To Make Iloilo City’s Bike Lanes Successful

Our city is not as rich as equated to its plans of becoming the Most Bike-Friendly City in the Philippines. We must admit that. Despite of how much we desire to have protected bike lanes such as those in Sydney or having bicycles as part of our daily lives like the people of Japan, we simply cannot afford to have the same facilities that they have.

Our city is not as rich as equated to its plans of becoming the Most Bike-Friendly City in the Philippines. We must admit that. Despite of how much we desire to have protected bike lanes such as those in Sydney or having bicycles as part of our daily lives like the people of Japan, we simply cannot afford to have the same facilities that they have.

However, we can go around with that and make the most of what we have. These painted bike lanes and several facilities to complement them can either be useful or useless depending on how Ilonggos would make use of them. Here’s how I would sort out our roles in making sure our facilities are as effective as those in rich countries.

The Vehicle Owners

Vehicle owners have flashy cars and in fact, this pandemic has also resulted to a surge of vehicles as most of those who still have jobs (and could afford) have bought cars. As vehicle owners, the most prudent thing to do is to be responsible of where to park their cars. Those green lanes are not for you. You can probably just stop for a moment to drop of passengers but definitely it is not a place to park or to leave you car with a flashing hazard light.

The Pedestrians

Pedestrians need to also take precaution when they are on the road. The green lanes are not waiting areas. If you want to stay at the roadside, make sure you are standing on the sidewalk. And when you cross the street (this protects you and your rights), make use of the pedestrian lanes. The Iloilo City Government as well as the Department of Public Works and Highways have provided a lot of these facilities in Iloilo City.

The Roadside Ambulant Vendors

Business is hard these days and you are not alone. Most bike commuters are also resorting to bike commuting to ensure their safety from the treacherous coronavirus and to save extra money from their income. Please do not stay at the green lanes. There are more appropriate places where you can position your mobile kiosks.

The Local Government

First of all, thank you for actively supporting the development of the bike commuting culture in the city. It is the envy of other growing cities in the Philippines and they simply cannot copy it. Not only does it reduce the air and noise pollution in the growing city but it also provides a safer and healthier means of transport around the city.

However, we need to ensure that rules govern these bike lanes to favor not just the bike commuters but also the vehicle owners, the pedestrians, the ambulant vendors, in short, everyone.

First, in terms of safer mobility within the city, it is only prudent that roads with bike lanes should have speed limits for vehicles. This is to ensure a more forgiving road crash should it happen. Most countries with interesting bike cultures have speed limits of at most 30 kilometers per hour. This minimizes the likelihood of fatal road crashes and makes sure of the alertness of both drivers and bike commuters. This also benefits pedestrians since they have more time to be alert when crossing the street.

The city should craft an ordinance that would take effect in all bike lanes – and should not be selective.

Second, there should be a clear definition of how the bike lanes should function. Can cars park there? How much would be the fine? How will public utility vehicles be managed when they pick up and drop off passengers? On the bike commuters, what safety gear should they be wearing and what will be the penalty for violating such? These questions would have to be answered. Not to mention, the city should craft an ordinance that would take effect in all bike lanes – and should not be selective. Thus, the ordinances that are in effect at present should be consolidated and updated into just one ordinance to avoid confusion in interpretations.

Third, when the new ordinance is crafted there should be information and education campaign materials across various channels (with priority to social media, since it will cost less), to promote bike commuting as well as to inform the public of the rules governing the fair use of the bike lanes. Also, to enhance its capacity to monitor the use of the bike lanes, and from one of the inputs I got from a netizen, the city should have a dedicated social media account where people could send complaints or photos of violators.

These are just a few random thoughts that I have since we already have painted bike lanes and we can only do our part to make it successful. I also did some research and some cities abroad do not even have painted bike lanes. They just have better disciplined road users who have the awareness of sharing access and mobility whether we are pedestrians, bike commuters, or drivers. If we aspire a successful bike-friendly city, then we should all cooperate and do our share.

