THE SITUATION. From June 1 to 15, Cebu City, along with the rest of Cebu island, was placed under general quarantine (GCQ). City Hall expected and wanted to stay at GCQ despite the increase in the number of infections. The task force in Manila or IATF-MEID, with the president's approval, decided to return Cebu City to enhanced quarantine (ECQ) or total lockdown for the rest of this month, from June 16-30.
Mayor Edgardo Labella, in his appeal for reconsideration to IATF and public statements, insists that the numbers support the city's case to stay at GCQ. (The line about "one step backward, two steps forward, as in the Sinulog dance," was apparently cheer-squad stuff.)
IATF, on the other hand, says its decision is based on the factors that determine a local government's community quarantine category.
WHO GOT IT WRONG? IATF must have secured its figures on critical care utilization rate, recovery rate, and mortality rate from its regional task force, which in turn must have gotten them from the Department of Health.
Did DOH provide regional IATF old numbers or did the latter fail to send up the updates?
Mayor Labella, in a June 17 interview with Jason Monteclar on dyCM radio, said he hopes IATF will be "objective" and will "analyze" the correct figures.
That suggested two things: (1) IATF, regional and/or Manila, was influenced by factors other than the Covid-19 facts on the ground, and (2) IATF erred in assessing the figures.
The entry of other reasons, notably politics, is often suspected but hardly proved. The matter of statistics however can be ascertained: were the figures accurate and timely? Sourcing and reporting can be traced.
Some examples Mayor Labella cited: IATF told the press in Manila that Sitio Zapatera in Barangay Luz, Cebu City has 231 cases of infection when at the time it had only 16 active cases. IATF must think, from an official's statement, the city's hospital system is already groaning under the weight of virus-infected cases when City Hall has three large isolation centers/quarantines of its own and in each barangay. Plus: the fact that many hospitals were limiting the number of beds allotted for Covid-19 patients but could be persuaded to increase the number.
Why was the city's case not brought to IATF? If it was transmitted, accurately and clearly, then the problem is with the task force. It wasn't being "objective" or didn't "analyze" it well.
OTHER IATF REASONS. It is entirely plausible though that IATF has based its decision not just on the stats provided to the task force.
There might be other reasons clear only to IATF that's supposedly looking at the forest, not just the trees.
What's wrong with that theory though: IATF is publicly explaining its decision with facts that don't jibe with Cebu City's, or even Talisay City's facts. (Talisay City is categorized under modified ECQ when it was GCQ, along with the rest of Cebu island from June 1 to 15.)
THE BLAME GAME is expected, political Cebuanos being what they are, as political as most of the Covid-infected are asymptomatic. Public rant over the performance of public officials is much worse now, with the digital social platforms providing ease and speed in throwing criticism or condemnation, mostly without much thought or concern for facts.
But blame cannot be pinned on the IATF or the local officials until the public knows what's really going on. From Day One, there have been a lot of questions that are not adequately explained and left to hang. LGU leaders give regular live-streamed briefings but pick the topics. Public information offices ignore the subjects that social media call out for being clear and confusing. Some LGU heads simply don't hold press-cons and thus avoid media and public scrutiny.
Why blame the Cebu City mayor? Because the city is in a situation -- business is hurting, says the mayor -- and Labella is a visible, audible target. IATF provokes hostility but it's far and not in sight and enjoys the president's confidence.
If another mayor were at City Hall, one couldn't be sure if he would've done better or worse, maybe worse if he'd fight Malacanang instead.
The law made it clear: IATF and the Office of the President would make the call, LGUs would fall in line. The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act already expired by constitutional fiat but that has seemed not to matter to the central authority.
CONTROVERSIAL MASS TESTING. Cebu City may lose in its appeal to IATF. Cebu Province was already rebuffed twice in its plea to shift from GCQ to MGCQ.
DILG chief Eduardo Ano advised Mayor Labella to tighten enforcement of guidelines, something like enhancing the enhanced.
Other mayors, Labella disclosed, earlier suggested that Cebu City stop its mass testing. No tests, no confirmation of infections, most of which are asymptomatic. The Trump theory: no tests, no derogatory report of positive cases. What's happening stays hidden.
Did Cebu City hang itself with its own rope?
The apparent dilemma is having to choose between mass testing, with the result showing actual extent of damage on the community's public health, and shunning the widespread tests, with the illnesses hidden from public and official view.
ANOTHER CONSEQUENCE. US epidemiologist Anthony Faucci said there is another consequence, which should be the compelling consideration: more deaths if there's no adequate testing.
Other LGUs shun testing and in effect hide many infectious but symptom-less cases -- and get a good rating. Cebu City does mass testing and flunks the IATF grading.
Apparently, the situation has not been presented well to IATF: the different results from those with enough testing and with not enough or none at all.
Labella told dyCM's Monteclar he'd risk the "consequences," including the flak, without evidence yet, that they're buying all the 45,000 test kits for less than noble reasons. To the mayor, he'd be saving lives by mass testing, intensive tracing, isolation or quarantine and treatment.
WHAT'S NEXT. Cebu City is dissatisfied with the current ECQ category but has already set the machinery rolling for its implementation. It has no choice; no LGU has.
Cebu City can improve its numbers, on which IATF ratings are based, and more: see to it that the correct, updated information gets sent up. There's a lot of work on something else that goes with saving lives: saving livelihoods.