International Policy Digest

PCOO EDP
World News /15 Mar 2020
03.15.20

COVID-19 Reveals Rodrigo Duterte’s Incompetence

The coronavirus outbreak has laid bare the incompetent nature of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s government.

China’s Feelings and ‘Racism’

The COVID-19 crisis started in 2019 and continued unresolved into 2020, during which time countries spent time trying to contain it, with no luck, unfortunately, since the world is now more connected than ever, particularly to China, the world’s second-biggest economy.

By February, China was no longer the only country severely affected by the virus. Italy, Iran, South Korea, and even the United States recorded speedy infection rates, with Italy having to quarantine the whole country. By March, the World Health Organization declared the virus a global pandemic.

What was the Philippine government doing all this time?

Easy. It was refusing calls to ban travel to and from China, claiming it was unfair to the good old Asian country. But, as many suspect, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte may have meant “unfair to Xi Jinping.” Until this day, where cases in the country have risen, and the virus has killed five people as of writing, the government maintains a soft spot for China despite finally having imposed a travel ban.

It’s not racism. It’s a precaution.

As the issue of the travel ban raged, government supporters were quick to use the racism narrative to defend the president’s inclination toward China.

However, unlike Canada, the U.S., and other wealthy countries, the Philippines doesn’t have enormous amounts of resources and medical facilities to spare.

China was ground zero of the outbreak, so it was only logical to try to minimize contact as much as possible to prevent further infection. We cannot afford a severe epidemic. It’s as simple as that.

But tales of Chinese families avoiding people and people judging Chinese families were pretty much the mainstay of online social media propaganda in the Philippines.

Duque’s Failed Leadership

Around the same time, the Department of Health was busy pointing fingers. When news of infection broke in February, Health Secretary Francisco Duque was quick on his feet, ready to point that old finger of his at his subordinates.

Grilled in a senate hearing, Duque slammed critics and claimed it wasn’t his “failure of leadership” that caused the gaps in the DOH’s work with the virus outbreak. According to Duque, the problem was “within some of the operating units of the Department of Health.”

But for those who know better, it’s obvious a leader has failed when he starts blaming the people under his command when the team messes up.

“This Virus *** ** * *****”

After the first infection, more followed. And the more the infections grew, the more we saw how ill-prepared the Philippine government is all this time. The people, though, had hoped the president would somehow have something important to say, perhaps a plan to treat the sick, check who’s infected, keep people safe from the virus, and ensure the country remains functional despite the pandemic.

On Thursday evening, people waited for the president’s address, supposedly around 6pm. In true statesman fashion, the speech was pushed further back in the evening. People were anxious to hear what the strongman has to offer, which wasn’t really hoping for much.

And when the old man did sit on his chair, wearing a casual denim polo, with two military men behind him, smug-faced and detached, the president said what everyone was expecting him to say: “This virus [is a] son of a bitch.”

Of course, his fans, who have come to expect the “funny” one-liners and seemingly “witty” statements from this old man, cheered and laughed. But for those who were waiting for something more concrete, it was a huge letdown.

Full speech here.

Manila in Lockdown

In his speech, apart from the colorful language, the president announced a month-long “community quarantine” for Metro Manila. Land, domestic, and air travel were canceled in the National Capital Region starting March 15 to April 14. Mass gatherings were also banned.

Also, instead of health workers and treatment facilities, he said the military and police forces would be deployed for “peace and order.”

Then, he was quick to remind everyone that it “wasn’t Martial Law,” like the one he declared in the war-torn Marawi City a few years back.

Of course, it wasn’t Martial Law, if he said so.

What’s even funnier is that Duterte was quick to point out this “community quarantine” was really a lockdown.

But then his supporters were persistent in their narrative: community quarantine isn’t a lockdown. People will be free to roam around. They will not be banned from going out of their houses, whereas a lockdown locks people inside their homes, with the government providing the supplies they need to survive the month without going out, working, or going to school.

But let’s not get stuck with terms. What’s clear is this: the president loves his military, and he will declare national emergencies for the sake of deploying his troops. It makes one think he’ll declare Martial Law anytime soon, without saying that exact phrase.

Thank you, China, thank you Xi Jinping.

There’s no clear plan of action, unlike what’s seen from other countries that have cases of infection.

But, maybe, the president, being the Almighty father figure for his fans, will have something to say for the tireless health workers, doctors, nurses, and volunteers who keep the majority of the people safe.

No.

Instead, the president took the time and said Chinese President Xi Jinping was ready to help and “all we have to do is ask.” He added that if things deteriorate, he may have to call China for help: “So to the Chinese government, the people, especially to President Xi Jinping, thank you for the consoling words and maybe I hope it would not reach that point, but maybe we will need your help. Thank you.”

China is where the virus originated, but that’s not even the issue. The issue is China’s government has received criticisms both locally and internationally for the lack of transparency and playing down the outbreak, resulting in delayed critical responses from health officials.

So, what gives?

Let the Old Man Rest

And while the issue of incompetence is visible to the naked eye, the fans aren’t giving up on the president.

As an Almighty “Daddy Digs” of his supporters, the president is at once a funny man (a clown), a strongman (still a clown), and an old man.

This funny man joked about visiting his house, telling people instead of going out, maybe it’s better to roam around the house and see if they haven’t seen someplace there. Really helpful.

This strongman wants to deploy the police, allegedly 40,000 of them, and military men in the capital to keep peace and order, when the people needed treatment, checkups, and supplies (amid the panic-buying frenzy, but that’s for another topic). Totally helpful.

And lastly, this old man is an old man who’s pitiful and needs to rest, according to his staunch followers, who can’t seem to think of any other arguments other than saying, “He’s old. He’s overworked, and he’s doing his best.” Incredibly helpful.

“Kayo na lang kaya maging president?!” (“Why don’t you become the president?!”)

It’s clear they’re missing the point, and it’s clear they will say anything, no matter how irrelevant and misguided, to defend their funny man, strongman, and old man.

And that’s why, COVID-19 or not, this government will always be incompetent and will always fail in leadership.

Thank you, Xi Jinping.