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Prioritize the Vaccines!

The administration of Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte should go all-out to vaccinate the Filipino population. It should be easy for these old men to figure out. Investors pour their billions to countries with vaccinated populations. Our local entrepreneurs can return to business as usual. Our unemployed will have work. Consumers can shop freely again.

Successful vaccination programs ensure faster economic recovery and thus faster return of investments. But our best leaders of the solar system missed the point. They stress Cha-cha and infrastructure to attract investors.

In Cebu

Leaders in Cebu think and act different. Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella formed a vaccine task force even as other mayors of key cities announced having ordered AstraZeneca vaccines. While Councilor Raymond Garcia touts about an allocation of P400 million for buying vaccines, Labella says he prefers the American-made vaccines. I am not sure if Cebu City has the high-tech refrigeration machines these vaccines needed. Whatever the bytes from Cebu City Hall, we sense a lack of urgency. At least, daghan pa man ta. Gov. Gwen Garcia, on the other hand, believes involving the province in the race to get vaccines now would be ‘premature.’ While I failed to grasp the logic, the governor proceeds to carry out her other priorities. 

Impact of Biden’s presidency

 The United States will initially focus on climbing out of the pandemic wormhole that the outgoing Pres. Donald Trump pushed the country into. Nonetheless, I also expect the incoming administration of Pres. Joe Biden to also reassess it policies towards allies like the Philippines. A vital American concern involves President Duterte’s crude dance with China

Frankly, President Duterte’s unprovoked remark about scrapping the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) if the United States would not give the country vaccines worried me. I am not privy to the behind-the-scenes context of the remark. But the undiplomatic aside looked like a bid to scuttle whatever help we can hope from a Biden presidency and favor China’s Sinovac. On the other hand, Duterte has intensified efforts to push US concerns like strongly going after the Left and opening the economy several notches higher. Duterte wants to show the Americans he can deliver these, not Vice President Leni Robredo.

Will these seemingly contradictory moves make a Biden presidency stop from intervening with Philippine politics? Hmmm. Short of a political rupture early this year, I am speculating that the 2022 presidential election will be a contest between American and Chinese-backed bets.

(Emmanuel ‘Anol’ Mongaya is co-founder and director for strategic PR of the Cebu-based PRWorks Inc. He is also a member of the Political Officers League of the Philippines (POLPhil). Contact him @anol_cebu in Twitter)