How safe are painted bike lanes?

Iloilo City has the best bike facilities in the Philippines. Period. It has long stretches of protected bike lanes designed by no other than award-winning landscape architect Paolo Alcazaren. Adding to this feat, Iloilo is undoubtedly the Philippine’s most bike-friendly city. But being the best, there is still a lot of room for improvement and it takes more than just infrastructure to truly earn the title.

Photos have been making rounds over social media about the designated bike lanes in main roads of the city in the city’s effort of adding 32.86 kilometers of bike lanes to complement about 20 kilometers of existing bike lanes. These are probably the second phase of the series of bike lanes put in the city following the university loop. More or less, a meter of the roadside is painted green with standard white delineating lines to separate the bike lane from the vehicular lanes in the carriageway (yes, this is how we highway engineers call that part of the road being used by vehicles).

Personally, I don’t think these methods are safe. I could recall some of my colleagues inviting me to join them in bike commuting to work where I had a swift response of negation knowing first, I’m not confident with bikes and second, I don’t feel that the infrastructure can provide much safety.

Cycling is one of the most cost-efficient means of transport that gives you a means to move from one place to another and a good physical exercise. Much more at the wake of COVID-19, physical distancing is another advantage for cycling.

Putting Iloilo City into context, the city’s terrain is relatively flat. This gives the city more advantage in being bike-friendly as we can use our bikes without thinking of exerting so much effort to travel for a few kilometers.

Assuming I have the confidence to bike, I would probably choose to bike only at separated bike lanes such as that in Sen. Benigno S. Aquino (SBSA) Jr. Avenue (Yes, that’s the official name of our so-called Diversion Road). But to bike around University Loop? Or at the new sites done by the city? Sorry, but I won’t.

We have been witnesses of various road crashes and as a road safety specialist, I would not recommend the infrastructure to do its job alone. It has to be intertwined with transport rules and regulations both in the national and local levels.

In the Sixteenth Congress of the Philippines, the late former senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago introduced Senate Bill No. 400 entitled, “Bike Friendly Communities Act”. The bill cites the need for proper infrastructure to support reduction of noise and air pollution, reduction of traffic congestion, reduction of needed parking spaces, and protection of road infrastructure from damage. These promising ideals of the late senator for biking in the Philippines are surely being sought after by cycling enthusiasts, environmentalists, and even transport planners.

The bill cites the need for proper infrastructure to support reduction of noise and air pollution, reduction of traffic congestion, reduction of needed parking spaces, and protection of road infrastructure from damage.

In Section 7 of late Defensor-Santiago’s bill, bicycle infrastructure should include:

  1. bicycle lanes which are to be separated by a physical barrier;
  2. provision for bicycle parking that is secure, visible, accessible, and not in the way of pedestrians in all public places, government offices, schools, and major business establishments;
  3. sidewalk improvements;
  4. traffic calming and speed reduction improvements;
  5. pedestrian and bicycle crossing improvements;
  6. traffic signage pertaining to bicycles;
  7. off-street pedestrian and bicycle facilities; and,
  8. traffic diversion improvements.

This bill alone provides solutions to so many problems to cities in the country, especially the most progressive and most successful ones like Iloilo City. This bill sadly did not materialize into law.

Going into the preceding checklist of an ideal bike-friendly city, Iloilo City has a long way to go. Even the first criterion of protected bike lanes will make the painted bike facility provisions seem ineffective. The city alone may not have the resources to pull off what it desires to become; more especially now that finances are tight.

Iloilo City is aiming for nearly a hundred kilometers of bike lanes.

