I AM amused by the reaction of some sectors to the decision to return to the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) the status of Cebu City only days after many of the restrictions meant to battle the spread of the coronavirus had been lifted. Many tended to blame the administration of Mayor Edgardo Labella for it, which in turn exposed the highly polarized setup we are in.
There are even those who attempted to build a cult centered on former mayor Tomas Osmeña, most of them making much fuss about the supposed iron hand that the Osmeña kind of leadership wields. The argument is that Labella is too weak to be the leader in the current setup. The punchline: Daghan ang nagmayor-mayor sa siyudad (Many are playing mayor in the city).
Of course, that misses the point entirely in the mess we are in. I noted in a Facebook post that no matter who the Cebu City mayor is, it will always be difficult to prevent the spread of Covid-19 or any other deadly virus. This is because of two things: The fact that the city is the major urban center in the Visayas and Mindanao and also because of the so-called urban blight.
This does not mean I am letting the Labella administration escape blame for the poor handling of the pandemic. There were obvious failings that tended to show laxity in the implementation of restrictions plus the showcasing of a seemingly confused bureaucracy unable to straighten out its act. But even if Labella were a genius, he could never be better than our moribund societal setup.
What the Covid-19 pandemic exposed is the accumulated failure of the past and present government to deliver basic services to the people. This is obvious in the sharp contrast in Covid-19 infections between Metro Cebu and Cebu Province in general. Easily observable is the contrast in, say, the problem of shelter between Cebu City and Cebu province.
Nowhere has the problem on shelter become more acute than in Cebu City. Communities are not only thickly populated, many people don’t have decent houses to even sleep in. How can such diktat as staying at home and social distancing be implemented in these areas? And because many do not have decent jobs, how can they have regular supply of face masks and cleaning solutions?
The admonition to, say, stay at home is cute. But what if you do not have a decent home to stay in? Another cute reminder is to always wash your hand with alcohol. But given the choice between food and rubbing alcohol, the choice is a no-brainer for the marginalized. One other cute call is to wash your hands with soap and water. But what if you don’t have soap and, worse, water? (The Metropolitan Cebu Water District can be the subject of another column altogether.)
If government officials are to learn one lesson from the pandemic, it is on the need to focus and really be aggressive on the delivery of basic services in order to prepare well their constituents for the next pandemic after this one (simbako!).