The Candidates: Part III

Here we feature Marcos, Bong Go and Leni based on strengths (S), weaknesses (W), opportunities (O) and threats (T).

5. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., 63, M –

(S) – Bongbong is still on the presidential radar despite being politically inactive for some time. This speaks to the resiliency of the Marcos brand. President Duterte has often said he would step down if Marcos was VP; but then again he also announced he would jet ski to the Spratleys to rebuff the Chinese and look where we are.

Wikipedia reports Bongbong was educated in LaSalle and an English boarding school, then partially in Oxford and Wharton. So he has the smarts.

Bongbong was Vice-Governor of Ilocos Norte at 23, then Governor, Congressman and Senator. He believes he won the Vice-Presidency in 2016 and he could be right.

Bongbong has the money to run but, true to his origin, it is unclear how much of it he is willing to spend on a questionable presidential odyssey.

The Marcos’ have a strangle hold in Ilocos Norte and Bongbong did well in NCR (except for Taguig, bailiwick of the Cayetanos) when he ran for VP in 2016. The family head up the Nacionalista Party which is more a legacy of the father than an ideology.

(W) – In the Senate Bongbong was known for being unobtrusive and uncontroversial except when it came to the burial place of his Dad. His sister, Imee, is the more pointed one.

(O) – Bongbong’s opportunity is as kingmaker rather than as king. In a close contest between Inday and Pacquiao the Marcos solid north could spell the difference. He could join his sister in the Senate or run again for VP if neither Pacquiao nor Isko show up . A Sara/Marcos ticket would demographically make sense, a south/north, rural/NCR combination. Bongbong even as VP would redeem the Marcos name which is important to the family.

Pres. Duterte has said he will support Marcos (or Pacquiao or Isko) for President if neither Sara nor Bong Go run. That is, hmm, a long shot. It would not serve the Administration nor himself if Marcos was to run for President. It would be disingenuous to think he could win when he could not as VP. My bet is he will not.

(T) Not applicable.

6. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Tesoro Go, 46, M (?) –

(S) Although sometimes hard to imagine, Bong Go is an actual person with, like, feelings and a sense of humor. Admittedly the man is formed in the image and likeness of his mentor from whom he derives his super powers and the temerity to run for President.

There is more to Bong than meets the eye. He has a better sense of the political playing field than observers give him credit for. He is no wall flower. Like Prince Philip he just knows his place. He was the first to promote Balik Probinsya so he does think about things.

 Bong is a generous man. He has a particular soft spot for medically afflicted kids; and he does it without the fanfare of traditional politicians.

Little is known of Bong’s private person. I believe he is/was married but I could not find the name of his wife but I did of his two children, Chrence and Cherese. His wife did not attend his Senate confirmation because it was, he claims, “short notice”. He is a family man, a Duterte family man. 

Bong is an avid basketball fan. In his Wikipedia page, his position is listed not as Senator nor  Special Assistant to the President but as “Guard” which I get to mean “point guard”. Think Stephen Curry of the Warriors running plays for the President. 

Bong was number three in the last Senate race which speaks to the reach of the President’s halo. He is chair of the Senate Committees On Health & Demography and Sports. Both are part time jobs.

 Bong’s has other strengths. Loyalty, check. Educated, check (La Salle). Hard working, check. I will keep you posted as I hear of anything else.

(W) – Bong has no narrative other than being a reflection of the President.

 I cannot recall  ever hearing Bong speak. I am curious how that works in politics. 

(O) – Bong has the opportunity, however limited, to become President without really trying. This is how trust fund babies must feel, all the benefits without the work. Actually, we can do worse with Bong than with some of the other candidates.

(T) – The President’s health is Bong’s biggest threat. He needs the President to be around.

Bong is unashamedly the President’s alter ego down to his D30 garb but without the profanity. However despite the osmosis, Bong is polling only at 6% and could be a hard sell to voters. As Lyndon Johnson once said: “This dog won’t hunt.” Political brands rarely extend to non-members of the family.