However, making use of what we have, there is still hope and it lies to motorists and cyclists. Etiquette is best when practiced. The City of Iloilo has so much in its hands right now and if we want to make the city successful in what they desire – to become the most bike-friendly city – we have to put enforcement of ordinances in our hands by strictly following it and setting an example to our colleagues, friends, and family. We have existing ordinances like the City Regulation Ordinance No. 2014-193 which mandates establishments both public and private with existing parking spaces to provide bike parking spaces and City Regulation Ordinance No. 2016-299 that covers safe us of the protected bike lanes of SBSA Avenue. I do hope the city government would put in some time to also cater in their local legislative agenda the increasing length of painted bike lanes and put in black and white the protection of bike commuters, pedestrians, and motorists alike. Iloilo City is aiming for nearly a hundred kilometers of bike lanes. And on a personal note, I do hope one day that my Reason No. 2 will not stop me from choosing to bike commute in the Philippine’s Most Bike-Friendly City.

The pricetag of the ENGR amid the pandemic

Toward the end of August, I would see more students in their uniforms. Jeepneys get cramped up with a lot of people especially at seven in the morning on my way to work and at five or six in the afternoon as I make my way home. The smell of hardwork and business as usual will really fill up the jeep. The sweat that the sun dried up on our clothes meant there was so much we did that day hopefully, benefitting society.

However, that was last year.

Today, there are no full jeeps. There is virtually no traffic jam. Where are the students that make the jeep so noisy with their laughs and rants about their school projects and terror teachers? The coronavirus pandemic really changed a lot of things and the hope of our nation, as Rizal would call the youth, also suffer a big blow in their pursuit of getting education for them to land a job in the future to alleviate their household’s economy.

I got the chance to meet one passionate kid online who messaged me asking for piso (one Philippine peso). He was raising funds to purchase a laptop, even a second hand will do. He is Jericho Balolong, a senior high school graduate of Federico N. Ceralde Integrated School in Dagupan City, Pangasinan, who just enrolled in Bachelor of Science in Electronics Engineering (BS ECE) at Colegio de Dagupan.

Jericho, who earned line of nine marks in all his subjects during his final year in senior high, admitted that electronics engineering was merely his second choice. He originally wanted to journey towards becoming a doctor. His family’s finances; however, put that dream aside. Luckily, he remains optimistic that a career in electronics engineering would shine light to his family’s future.

For him, that four-letter prefix added to his name does not only mean that he is an engineer, it means that he one step closer in getting out of poverty.

“As a future engineer, gusto ko lang po sanang makaraos sa kahirapan and maipaayos ang bahay namin dahil yun po ang pinapangarap ng aking mga magulang na maipaayos ang aming bahay at pinapangarap ko rin pong magkaroon ng ENGR. sa pangalan,” my new friend, Jericho wrote in an online interview.

For him, that four-letter prefix added to his name does not only mean that he is an engineer, it means that he one step closer in getting out of poverty. His father works as a fisherman and the pandemic reduced his earnings to almost nothing. His brother, a construction worker, also lost his job. What is left is their sari-sari store run by his mom where the whole family relies on an average PhP 3,000.00 a month. Jericho, himself, took initiative of offering tutorial classes to elementary pupils for a very cheap price of PhP 50.00 session just to make ends meet. But since the Department of Education decided to move the opening of classes to October, this initiative also took the bench.

Education is most essential for Jericho to earn him a decent paying job in the future. He dreams of becoming an electronics engineer and eyes to join the telecommunications industry when his career takes off.

“…katulad sa mga Electronics or [telecommunications] companies na masisiguro po nila na maganda at maayos ang kanilang makukuhang serbisyo,” he visualized the future of the industry when he joins it.

Right now, he, like many of the young Filipinos who want to continue studying  while battling the economic effects of the pandemic, is in the quest of raising money to buy a laptop through the trending handle #PisoParaSaLaptop. Many of us who are already working never underwent such struggle wherein poverty is worsened as education is shifted to a lesser accessible means. But this doesn’t stop Jericho.

He humbly asks, “Support po and prayer kasi po nothing is impossible with God.”

