President Rodrigo Duterte declared this week the extension of the state of calamity throughout the country until September 2021. This means that his earlier declaration made at the onset of the pandemic in March and was supposed to end last September 15 has been extended by a full year.
This declaration allows the national and local governments free reign to mobilize their quick response funds to address the continuing problem of COVID infections. Also included in their powers is control over the prices of basic goods.
The policy is all good and necessary, as it is important to capacitate government agencies in responding to the exigencies of their respective situations. As the pandemic continues to spread unabated by any magic cure or a sought-after vaccine, the country needs to strengthen its defensive and critical health response measures to confront this health crisis.
A nagging counterpoint to this however is the poor performance track record of government, national and local combined, in harnessing emergency response powers to address the urgent concerns on the ground. While eradicating corruption has been a familiar battle cry of the current administration, it has little to show, if any, by way of addressing systemic corruption that remains in place in the bureaucracy.
This is not to say that giving government more power over the calamity fund purse is a bad move. It is in fact a necessary move. But it should be accompanied by a robust check and balance system that will minimize the omnipresent problem of bureaucratic corruption.
Corruption watchdogs such as Transparency International has flagged the Philippines as a problematic case where this problem exists “at a considerable scale and scope.”
Based on the annual perception survey conducted by TI, the country slid from its rank of 99th to 113th in its 2019 ranking of countries perceived to be least affected by corruption. The main takeaway here is that the Philippine’s reputation for good governance is moving downward rather than gaining ground.
The government’s handling of crisis cases such as the massive corruption in PhilHealth has not exactly impressed the public jury at large, judging by random social media commentary at least.
The national and local government’s performance in handling its calamity funds for COVID-19 response will not be reckoned until a year from now. The pronouncement made by the President last week unfortunately comes up short, as it did not come with a clear and definitive framework to ensure that money and other resources will be put to good use.
It is now up to local governments to define their own measures of successes and guarantee the efficient use of their calamity funds. Transparency is a virtue and government and adopting it is no rocket science. All it takes is genuine intent, a currency that is hard to find nowadays in government.