Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute
One year after the lockdown, the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every fabric of our society, with the adverse consequences of the crisis invariably recasting the economic, social, and political dynamics in the country.
Aside from the weaknesses exposed in our health care and social protection systems, the record highs in terms of hunger, poverty, and joblessness and the record lows in terms of optimism were all laid bare in the Social Weather Stations 2020 surveys. As for the economy, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that “the Philippine GDP posted a growth rate of -8.3% in Q4 2020, resulting in a -9.5% full-year growth rate for 2020. This is the worst full-year GDP contraction since the country began releasing growth data in 1947, shortly after World War II.”
In mitigating the crisis, the government has devoted a gargantuan amount of public money to a mixed bag of response measures. Based on the online document “COVID-19 Releases as of Feb. 10, 2021” from the Department of Budget and Management, a total of P564,660,697,249 had been released, divided into Bayanihan 1 (P386,142,521,093), post-Bayanihan 1 (P6,589,293,400), Bayanihan 2 (P168,646,486,296), and post-Bayanihan 2 (P3,282,396,460). The top three agencies that received the most money were the Department of Social Welfare and Development (P217,417,088,039), the Department of Finance (P146,089,732,656), and the Department of Health (P97,293,138,551).
According to the DOF, the National COVID-19 Vaccination Deployment Plan was allocated a total budget of P82.5 billion, to be funded through the following: 1) current General Appropriations Act (GAA) under the DOH budget (P2.5 billion); 2) continuing appropriations of Republic Act No. 11494 or Bayanihan 2 (P10 billion); and 3) unprogrammed appropriations of the 2021 GAA (P70 billion).
With the huge resources available and obligated in the response measures, President Duterte has made assurances to the public that there is no corruption in the government’s purchase of COVID-19 vaccines. He reiterated vaccine czar Carlito Galvez’s statements that the government’s COVID-19 vaccine negotiations/procurements are clean and free from corruption, citing the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank’s stringent transparency requirements for borrowings. Through these loans, the government will be able to save $700 million, allowing it to increase its initial procurement from 70 million to 140 million doses.
However, Transparency International (TI) also warns that “corruption poses serious risks to equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.” Such malpractice will undermine all the mitigation and recovery efforts. In its March 2021 update “COVID-19 Vaccine Transparency,” TI details its call for transparent and equitable access by raising “Five Questions Every Government Should Answer About COVID-19 Vaccines.” These pertain to: 1) the type of vaccines acquired, 2) the number of doses secured, 3) the timeline of the vaccination program for everyone, 4) the cost of each dose and, 5) the availability of information about the COVID-19 inoculation plan.
These five requirements underline that general government pronouncements about the transparency and accountability of the COVID-19 response will never be enough to neutralize the threats to health, economic recession, and social dislocation caused by the crisis and the poor response to it. Good leadership and governance are critical in addressing the complications inflicted by the crisis at the country level. The Duterte administration is challenged every day to convert its pronouncements into meaningful action.
Good leadership and governance rests on crisis-proofing institutional, regulatory, and economic structures—by devoting equal attention to health care and social protection, for instance, now that the pandemic has highlighted how vulnerable the country is in those lights. In crisis mitigation and recovery, the crafting of a definitive roadmap anchored on inclusive and accountable response work is vital—such as in the ongoing massive national vaccination drive. Finally, the active role of the private sector in investment and livelihood creation, and the vibrant participation of civil society, are likewise indispensable in attaining a holistic recovery for the country.
This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.