To the generous people who are willing to assist Jericho, he may be provided with donations at any amount, even one peso, through the G-Cash account of his mom, Monette Balolong: 0929 479 5068.

Let us help those who want to continue even when the challenge gets harder in the wake of COVID-19. Let us be the hope of the future of this country even for just a peso.

(With some accounts taken from MovePH)

Shaping the country’s COVID-19 Response

This is article was originally published with the title, “How opinions are shaping the country’s COVID-19 Response” at Daily Guardian.

I am angry and so are most of us. The enhanced community quarantine distanced all of us from each other but has made us into one big multifaceted community in social media where distancing is mythical. It gave us more time to be online. It kept us updated.

But at any rate, truth be told, it has divided us. The fact-based netizens whose expressions of frustration led to #OustDuterte were turned into smart-shaming subjects. The poor and the marginalized who have no food on their tables and obviously lack internet access are generalized to be lazy and a liability of the privileged. The supporters of the President are dumb-shamed by their acts of patronizing fake news and memes as how one diehard supporter would refer to her own materials published online. With this premise, I could not agree more with one of the memes these diehard supporters propagate (along with Hollywood actors, Sheldon Cooper, and even a porn star) as to why we have the worst citizens.

We all have our opinion. We are entitled to that.

Even if we are the worst as citizens, our opinions have become effective in directing the government to the right direction. We have been complaining and ranting. This resulted to a lot of actions in the government. Despite of rumors of getting replaced due to issues that exposed the truth of VIP testing, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine exec still holds her position. Uproar when the National Bureau of Investigation called on Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto has urged the administration to call the attention of the NBI to be more responsible with the interpretation of the law and its effectivity. It is worth mentioning that one of the commissioners of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission was sacked for slipping his politically maneuvering opinion of investigating Vice-President Leni Robredo for “competing” with the government.

Proper utilization and accountability of funds released and to be released in response to the COVID-19 event have been expedited. Social benefits are just around the corner and will soon be received by the target beneficiaries. Thanks to the loud voices that we hear from Facebook and Twitter.

The main reason why the government is moving swiftly and is acting on a right path is because of the passionate people who have called out their actions. Critics will be there no matter what. They can be toxic at times. But if you are doing a damn good job or at least a satisfactory one with the likes of the local governments of Pasig City and Iloilo City, you also get the appreciation and the recognition that you deserve.

Quoting the South Korea Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha in an interview by BBC’s Andrew Marr, “…Our public is very demanding [and] expects highest standards from government services.” With South Korea in the world spotlight in the management of COVID-19 cases, they boast mass testing for early detection of cases as well as sophisticated methodologies to manage their cases without total lockdowns.

With that being shared, it is in our opinions, in our rants, and in our noise that we contribute to our government, not the other way around where we are just silent followers.

On the other hand, misled individuals come in twos: the ones that share videos on how COVID-19 is treated by various herbs and the ones that share videos of conspiracy and obsession of government takeover by the opposition. Fake news are hard to deal with at these trying times. We are all afraid. We are all confused. We are all getting lost. However, the best way we can contribute is to pacify our obsession with the things we see online and to be open of the idea that not all of the things we see as we surf the web are true and verified.

Stop pushing it. It ain’t helping.

The media (legitimate ones) have been brought in and out of the simmer as some would say that they sensationalize the issues, the quotes, etc. With proper appraisal, you could be the judge of it and decide which ones you would believe. Back it up with information from government websites and even the Presidential Communications Operations Office. Then after that, you are free to be the judge of your truth. Just be brave and honest enough to face the facts.

So going through this, we are not the worst citizens after all. We are responsible and involved citizens because we care a lot to be on the scene. It is only a matter of time when we truly realize the value of our opinions and how to make them relevant in shaping the ideal government that we want and deserve.

GDP will not be a priority in the pandemic

This is article was originally published with the title, “Will GDP growth be a priority this year?” at Daily Guardian.