A Bong presidential play is either a distraction for a Sara run, a Plan B if she doesn’t or a Trojan horse for a last minute Administration candidate in the same way Martin Dino was placeholder for Digong in the last election.

The Opposition would be ecstatic if the Administration was to field Bong and dilute the competition. Bong denies he is running but then they all do. A Bong Go presidency is a half court shot with two seconds to go i.e. unlikely even with the President refereeing.

7. Maria Leonor “Leni” Gerona Robredo, 55, widow –

(S) – Leni’s biggest strengths are her backbone, her faith, her integrity and her commitment to the Filipino people. She has been the whipping lady of the Administration and its trolls yet despite the lashing has held her head high and forged ahead.

Leni is a widow who rose to prominence following the death of her husband Jesse in still  unaccounted circumstances. She has done him proud becoming Vice President in a crowded field that until only recently was challenged.

Leni has a core of devoted followers but nothing that will move the dial.

Leni would seem to have the nod of the U.S. in the high stakes, geo-political competition between America and China.

(W) – Leni’s biggest weakness is her association with the yellows. She inherited the image of exclusiveness even if that is not who she is. As the standard bearer for the Liberal Party and next in line to the throne, she was excluded, ridiculed and intimidated by bullies who like to prey on the unprotected. Leni was left out to dry by her previous backers so she was easy pickings. The bashing has succeeded in lowering her poll ratings currently at 5%, bottom of the list. 

Leni has no organization to speak of and even less money.

(O) – As Vice President Leni is one heart beat or upheaval away from the Presidency. Leni has the opportunity to do more for the country but she has to choose her weapons and arena. Absent an unexpected early ascension to power, a presidential bid would, in my opinion, not be the best use of her qualities. Her opportunity lies in the Senate where she should win.

(T) – Leni faces the same threats she has had these 5 years. She has proudly withstood them all.

 Leni is often compared to Grace.They are ideologically centrist with Leni more left having worked with the poor. Grace is urban, married and raised in privilege. Leni is provincial, widowed and middle class. Leni is the more battle scarred and, I believe, the tougher of the two.

Leni represents all we would want in a mother, a daughter a sister and a public servant, a role model for every Filipina in a society where women are not quite equal. Yet for all these Leni for President is, I believe, a stretch.

The Candidates: Part II

Here are the scouting reports on Pacquiao and Isko based on their strengths (S), weaknesses (W), opportunities (0) and threats (T).

3. Emmanuel “Manny” Dapidran Pacquiao, 42, M –

(S) Manny is politically bullet proof and the LGBTCQs apart, hugely popular. Manny is perceived by the public as a humble, caring and God fearing man who made something from nothing.

Manny is chair of PDP-Laban, the President’s party. This is awkward since a presidential run would pit him directly against Inday should she declare. In anticipation Manny is slowly signaling his independence: He recently joined Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, an avid Administration critic, in calling out the killing of lawyers and judges. Manny has also asked for the resignation of Duque.

Manny has the money to run.

Manny is convinced of his God-given destiny. He apparently believes the Presidency is a calling from the Divine but this has still to be confirmed. Insiders say he is going all in. The smart money like Ramon Ang predict Manny could well win but retracted after realizing that is not what smart money says.

(W) – Manny has never managed anything except win eight world boxing titles. He has no policy credentials and no management team. Potential supporters are scared of the dubious company he keeps.

Manny is Chair of the Senate committees on Public Works and Ethics and Privileges but you would not know that.

Manny has no electoral organization if he was to leave PDP-Laban but he could overcome this by the weight of his popularity.

Ex-Justice Tony Carpio has publicly stated Manny is incompetent. DFA Sec. Locsin says one should honor Manny but not vote for him. 

(O) – Manny has the opportunity to do something unprecedented, come from a profession where being pummeled on the head is a regular occurrence to leading this nation of 110 million. He needs to overcome his economic and management inexperience with good choice of people and a vision.

