“ To grow mushrooms you feed them with manure and keep them in the dark.”
He violated omerta or the code of silence and for that he was fired.
I am referring to Dr. Tony Leachon, the medical adviser to the National Task Force on Covid 19. The NTF is the implementing arm of the IATF. Leachon publicly called out the IATF for “losing focus in everything, risk communication, priorities, data management, and execution of all plans. It’s as if the DOH is playing around but these are lives….for every wrong decision the department makes so many lives are lost.”
Coincidentally, Ombudsman Samuel Martires announced he had ordered the investigation of the DOH for :
- The delayed procurement of protective equipment to health workers.
- Alleged lapses and irregularities that led to the death of health workers and rising deaths and infections among medical frontliners.
- Inaction in the release and processing of compensation for healthcare workers who were severely ill with COVID19 and who died.
- Confusing and delayed reporting of COVID19 deaths and confirmed cases.
The office of the Ombudsman reported being given the run-around by DOH officials in the course of its investigation.
These come after Eliseo Rio, former undersecretary of the DICT, resigned over the approval of Stay.Safe Philippines as the official app “for social distancing and health condition reporting and contact tracing“ when it is “useless” and “approved without technical vetting”.
What we are seeing is an apparent culture of hiding and possibly deceit in the high levels of the DOH. Anecdotally the private sector reports similar refusal of the DOH to share virus information with the Thinking Machine, an initiative of business to build a data warehouse of COVID19 cases. Coupled with the shutdown or attempted shutdown of media platforms like ABS-CBN and Rappler who have been important sources of investigative journalism, we are increasingly in a world of darkness where the only information we are encouraged to have are the canned messages from state agencies and spokespersons. A ranking IATF official said: “There can be several messengers but only one message”. Fair enough but what if the message is misleading, wrong or worse, dangerous? Citizens are told to report wrongdoings but public servants are muzzled. When does an official stop serving his masters in Government however corrupt or inept and when does he start serving the public whose interest he is vowed to protect?
A shroud of silence has been thrown over our community. Anybody who speaks out of turn is dismissed or worse.
To this date we do not really know where we stand on the pandemic. All this talk about flattening the curve has disappeared because we do not have a curve. The data is not real time, is potentially scrubbed and inconsistently aggregated. We are told the NCR barely made the health grade and if we do not behave we will be remanded back to ECQ. It is always our fault, never the fault of those in Government who now are being shown to be incompetent, possibly up to no good or ignorant, we do not know which is worse.
In the meantime the Filipino and the economy continue to take a beating. The macro numbers will be reported after the end of Q2 but evidence is emerging the carnage is worse than forecast.
The Asian Development Bank predicts the Philippine economy will contract by 3.8% this year compared to the Southeast regional average of 2.8%. Coming as we did from being the fastest growing economy to now one of the deepest in recession tells us how serious a hole we are in.
On the ground we see the credit numbers worsening. The key metrics are the credit card, mortgage and consumer credit numbers since these are more reflective of the true plight of the average Filipino and the data is real time. Loans to businesses are often single payment with maturities of three to twelve months. We will not see defaults until these loans come due starting in Q3. Consumer credit, credit cards and mortgages, however, are paid in monthly installments so they are the canaries in the mine. They give us a more immediate indication of the financial stress among the public who make up 70% of aggregate demand. One major seller of motorized tricycles, electronics and white goods with several billions in installment sales nationwide gives us a picture of the crisis: Pre-covid, the company had 85% of clients paying on due date. In the first month after the lockdown, this number dropped to 75%, in the second month it fell precipitously to 47%. This tells us the consumer is running out of gas. After keeping workers on their payroll for 2-3 months, businesses have started to lay off employees. Social relief transfers have similarly run out. These explain the fall-off in credit payments. This trend is expected to continue as businesses are unable or unwilling to stay open with the health protocols be they lack of public transportation or unsustainable social distancing rules.
BSP Governor Ben Diokno said there is ample liquidity in the system for banks to lend yet SMEs complain credit is not available. This tells us banks are channeling the extra cash for their prime clients and to reinvest in Treasury bills. The last T-Bill issuance of PHP30 billion was over four times oversubscribed. New money to very small and micro businesses who make up over 60% of jobs is not there and for a reason: Banks are not prepared to lend if they will not be repaid. What was previously a liquidity crunch is now for many an insolvency issue. BPI reports 14% of its SME loans and 30% of its Microfinance credits are seeking restructuring and overall non-performing loans will peak in 2021.
Diokno reported that the Treasury has still not drawn on its PHP240 billion credit facility with the BSP yet the President announced the Government has no more money.
There is seemingly a lack of urgency among our Government officials. They react to the crisis rather than anticipate it. They wait for numerical validation or follow what our neighbors are doing; even if they already know from experience what is the answer. They are forever behind the curve. It is business as usual.
The IATF is kicking the can down the road on testing and contract tracing.
The DBM, DSWD, DOLE or whoever its job is to release the second tranche of social relief has delayed the monies even if they already have the contact details of the 18 million recipients. It is taking an investigation by the House to ferret this out.
DOH Sec. Franciso Duque says we were not late in procuring much needed PPEs, our neighbors were just early.
The BSP is waiting for its June 25 Monetary Board meeting to decide whether to cut its policy rate from its current 2.75%. Yet the Governor admits inflation is well within control and the economy is working at under capacity. He knows the Treasury is already borrowing at 2.1%. Why does he have to wait until June 25 to lower rates?
The Administration did not certify the Bayanihan Bill Part II as urgent but the Anti-Terrorism Bill was. There are 18 million Filipinos looking for relief and where are the terrorists?
This is the issue: Despite the rhetoric and motherhood statements, our Government officials have not internalized the crisis that is affecting millions of Filipinos. They do not appreciate that every day a bill is not passed, a program not implemented, monies withheld, the peso kept over valued; is another day millions go hungry. They are looking at the problem from 30,000 feet. They are focused on the numbers not at the faces behind the numbers. They are beholden to the international certifications of good standing. They admit to following what our neighbors are doing not what needs to be done.
These officials could do well to spend just one morning visiting the slums and the afflicted rather than zooming on the wonders of the Philippine economy. Only then might they stop looking at our crisis as an economic concern and start looking for what it really is, a major humanitarian disaster.