It just took a little virus to cause the world to shift beyond proportions. The COVID-19 pandemic is worse than wildfires and this will surely be felt in the coming years even if we all survive.

In the Philippines, the standstill in business activities already pushed the government to shell out every peso it has while negotiating with international financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank for extra cash.

In fact, the recently issued National Budget Circular No. 580 by the Department of Budget and Management has already testified that “given the duration and scale of the pandemic, adequate and readily available funds must be provided in a sustainable and responsible manner”. It mandated the discontinuance of 10 percent of FY 2020 maintenance and other operating expenses as well as capital outlays. Overall, the circular likewise prescribes that 35 percent of the programmed appropriations shall no longer be made available for release as of April 1, 2020. All these were done in line with the full implementation of Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.

Taking a look at the FY 2020 general appropriations, the biggest chunk of the 4.1 trillion-peso budget goes to education with P654.77 billion, followed by public works and highways with P580.89 billion, and interior and local government with P239.64 billion. The government committed to invest P172.37 billion in its health services (including that of the government-run health insurance).

With these circumstances and the scale of the damage of this invisible virus, we can only imagine that even if we survive, the worse is yet to come particularly in our economic priorities.

The gross domestic product measures the total value of goods and services in a country. According to CNBC, it is composed of total consumption, investment, government spending and net exports; and further simplifies it as the overall health of an economy.

Consumption is another way of calling consumer spending on goods and services. Given the past two months of fewer consumer spending coupled with those who temporarily (hopefully not permanently) lost their jobs, it is pretty safe to conclude that this will not offer a good bunch of our economic revival. It may improve soon when lockdowns are lifted and businesses slowly enter the new normal.

Investment is how much businesses spend on buildings, land, and equipment. All businesses felt this standstill even if they continue to operate grocery stores, pharmacies, and the like. However, if we talk about bigger scales like malls, a news item of ABS-CBN reported that retail and restaurant operators suffer a drop of 30 to 50 percent in the total retail environment which generates P20 billion in sales daily. With daily loses, how much would be left for the business sector to invest?

Meanwhile, government spending is the amount of money spent by the government for the goods and services they provide. This is probably what is left as the last resort of the government to make the economy seem look healthy, financially. Just imagine setting aside billions of pesos for the social amelioration program hastily released by the pressure-cooked social welfare department as well as the COVID-19 adjustment measures program undertaken by the labor department. The government is spending so much money right now that the second quarter has just started and yet we are already trying to identify coping mechanisms to project a strong and manageable fiscal planning.

Lastly, net exports are exports minus imports, or goods coming out minus goods coming in. In a report of the Philippine Statistics Authority as of May 2019, exports have increased by 1.0 percent while imports have decreased by 5.4 percent. These look promising until we come to the actual figures where imports are still more than exports. What net exports do we have left? With that to mention, a good economic standing is far from reality if we rely on net exports.

The GDP alone is not entirely what attracts a healthy economy. It is more illustrated in the GDP growth rate and by definition, its shrinkage for a period of two consecutive quarters is considered by most economics experts as a recession. At the current situation, we cannot entirely tell just yet. But after the lockdowns when everything meets the new normal, high unemployment, falling average incomes, increased inequality, and higher government borrowing (such as loans to which they have done so far) will characterize and somehow confirm that we are in a recession.

Nevertheless, it may be high time that the government should reconsider its priorities as we are losing and owing more money than we earn. Much more, the best they could do after this pandemic would be to ensure that future pandemics would be managed not just by mere provision of protective equipment to health workers and distribution of free cash but by concrete, systematized, and comprehensive measures. It is much understandable if we somehow failed to stay afloat with ease right now since the Philippines never experienced such catastrophe of this worldwide scale.