 Ronald Reagan was not the sharpest President but became popular with his slogan: ”I am the Government, how can I help you?”. Manny could do the same: ”All these educated people, what have they done for you lately? I am Manny Pacquiao. How can I help you?”.

(T) – Manny’s biggest threat is Sara and vice versa. It is said the President advised Manny not to waste his money on a run. Manny will have to decide whether to listen to his President or listen to his God.

The Palace would be displeased if Manny was to stand between Inday and the Presidency. Manny might want to start looking behind his back although any attempt to discredit his persona would trigger a massive public backlash. Manny, as I said, is politically untouchable.

To assuage Pacquiao, presidential spokesperson Roque said the President has offered to endorse Manny (or Marcos or Isko) if neither Inday nor Bong Go run. Manny, I am certain, was not impressed with this back-handed complement. It is the NBA equivalent of relegating the number one draft pick to the third or fifth choice. Sometimes Harry can sayeth too much.

Manny has probably been offered the Vice Presidency which would suit his lifestyle: A nice title with some authority but no responsibility and the promise of support in 2028. An Inday/Pacquiao ticket would be a slam dunk.

Pacquiao is likely to be an absentee President as he was in Congress and the Senate where he reportedly holds the record for AWOLs. He will be a titular head with, from what we can see, no working Government. It will be a free for all with little accountability, direction and discipline. Manny will be inheriting a nation that will be emerging from the worst crisis of its history. This combination of a dysfunctional Palace and a weakened state is not a happy prospect.

4. Francisco “Isko” Moreno Domagosa, 46, M –

(S) – Isko, like Manny, has a compelling narrative and he tells it very well. He was born in Tondo, was a basurero at 10 years, then an artista, Counsellor, Vice Mayor and now Mayor of Manila dethroning the formidable Erap. 

Isko is a product of grit, a great political sense and a passion to improve himself. He is a quick study. He was sent by the State Department to study in the U.S. after which he took short courses in Harvard. He is a student of history. He admires Winston Churchill, Lee Kwan Yu and Joko Widodo, former Governor of Jakarta, now President of Indonesia in whose foot steps Isko is following.

Isko does very well with what little the universe gave him. He is very confident. With his looks, energy and charm he is aware of his appeal with the “masa”, the young and women. The Foundation for Economic Freedom, a think tank, recently hosted Isko for a gathering. It had a record turn out consisting largely of wives of members. So you see.

Isko talks the talk. When I asked him why he was running for President he answered: “Because I like it when people say thank you”. True or not that is the perfect political answer. Good politicians tell you what you want to hear.

Isko’s numbers are in the cities and what he calls the Lingayen to Leyte corridor which he believes can override his limited recognition in the south. He is the modern candidate: He understands the power of social media – FB, Twitter and TikTok- to sell himself.

(W) – Isko is not fully formed but he is working quickly at it. He readily admits to having skeletons in the closet.

Isko has at times simplistic solutions to macro problems like the economy and health. Like the President, as mayor of a big city he sometimes applies local government perspectives to complex national concerns with much lost in translation. He is however ready to be corrected.

The man lacks an organization and money. He needs to bolster his policy credentials and gather a respected economic team to convince business that he knows what it takes.

(O) – Isko is vying with Grace to be the agent of change. He offers energy, mass appeal and is prepared to take risks. They both trade on the promise of hope. Their audience are those disenchanted by the Administration’s handling of COVID, the economy, human rights and militarism. 

Isko could almost certainly be VP if Manny does not show up. Sarah/Isko would make a cute couple. Vice-President or Mayor of Manila, a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond? That is a tough call.

(T) – Isko has no known vulnerabilities but if he has – which all public officials do – his opponents will find them.

Isko has a bigger conundrum: He cannot run for re-election as Manila mayor and for President. If the latter and he loses he will be without a platform for 3 years which in politics is a long time.

