Who’s really leading us to perdition?

While President Rodrigo Duterte boasts of having “bright” people in his Cabinet and assures that his administration is “busy doing everything” to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, he also warns that “many more will die” and that the solution to the COVID-19 problem is beyond his control.

Nandiyan ang bakuna, hindi sa ating kamay . . . sa kamay ng ibang tao. (The vaccines are there, out of our hands . . . in the hands of other people). And this will go, I think, before it gets better, we’ll have to go to the worst of times,” he said in his last “Talk to the People” briefing last Friday.

The President, who appears in public via prerecorded briefings either in Malacañang or Davao City, probably wanted to calm down the people who have become agitated over what many consider as incompetence of the government. However, he ended up getting more criticisms because of his confusing and contradictory statements, which were spoken in incomplete, sometimes incomprehensible, sentences.

Given the high number of deaths and new infections reported every day by the Department of Health (DoH), the President’s statements that “many more will die” of COVID-19 and that the worst is yet to come may have basis. But this was far from reassuring no matter how high he praises his trusted men who are in charge of responding to the pandemic.

Duterte said it’s not only the Philippines that is “facing an enemy that cannot be seen . . . an opponent where there is no sight at end (he probably meant no end in sight) but the entire world.

Alam mo kasi ang sikreto lang naman dito, hindi nga sikreto, eh, (You know the only secret here is, it’s not even a secret) … it’s really that the Philippines is not an exception. We are not the favored few under this planet Earth,” he said. Then, he went on to say: “Ang problema (the problem) is that there is once in a while, in every generation, there’s a pandemic, epidemic, national pandemic — and it seems to be virulent and ready to take the civilization of mankind by its nose, leading us to perdition.”

Is it really COVID-19 that’s leading Filipinos to the road to perdition? Or is it the incompetence of many in government who have been consumed to praising themselves and refuse to acknowledge their shortcomings in addressing the problems brought about by COVID-19?

Because the president just turned 76 years old last March 28, he has probably forgotten that he downplayed the threat of COVID-19 even after the first death from the coronavirus outside China was recorded in the Philippines on Feb. 2, 2020.

He said then that there was no reason to be hysterical about the virus, noting that only one person had died of the disease that time. He likened the COVID-19 (known then as 2019-nCoV) to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 that killed nearly 800 people across the globe.

Kagaya ng (Like) SARS, I assure you, even without the vaccines, it will just die a natural death. Apparently, itong mga ganito, mga virus, ano ’to HIV, wala — nawala na. Meron, kokonti na lang (virus like this, this HIV, it’s gone. There is, but very few). Ang HIV five or 10 years ago was a dreaded disease and everybody was afraid of it to the extent that it cut the pleasures of the world,” Duterte said in a briefing more than a year ago.

He added: “May mga ganun (There are similar) but it will die a natural death. Ito matatapos rin ito (This, too, will pass). But would it worsen in the meantime? Maybe. But you know the progress of medical science now is far too different from — of the yesteryears.”

But the President appears to have a very short memory. Since April last year, he has been claiming that he was warning against the severity of COVID-19 from the beginning. Last Friday, he said again: “Right at the start, I was almost melodramatic about it and I said that there is a new virus or virus coming from China or discovered from China na hindi nila makontrol (that they cannot control). And it was not until after so many months that nag-umpisa na ’yong vaccine lumabas (the vaccines started coming out).”

He said industrialized countries which have developed the vaccines against COVID-19 “are not really ready to let go of their stocks of vaccine.”

He must have forgotten that the National Task Force Against COVID-19 took time to process the procurement of the vaccines. Some senators blamed vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III for rushing the Congress to pass an indemnification bill last February.

The indemnification law was one of the requirements imposed by vaccine manufacturers. It created a fund for the compensation of vaccine recipients who may experience adverse side effects so that vaccine makers would not be held liable in case of adverse cases.

Duterte may be correct that he had created the task force early on, but the task force was too slow in securing procurement contracts for COVID-19 because it did not give due importance to the enactment of an indemnification law.

That’s why the Philippines has so far received only the vaccine from China that has low efficacy rate and the country’s allocation from the World Health Organization-led COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility.

It’s not that the vaccine-developing countries do not want to release their products. We don’t have adequate vaccine supply because we did not place our orders early enough.

Duterte is now saying that he will waive his chance to get the vaccine, noting that elderly people like him should not be prioritized. Has he forgotten that senior citizens are second in the 12-sector priority list of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) for inoculation?

Do you believe that he has not been inoculated? If his security aides got their full vaccine doses as early as September and October last year with unauthorized shipments of Sinopharm from China, would the “mayor” be left behind?

If only the president would attend and actively participate in more meetings on pressing problems such as the COVID-19 and its impact on the economy and the people, he may become adept at responding to issues, and he won’t end up blabbering and contradicting his own statements.

The country is in dire need of a responsible leader who can take decisive actions that could take us out of this pandemic. If Ramon Tulfo, who has professed his adulation for Duterte earlier on, is now saying that the country is running like a headless chicken, we probably are.

The president said last Friday that because he is a lawyer, not a medical doctor, he yields decisions about COVID-19 issues to Duque. But hasn’t Duque been saying many times that his actions were always based on instructions from the President? Do we have here a case of the blind leading the blind?

Who do you think is leading us to perdition? I don’t think it’s COVID-19.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.

This column also appeared in The Manila Times.