The government should revisit big chunks of infrastructure projects in the Build, Build, Build program. The projects are mostly promising but some will also be sourced from loans that will add up to the money we owe. Agriculture should also be revisited to make sure we are self-sufficient and would not resort to imported basic commodities like rice. The government should also look into having more financially stable citizens by conducting programs promoting financial literacy as well as standardizing the minimum wage making it universal to foster growth not just in Metro Manila but all provinces. If they get lucky in implementing this, we might see less congested roads there making unnecessary public infrastructure as additional savings in government expenditures.

We do hope that our leaders would consider our country improving internally through its people than just mere figures that do not add up to the satisfaction of all of its citizens. This pandemic is teaching us a lot.

The Math of Capacities

Why is WVMC-SNL slow in releasing COVID-19 test results

Just yesterday, the Western Visayas Medical Center Sub-National Laboratory (WVMC-SNL) issued Advisory No. 11 explaining various reasons to the delays on releasing of test results.

Reason No. 1 is that they can process 800 to 1,000 samples per day. Looking at how these numbers are figured, it means that on a regular basis and in normal conditions, it can at least finish 800 samples. With optimism, they can do extra and reach at most 1,000 samples. However, they have been receiving 1,200 on average per day. So the numbers could really add up. If they process 800 samples out of 1,200 samples on a Monday, they have backlogs of 400. Moving to Tuesday, the total will now be 1,600 samples (the backlogs of Monday which is 400 plus another 1,200). If they process the same 800 samples, the backlogs by the end of Tuesday will also be 800. And so on.

Assuming for five days, 1,200 samples per day would equate to 6,000 samples. For five days, minimum capacity in normal conditions would sum up only a mere 4,000 processed samples and a backlog of 2,000 which would need an additional three days to process.

Reason Nos. 2, 3, and 4 are also important for the processing of the samples and for the lives those who work in the laboratory. It is reported that some of their staff fell prey to the coronavirus. Due to this, decontamination of the lab was done which incurred unworkable days. As the time is ticking and the samples keep adding, they had to cease operations, at least for a few days from August 11-14, 2020. Not to mention, their normal capacity might have been compromised already since some of their staff could not work.

Reason No. 5 acknowledges the fact that they are a government institution and as passionate civil servants who are in the front line of our coronavirus response, they simply cannot refuse receiving samples. They tried to release results in three to four days but given the increase of pending samples that keeps filling to the brim of their capacity, it is simply hopeless to deliver right on time. It ended up with Reason No. 6 which is for them to have a turn-around time of seven to eight days.

Thus, we cannot really force the laboratory to perform beyond capacity. Otherwise, quality of results might be compromised.

Lastly, Reason No. 7 means there is really a short of medical technologies who have the required competencies to perform highly technical procedures. Just like in an assembly line, one person might be trained to work on component A, one in component B, and one in component C. If one of them is missing, then component A and B may be done by one person who is originally proficient in component A only. Thus, we cannot really force the laboratory to perform beyond capacity. Otherwise, quality of results might be compromised.

WAY FORWARD

Given the above reasons, there are two best solutions but I am not sure which one could be answered faster:

The first one is to increase and properly manage capacities of testing across the private and public testing facilities. Strategies may include the expedited upgrading of the capacity of WVMC-SNL who is in the process of employing GeneXpert system. In a source that I found, the GeneXpert system test can provide rapid detection of the current pandemic coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in as soon as 30 minutes for positive results with less than a minute of hands on time to prepare the sample. Also, there should be a testing referral system across various facilities that can process the samples. There are also private facilities which the government could subsidize to also undertake the processing of samples.

The second one is simple and everyone can do his or her share and that is to absolutely stay home or to limit their contacts so that the spread and the number of COVID-19 suspected cases will be minimized. Employers should give more space to those who are working and finding a living and provide flexibility in work arrangements when possible. We can efficiently run the economy while being safe. Always wear a mask, follow protocols (even if some maybe a bit crazy, just follow), and keep your hands clean to keep yourself from being infected.