Isko is the upstart. Little is known of how power might transform him. He is ambitious and in a hurry, a combination which not always works. He told me he hopes to retire by 50. He needs, I believe, to play the long game.

Isko has not publicly declared if he is for or against the Administration. Politics is addition. He should just say he is pro-Filipino. He is the only candidate who is being courted by Malacanang and 1Sambayan. The latter has invited Isko into its fold so, at some level, he must meet its criteria for integrity, policy heft and electability.

Grace and Leni must bow out if Isko is to be the alternative to 6 more years of the status quo. Grace is the better known bet but coming from so far behind the anybody-but-Duterte may need to punt with the riskier proposition. Is Isko up to challenging the Administration?

(Next: Marcos, Bong Go and Leni.)

The Candidates: Part I

The Presidential elections will be held on May 9, 2022. Here are the scouting reports on the candidates. The number in bracket represents the OCTA Jan. 26 – Feb.1 survey rankings: Duterte (22%), Poe (13%), Pacquiao (12%), Marcos (12%), Moreno (10%), Go (6%), Robredo (5%).

The reports look at the candidates’ strengths (S), weaknesses (W), opportunities (O) and threats (T).

1. Sarah “Inday” Duterte Carpio, 42 years, married –

(S) – Inday is by far the current front runner. Little is known of her personal and policy credentials other than she is the daughter of her Dad, slugged some guy in the face and is Mayor of Davao City. The first two explain her popularity. In the last 6 years she has traveled under the radar, an amazing exercise in political restraint.

As the Administration candidate, Inday will benefit from the powers of the incumbent – money, network, organization and brawn. She will do well in Mindanao and the Cebuano speaking Visayas where her father was dominant in 2016. However, if Manny runs she will have to share this vote with him. The “solid north vote” could also be hers thanks to her friend Imee. The Marcoses could add their following in NCR.

Inday will probably not announce her candidacy until late in the game, she does not have to. Her father claims she is not running but again neither was he by the 2015 deadline for filing of Certificates of Candidacy. This narrative of a reluctant leader plays well with the public. It will also give her time to assess the field especially whether Manny will run. 

Inday is related by marriage to ex-Justice Tony Carpio and ex-Ombudsman Carpio Morales, both stalwarts of 1Sambayan which is organizing the Opposition. That is how small this world is.

(W) – Inday has no known weaknesses the operative word being “known”. She has not disclosed her policy positions nor her vision. She could use more traction in vote rich Luzon making tantalizing an Amazon Sarah/Imee Marcos (Imee) tandem but that may be one female too many for the misogynistic Filipino.

(O) – Inday has the challenge of reconciling two contradicting narratives, how to protect the status quo while promising change. She must project herself as having a mind of her own which many believe she has and which the President likes to highlight; while carrying his legacy. Her youth will help with the young. 

Inday must take the country beyond the war on drugs and the Reds. She will likely have a new team with GMA as her economic mentor and Rep. Joey Salceda not far behind. Politically she will be guided by her Dad who is the best in the business.

(T) Inday’s biggest threats in May 2022 are Pacquiao, the economy, COVID and Duque in that order.  If nothing is done about these, she may require help. She also needs Dad to stay healthy. Head-to-head she must be favored against Grace or Isko. It is currently a toss up between Manny and her with the odds on his side if the Administration continues to mess things up.

Inday is neither a potted plant nor a political dummy. She supposedly engineered Lord Velasco’s House Speakership. She has remained unobtrusive and unobserved all this time but this is by choice. She could surprise us on the upside by proving she is her own person. It would be nice to see more evidence of that.

