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Missing (and Messing) the Point

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IN THE Senate Committee of the Whole hearing last Monday on the government’s vaccination plan, the senators brought to fore what was mainly ailing the government of the current dispensation: it’s missing the point, if not messing it.

The senators, for instance, noted that in 1995 or thereabout,  about 96 percent of Filipinos thumbed up the government’s vaccination program.  This year, that percentage dropped to more than 60 percent.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque had no answer but offered a solution:  a massive marketing campaign to reverse the trend.

Sen. Richard Gordon, who saw the huge discrepancy, pointed out that the high approval rating was recorded during the time of then Health Secretary Juan Flavier. The mention of Flavier was not conceivably an accident.

Duque missed Gordon’s subtle but savvy insinuation: it’s wasn’t more and more creative information or marketing strategies that did it; it was TRUST. So much so that in the marketing slogan, Let’s DOH it, the agency’s acronym was front and center its brand message.  The name was the slogan because it served as the emblem of trust.  Now, that’s smart marketing.

The people bought into the message, not because it was simple and dumbed down and beneficial, but because the people were ready to entrust in Flavier’s their health, and ultimately, sent the  barrio doctor by  an overwhelming vote to the Senate where and when he  endeared himself more to the people. He could have been another Magsaysay but for destiny.

Sen, Ping Lacson, who has no love lost for Duqueand makes sure he stabs at it when chance presents itself could not also reconcile two recent poll results that seemed to cancel each other out. On the one hand, one survey says about 30 percent would not have themselves jabbed. On the other hand, more than 90 percent feared that they will contract the virus.

He may not have intended it, but Lacson doubled down on the issue of trust. People trusted more the virus, therefore feared it, more than the government ventriloquists.  That’s funny in the Senate bubble, but not in the real world outside where, as Lacson urgently pointed, COVID victims continue to fall by the wayside because of the deadly bug.

Lacson’s later comments zeroed in what’s the issue at hand and what has been long eating him up inside. He warned Secretary Carlito Galvez, the anti-COVID czar, that incompetence was as infectious as the invisible virus.  So much about pet peeve.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan noticed inconsistencies in the vaccination plan of the government.  The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) headed by Galvez has a vaccination timeline from 2021 to 2022 for 50-70 million people with 148,million doses. The DOH, which is part of the IATF, narrowed it  down within 2021.

Galvez and company grappled with a sane, sensible answer.

Senators Frank Drilon and Ralph Recto alternately mauled the logic of the anti-COVID Cabinet in not allowing the private sector and the local government units purchase any of the vaccines given the Emergency Use Approval(EUA).  Director General Eric Domingo, arguing more like a lawyer than a medicine man, replied that they are not allowed because only the national government can. It’s not cast in stone, but that’s the way it is.

The flummoxed senators, who nearly fell off their chairs, didn’t say the policy was stupid but it sure didn’t make sense. Why is it supposedly safe for the millions of Filipinos targeted by IATF and not be  tothe other millions in the private sector and the LGU constituents? Domingo: because the  nationalgovernment or somebody says so. It was ridiculous apart from having no rhyme. What is good for the goose isn’t good for the gander.  

Robert Reich, former Cabinet member of US President Bill Clinton wrote in his memoir “Locked in the Cabinet” that being in government is about holding a public trust and getting the job done. “To confuse the two,” he said, could lead to big mistakes.”

The good news is that, for all the apparent confusions and inconsistencies, Filipinos can look forward to being jabbed in February this year. Drilon is the implacable Doubting Thomas because of the supply issue (80 percent of available vaccines already cornered by rich countries) and funds for acquiring the vaccines are still in the air. The drift: manage your expectations.

For once, the Senate has proved itself still a trustworthy democratic institution, even if it tiptoed onthe controversial vaccination of members of the Presidential Security Guard and looked the other way on other things in the past.  It’s better not to ignore the aging and cranky dragon on the doorway. The honorable elders in this realm can be as bad and blind only as they choose to be bad and be blinded.

That’s a statement of hope or a naïve hyperbole.

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