I know there are more ways but all I want to share is that the WVMC-SNL is doing all it could to deliver. What we need right now is our cooperation and our commitment to ensure that we do not end up as COVID-19 suspected cases to reduce the number of tests to be done. Let us face reality that our testing capacity cannot increase in a blink of an eye. But we can do our part as citizens to be responsible for ourselves and others not to end up in the pending list.

The Philippine’s terrible start in COVID-19 Response

This is article was originally published with the title, “Why March 12 was a bit late” at Daily Guardian.

The first action that the government was able to do was to ban direct flights from Wuhan, Hubei Province in the People’s Republic of China dubbed as the ground zero of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). That was way back on January 22. It was further appealed to be intensified by several senators by putting an expanded temporary travel ban. Despite the need to do so to already prevent the entry of the virus to the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Palace said that there is no urgency for the time being.

Eight days later, the Philippines got its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

It was already a wake-up call. From then on, travel bans began. January 31 saw the travel ban for Chinese nationals coming from Hubei province and other affected areas in China. More travel bans to several places went on right after. While there were more travel bans, more cases began to emerge and on March 7, the DOH raised Code Red Sub-Level 1 as the first localized transmission of the virus was confirmed. By this time, there were already six cases in Metro Manila.

Earlier quarantine

On the late evening of March 12, community quarantine was announced by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte for the entirety of Metro Manila. He finally decided to do so despite assuring the public that there is no need for a lockdown on March 9 or three days before his pronouncement. “Ayaw namin gamitin ‘yan pero kasi takot kayo sabihin “lockdown”. And a — but it’s a lockdown. There is no struggle of power here. Walang away dito, walang giyera. It’s just a matter of protecting and defending you from COVID-19,” the Chief Executive has spoken.

He then relayed that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease raising the code alert system to Code Red Sub-Level 2. It subjects Metro Manila to be under community quarantine. Among others, province-wide quarantine should be imposed on provinces with at least two positive COVID-19 cases.

Looking at the aforementioned statement and assuming Metro Manila is taken as one province, the community quarantine should have been imposed as early as February 2.

The numbers

Statistics are mere numbers but for the time being, it can either make or break our government’s decision of subjecting parts of the nation in community quarantine. As of March 16, 2020, the Philippines has 140 confirmed cases of COVID-19 spread across Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao with 12 confirmed deaths.

The data implies an 8.571 percent death rate which is higher than the top five countries with the highest number of cases of COVID-19. China being the top grosser with 80,860 has a fatality rate of 3.974 percent. Meanwhile, Italy with the second-highest number of cases has a fatality rate of 7.306 percent. Iran being third has a fatality rate of 5.194 percent. Korea, despite having a high number of cases earning them the fourth top spot has a skinny fatality rate of 0.911 percent. Lastly, Spain with the fifth spot has a fatality rate of 3.681 percent.

In terms of recovery, we can barely boast of our healthcare system with a measly 3.57 percent recovery rate while those of China, Italy, Iran, Korea, and Spain are at 83.81, 9.44, 32.93, 13.81, and 6.47 percent, respectively.

With those statistics lies a simple question with a difficult answer: are we capable of handling this given that the community quarantine may have already been too late?

The challenge

In a 2018 report of the World Health Organization on the review of the Philippine health system, the country has a bed capacity of 101,688 based on 2016 DOH-released data. Of the many beds, 29 percent belongs to the National Capital Region or Metro Manila, 36 percent for the rest of Luzon, 20 percent in Mindanao, and 15 percent in the Visayas. There are 10 beds available, on average, for every 10,000 Filipinos.

With that in mind, how many of these beds would be able to accommodate COVID-19 patients? That is why it is essential to observe measures to avoid further spread. We simply lack the capacity to accommodate a big number of COVID-19 patients. As a simple rule of thumb, the quantity will hamper the quality of healthcare that will be provided. Doctors also get exhausted. Nurses and aides also get tired of being there beyond the call of their 8-hour shift. Some go the extra mile of doing a 36- or 48-hour straight shifts.