2. Grace Poe Llamanzares, 53, M –

(S) – Grace prefers to be termed an independent and not an anti-Administration candidate. She is a dutiful, studious, honest if unexciting public servant, the Assumptionista of Philippine politics. In 2016 Grace leveraged her father’s brand garnernering 22% of the vote, a close third to Mar. She topped the Senate in 2013 and continues to be a viable presidential contender. This is remarkable considering how safe she chooses to play the game and her lack of a base. The Liberals claimed she spoiled Mar’s party, that had she not run Mar could have won. She might say the same of him.

Current polls put her ahead of Pacquiao and Isko but the numbers are within the sampling error so for all intents it is a dead heat for second place. Grace checks all the 1Sambayan’s boxes for electability, integrity and policy credentials and on paper could be its choice at this time. 

(W) – As the erstwhile most viable “alternative” to Duterteism, with a decent presidential run in 2016 and eight years in the Senate; it is surprising that Grace does not poll significantly better than Marcos or even Isko. This could mean her brand is losing luster or she needs to go further out to the political point.

In politics women have to meet a higher standard than men. Absent a martyr husband or a driven personality, women have to be female canines to succeed. Politics is not Grace’s natural space. She is an intellectual campaigner, not a passionate one. She is not a risk taker nor bold. She seemingly lacks the fire and killer instinct needed in the blood sport of presidential politics. She was born into privilege so could come off as elitist with the masses for whom she cares.

Grace currently chairs the Senate Committee on Public Services with which she could possibly have done more. She has kept her head down, averting any controversies with Malacanang.

Grace has no meaningful organization and little money. She was supported by RSA and the business community in 2016 but their resources are now limited so she may have to do more with less. She needs a ground game since voter turn out in the time of COVID will be crucial.

(O) – Voters want hope and change. Grace could exploit that opening especially if COVID and the economy continue to ravage the country. A three candidate race with Inday and Manny splitting the vote would add to her chances. She is being courted for VP but may be better off staying in the comfort and shelter of the Senate if the presidency is a bridge too far.

(T) – Unlike Leni, Grace has remained politically unscathed from the President’s trolls and Duterte himself. Perhaps she is not considered a threat to the Administration. This could suddenly change if she was to be onboarded by 1Sambayan. Grace has never had to face a full-on onslaught so one wonders whether she would be up to it.

Regardless how she calls herself, Grace’s will be as much an anti-Administration vote as it is a pro-Grace vote, more so if 1Sambayan adopts her. Grace needs to build a coalition around the disenchanted, the center and moderate left, the middle class, the young idealists, the intelligentsia, the business community, and the Liberals although the latter will require a reach out. Her intellect, policy grades and decency are not enough. She might choose a VP who can offset her political correctness, an aggressive campaigner to add macho heft like Ping Lacson who is fearless and carries weight with the police and armed forces. A Poe/Tito Sotto ticket has been mentioned.

For Grace to have a shot two things must happen, Isko and Leni to step down; and Inday and Manny to remain. If the latter should stumble or consume each other, Grace could have a path albeit somewhat narrow to Malacanang.

(Next: Manny, Isko and the rest.)

The Demise Of Our Middle Class

Political leaders all aspire for their nations to become middle class. So called middle class states like in Scandinavia are more stable and happier than their richer counterparts. Scandinavians have a lower per capita income (measured in Purchasing Power Parity) than Brunei, Oman or the United Arab Emirates but are more progressive and satisfied than the latter.

In the U.S. a middle class household is defined as one with an income two-thirds to double the national median which would put it at $49,000-145,000 a year (PHP2.5 – 7.3 million). Many so called middle class families in the Philippines earn less than the minimum wage in the U.S. yet they are both defined as middle class because the term is not an absolute level of income but a relative one, a reflection of wealth equality.

Middle class is not just an economic status, it is also a cultural, social and political classification. Middle class is a frame of mind.

Economically the middle class is characterized by its work ethic and its thrift. The rich spend money, the poor scrounge for it, the middle save it.

Culturally the middle class generally believe in conservatism, stability, and security. They are often Church going with strong adherence to community.

