired military officer, expressed his plans to vaccinate 60 to 70% of the country’s population by quarter four of 2021 if the vaccines would arrive on time. Despite these so-called efforts, Filipinos continue to suffer and lose hope by the day as the daily number of cases rise up to over 10,000. With history repeating itself and the unchanging patterns of militaristic action, it is truly a mystery as to when Filipinos will experience more results from government action and less empty promises.




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