As cases rise each day and since we cannot cry over spilled milk had we only declared a quarantine much earlier, the government should put in mind that the current healthcare system needs support. Reports have already shown a decline in the supply of face masks in hospitals. Even deployed soldiers and policemen on checkpoints have minimal protection to ensure they remain healthy.

With community quarantines imposed in various places throughout the country, the government should now put their focus on the frontliners who will become the next probable statistic of COVID-19. The provision of personal protective equipment and other sanitation measures must be in order now. If there is one good step that the government can do, that is it.

While it is better late than never, just as how the quarantine is imposed. The government should now be steps ahead as more COVID-19 suspected persons come to the hospital for treatment. They should put the safety of their frontliners as their priority to hopefully flatten the trend of COVID-19 cases. We can only hope that things get better.

Don’t cry over spilled Corona

This is article was originally published with the title, “Not a lockdown, it’s spilled milk” at Daily Guardian.

January 30, 2020 – It is probably a date our immune systems would never forget. The first case of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was confirmed in the Philippines. It was in 38-year-old Chinese from Wuhan in Hubei Province, People’s Republic of China, the ground zero or the former epicenter (now Italy), who arrived in Manila from Hong Kong on January 21. On March 14, 2020 or 53 days after the first confirmed case, marks the confirmation of the 98th case in the Philippines.

Just a few days ago, a community quarantine was announced by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte for the entirety of Metro Manila. Late evening of March 12, the announcement, which was spreading like wildfire on social media as early as mid-afternoon of that day, was made official by the President himself. The quarantine will be between March 15 to April 14.

As we are nearing the suspension of all means of transport going in and out of the area at midnight of March 15, people are now panicking to go home to the provinces. They may only either come home safe and sound or bring a Trojan horse to their communities.

With families in mind and probably the fear of being in a locked up metropolis, it can only be logical to think of leaving the Metro. But if done carelessly, it can lead to more problems that even the now struggling government could not handle.

Community quarantines will be in store based on the President’s pronouncement for provinces who will have at least two confirmed cases. Considering this standard protocol taking effect while the Philippines had no case at all and assuming Metro Manila is counted as one province, the community quarantine should have been in place as early as February 2 wherein a second case was confirmed in Manila. Why did the government have to wait that long for Metro Manila to be heavily battered by the virus and release those guidelines or directives?

Given the extent of cases in Metro Manila, and the number of persons eager to leave, a steep rise in confirmed cases is expected in the coming days. Be prepared. Uncertainty and insecurity will only prosper as a big number of people from Manila or with travel histories in Manila notwithstanding heavily infected countries come home, a homecoming most would not be excited about.

The Philippines had more home-court advantage than most first-world countries but it took things differently and for granted.

Had the government declared February 2nd as the community quarantine commencement date, people would have panicked earlier. Borders would have closed earlier. Stocks of alcohol would have declined quite earlier. Yes, there would have still been panics and hysterias. The only difference is that the management of cases would have been easier for healthcare professionals as well as the government that already turned over the key of responsibility to the Department of Health when it was already too late.

The Philippines is an archipelago, not like the other countries with thousands of cases. It would have easily controlled its borders.

The best doctors are here; in fact, the Philippines export a lot of doctors. With that amount of competence, COVID-19 management here would have become a potential model for other countries as well. Even the University of the Philippines was able to develop a test kit to pave the way for faster confirmation of COVID-19 infection. Going back to the argument of a February 2nd community quarantine, UP could have taken advantage of the extra time for the World Health Organization to evaluate and provide recommendations for the test kits while it is being challenged by some politicians.

The only solution left is vigilance and personal hygiene like washing of hands. As most Filipinos are falling prey to their loved ones and the importance of their company, only social distancing is left. What can only be done now is to be self-accountable of the risks that are taken as life goes on. Otherwise, we’re all goners.