Socially middle class cherish education, family, and the rule of law. Karl Marx termed it the bourgeoisie which over time has been derogatorily associated with mediocrity and uncoolness. 

Politically the middle class stand at the center of the political spectrum, a space of compromise, civility, inclusiveness and justice. It believes in progressive taxation, fiscal discipline and monetary moderation. Historically whether it be the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, Nazism, the fall of communism or our own People Power; social and political upheaval does not happen without the participation, conscious or not, of the middle class. This is ironic since the middle class particularly in developing countries do not have the political numbers to have a voice. It is often termed the Silent Vote until it decides, I guess, not to be so silent.

Pews Research Institute reported that worldwide over 150 million dropped out of the middle class in the last year as a result of COVID. The fall out was most pronounced in the developing economies of India, South Asia and the Sub-Sahara region.

The rise of the middle class in developing countries was the narrative of the last three decades. Economic tigers were what they were called, the economic miracle fueled by growing wealth as countries achieved middle-income status. COVID took the life out of that promise.

The middle class is made up largely up of small businessmen, emerging professional practitioners and middle managers. In a crisis it is the middle class that is most upended. They do not have the numbers of the poor nor the resources of the rich to be a political force.

It is estimated that 25% of the middle class in our country was decimated by COVID. Middle managers often bore the brunt of lay-offs. They are not covered by the economic safety nets of Bayanihan nor unemployment insurance. Small businessmen and professional practitioners have seen their enterprises shuttered, their credit cards squeezed and little access to bank finance. Despite the rhetoric they do not qualify as essential industries. They survive on now depleted savings and support from family and friends.

Many of the middle class are in the mid stages of the credit cycle having borrowed to put their  kids in private schools, dined on credit cards, bought homes on mortgages and cars on installment. When COVID crushed their livelihood they were faced with a cascade of monthly payments they are no longer able to service.

People will survive a crisis for as long as there is hope. COVID destroyed that hope for the middle class and that is what hurts. The rich have arrived. Bar exceptional athleticism, good looks or a voice, the poor do not have a path to a future. The middle class do or, to be exact, did. With their education and willingness to work, they could dream of something better for themselves and their children. They could aspire to own a home, educate their kids, dine out and occasionally take a vacation. COVID decimated all that, took away their life as they knew it it but more important dashed their aspirations. We see it in the dropped enrollments in private schools, in the rising defaults in mortgages and credit cards, in falling car sales and rising repossessions; now compounded by health care costs and absence of insurance cover.

Although latent, the middle class is the back bone of society. It does not possess the creativity nor daring of the rich nor the sweat and labor of the poor but it is what holds societies together, the lynch pin that bridges the divide between the entitlement of the wealthy and the despair of the poor. A strong middle class is arguably a necessary if not sufficient condition for harmony and sustainable progress. This is why its current demise is so alarming for the future of our country.

The erosion of our middle class is the erosion of the core of our society. Without the center they represent, our politics will devolve to the extremes, to the unrealistic idealism and scatterdness of the left and the forced march and heavy-handedness of the right. Without the ballast of the center strongmen and charlatans will emerge on both flanks of the political spectrum with high rhetoric and false promises. That means the end of reasonableness, political decency and harmony in our country. That process, some say, has already started. 

A Lenten Lesson

“And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” – 1 Corinthians 6:14

Christ died on the cross so he may rise from the dead. I wonder if there is a moral for us here, that we must first succumb before we can rise from the ashes.

Because we are succumbing and it is not over yet. After over a year of the most severe of lockdowns and as the world moves on we are further back than where we started. On Monday the DOH reported a record 10,000 new cases, hospitals are turning back non-critical positives, and deaths are mounting. Testing Czar Magalong said contact tracing “has deteriorated”. The DOH has abandoned mass testing. With the prospect of a vaccine we took our eye off the ball. Fake news about a new Filipino variant, P3, are making the rounds which speaks to the tension and state of mind of the populace.

