"Who says you can’t transform a deadly health crisis into an opportunity to amass untold wealth?"
In the 19 months of the COVID-19 pandemic in this country, we’ve come to realize that the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID)—established during the previous administration—seemed just as confused as the rest of the citizenry on what to do in the face of the deadly disease.
Our Great Communicator even said early on that we should not fear the coronavirus as it would “die a natural death.” It didn’t; it continues to ravage our own population with disastrous consequences. The death toll now stands at more than 36,000 as we speak—and counting. That tells us in no small measure that bluster and bluff can cost many, many lives.
It is true that no country anticipated COVID-19 and had made adequate preparations for it. But what differentiated us from other countries was that they dealt with it with an array of options, from calibrated lockdowns to ramped-up testing, contact tracing, quarantine and treatment facilities. The IATF response, on the other hand, was to adopt mainly draconian measures, starting with harsh lockdowns complete with camouflaged police carrying high-powered rifles and backed up by armed personnel carriers in some instances, apparently to instill fear in the people and keep them indoors.
The government, keen on controlling the movement of people instead of the coronavirus, failed to conduct massive free testing of the population, especially seniors, as well as extensive contact tracing. Two years on, we still lack enough medical facilities to treat cases.
Today, the IATF composed mainly of Cabinet-level secretaries headed by the Health Secretary does not seem to have gotten their act together —or gathered their wits about— and follows the same pattern of lockdowns with varying levels of restrictions and severity.
The medical doctors acting as a panel of experts to the IATF appear to have surrendered to Duterte’s militarist mindset.
The heavy-handed approach to controlling the spread of COVID-19 has led to not a few locked up in jail. These include jeepney drivers prevented from plying their routes and reduced to begging in the streets because of loss of income.
Those also locked up have been ordinary citizens who violated curfew hours, as well as health and safety protocols, and those not wearing face masks, or improperly wearing them. Some were punished by police and barangay tanods by having them sit under the hot tropical sun for hours, or made to do repeated push-ups.
The luckless include those who died from COVID-19 in hospitals without their loved ones by their side. Among them was an ex-soldier suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) who was shot dead by police who thought he was reaching for a gun from a bag he was carrying. He had none. There’s no news that the policeman has been meted disciplinary action or even facing homicide charges.
The luckless also include owners of micro and small businesses forced to shut down, their workers laid off and having to look for other livelihood opportunities just to make ends meet. Restaurant owners are among those heavily affected by lockdowns, but there are just too many other businesses that have gone belly up because of lockdown restrictions.
The luckless also include students who, with face-to-face learning banned since March 2020, have had to endure difficulties in their studies. Distance learning requires a computer or even just a cellphone, but with stable internet connection. How can poor families who cannot eat three square meals a day even afford to purchase cell phones or computers, much less have a stable internet connection?
But it’s a favored few who have not been locked down, locked up or luckless. They’re the lucky ones—or the extremely lucky—who have acquired wealth beyond their wildest dreams simply by taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have benefited immensely from the importation of COVID-19 paraphernalia such as face masks, face shields, test kits and personal protective equipment (PPEs).
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee has found that P8.7 billion was paid to a favored pharmaceutical company with just P625,000 paid-in capital. The one-sided deal considered grossly disadvantageous to the national government was contracted without any public bidding and greenlighted by Malacañang itself due to a public health emergency.
But what we now know from the Senate hearings is this: a few top officials of the pharmaceutical firm are reported to have purchased expensive luxury vehicles—Ferraris and Porsches—just recently, or about the same time that the overpriced supplies were promptly paid in full by the national government.
Some are smarter and luckier than others, to be sure. Who says you can’t transform a deadly health crisis into an opportunity to amass untold wealth?