Last week the IATF announced a return to ECQ. We could have been further downgraded except there was nowhere else to go. We had run out of alphabets for CQs. After consoling us that an extension of the quarantine would only be “a last resort”, Gen. Carlito Galvez has now said the Government  “is open” to prolonging the protocol for a couple of more weeks which is his polite way of saying that we have arrived at the place we did not want to be.  

 In the meantime the economy and the people continue to bleed. NEDA Sec. Karl Chua reported 3.2 million are out of work and 23% of the NCR region are starving which by my count is about 3 million people. I will not scare you with the other statistics. I notice Karl is the only one sufficiently brave or innocent to bear bad tidings. Hopefully the messenger does not get shot because he seems nice enough. With the new COVID surge so goes his forecast for 6.5% growth and our economic recovery late this year.

President Duterte asked in the last IATF briefing who is to blame for the mess. DOH Sec. Duque suggested unnamed city health officials and hospital administrators which the group settled on as well as one Mark Anthony Fernandez, artista, who was vaccinated in Paranaque out of turn. Some mayors were similarly tagged so “show cause” orders will be issued to them as to why they should not be taken down. If this is the level of accountability for the worst crisis of our history then what can I say?

There are some rays of light. It is not quite a resurrection but everything helps.

Gen. Galvez reported that by the end of this year we shall have brought in 140 million doses which is enough to inoculate 70 million people or close to all adult Filipinos. Most of it will come in the third and fourth quarters. Administration candidates for May 2022 are ecstatic. Now all we have to do is not drop them (the vaccines I mean not necessarily the candidates), store them, distribute them and jab them which is where the hard work begins.

DOF Sec. Sonny Dominguez announced the P82.5 billion needed to fund the vaccines is in place. This, we are told, should answer the question raised by Senators Lacson and Hontiveros on where did the the approved vaccine budgets go.  Actually, the two Senators were asking where were the vaccines, not the money, but that is another conversation.

Government has committed economic relief for ECQ in the form of P1,000, P5,000 and P10,000 to recently unemployed, indigents and stranded OFWs respectively. It is shamelessly paltry and many will not receive them but they will have to make do.

The IATF is now prioritizing our overseas workers for the vaccine.

And more good news.

The President announced the private sector can “at will” now buy vaccines on their own “no matter what price and how many”. The imports will be exempt from duties and taxes with no need to “share” with Government even though the latter “will be welcome”. The DOH did not publicly throw a tantrum at this development even though some officials may be kicking and screaming.  This is still subject to DOH oversight since the vaccines are covered by Emergency Use Authorizations and the Government’s indemnity agreements with the pharma companies; so we should not get too excited.

So are we out of the woods, will this country like Jesus rise from the dead?

We are far far from deliverance. It is now a race between the vaccines, COVID and the economy as to who will get to us first. There are many roadblocks, promises and false moves from the DOH officials tasked to carry through. If the President truly wished to make good he should clean shop in the top echelons of this agency. This will restore the publics’ faith in our Republic and confidence in the business sector. The latter is now on stand-by but is unlikely to move so many times has it been blind sided and disappointed.

In the last year Government seemed untethered from COVID and our economy. It is now at a loss as to what to do next short of pounding this country to the ground. The World Bank reported our health protocols were “draconian” but “porous” which explains where we are in relation to the world, first in, last out. 

The reality of the crisis seems to be settling in with the Palace or has it? Was the sudden pivot on the private sector procurement of vaccines a recognition that the Government has run out of options, an attempt to appease the natives or an act of mercy? The legacy of this Presidency as well as its extension rests on what happens in the next twelve months. So incidentally does the life of this nation.

We call on the private sector to rally behind the new initiatives of Malacanang to decentralize and empower the community. But so many times have we been disenchanted by the run-arounds, the obfuscation, the corruption and the disdain that Government must show proof of promise if we are to come to together as one nation, in common purpose and in prayer that the Almighty deliver us from the depths of our despair.