Barangay, critical front line in COVD-19 war

By Ermin Garcia Jr.


LAST week, we echoed the alarm raised by the provincial government about indications of local/community transmission of COVID-19 in the province.

The province was reported for the first time that coronavirus infection was no longer coming from residents or visitors who arrived from Metro-Manila, the epicenter of COVID-19 contagion.  The suspicion is, local transmission has started.  We are on our own. The virus is already embedded in our barangays!

When we say local/community transmission, it means we are the source of the spread of the infection! How did that happen?

It started when a number of asymptomatic among us ignored the government’s pleas for us to wear masks, wash our hands and to stay home. Since an asymptomatic shows no visible sign of symptoms, they went their merry ways, believing the police are already preventing people from Metro Manila to enter Pangasinan.

Yet, contact-tracing could only accomplish so much to contain the infection. Without complete data for contact-tracing, there were those who had close contact with confirmed cases who still could not be traced. So the virus went undetected with them and engaged others without protection.

Those who insist on blaming the national government for the continued surge in contagion ought to know that they are barking up the wrong tree.

In hindsight, if only mayors and barangay officials had been more proactive in the campaign vs. COVID-19, we probably wouldn’t be worrying about local transmission today. But whatever, the dilemma is with us today.

Be on guard! The virus carrier can be your asymptomatic relative, friend or neighbor.

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MAKING THE DIFFERENCE. This brings us to my earlier call for the provincial government in April to already consider engaging our more than 1,300 barangay kapitans in Pangasinan, and commission them into active duty in the war vs. COVID-19.  Alas, the enforcement of the health protocol was left largely to the police. Of course, it was simply not possible to flatten the curve utilizing an undermanned police force to enforce and implement the prescribed protocols in the country.  So here we are, faced with a new dilemma – how to contain community transmission.

The only remaining way to nip it in the bud this late, is to finally engage and compel our mayors and barangay kapitans to step up and make them accountable.  

Only the mayors, who have direct supervisions over the police, have direct control and supervisions over barangays under their respective jurisdiction while the kapitans have direct control over kagawads, tanods, health officers and SK.

Only they can make the difference now and effectively protect their constituents.

After all, only the barangay officials can see families not wearing masks when they leave their homes, when residents congregate and do not observe social and physical distancing, when jeepneys and tricycles take more passengers than they are supposed to, when men sit around a table outside homes and sari-sari stores for their drinking bouts, when children play with others without their masks, when residents are out beyond curfew hours, when there is water supply disruption in the barangay, when the sick do not get medical attention?  Who else can see these on daily basis but our barangay officials??

The recent memorandum order from IATF, therefore, requiring LGUs to submit their plans how to strictly and implement minimum protocol, is timely.

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EXPOSE THE INCOMPETENT. In fact, R1MC chief Dr. Joseph Mejia hit the nail on the head when he appealed to mayors to help contain spread of COVID-19 being a local transmission, echoing Guv Pogi’s recent appeal.

The hospital’s data from confined positive cases back his appeal.  This call is no longer based on medical theories about the coronavirus.

While he denies having explicitly asked for the reversal of community status to ECQ for Pangasinan, I thought his ‘misinterpreted’ call should in fact stay and serve as a serious warning of what can happen if the mayors and kapitans don’t preempt the situation in time.

But, in fairness to the provincial government that is doing a yeoman’s job keeping the infection minimal, Dr. Mejia’s call may, indeed, be construed to mean as if the provincial health office is not doing enough, because it is and it is doing everything possible!

But let us not go into malicious insinuations and finger-pointing, after all we are all on the same team. Both Capitol and R1MC mean and want the same thing… to hasten our return to normalcy. It will be useful, therefore, if Guv Pogi, PHO chief Dr. Anna De Guzman, P/Col Rederico Maranan, R1MC Dr. Mejia and police chiefs will be more outspoken to prod, push and pressure mayors and their barangay kapitans to do much more than watching from the sidelines.

Let’s see more mayors and kapitans exposed for their incompetence if cases continue to surge in their towns or cities in the weeks ahead. We can ignore 1 case each time but to see three cases at one time is proof of negligence on their part.

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SIMPLY NOTHING. I watched the video of the Rising to the Challenge Forum that focused on best practices applied to address COVID-19 that featured mayors and governors. Mayor Brian Lim was one of the resource persons.

As I predicted Mr. Lim, being the last resource speaker began with an invitation instead to merely check posts of the city information office’s Facebook account in lieu of having to articulate all that he’s done on the COVID-19.  I guess it was the safest statement knowing no one will seriously take his offer. But it was definitely the presumptuous and the wrong lead. The FB account does not have details on the city government’s best practices, mostly memes on updates of statistics.

In an attempt to possibly cover-up his shortcomings, he premised his presentation with the fact he is a first-time mayor and that the world knew little of COVID-19. So, he vainly tried to impress the audience by citing what he considered ‘best practices: the numerous testing activities for frontliners, LSI, OFW, market vendors, distribution of food packs, briefly cited the launching of “mobile stores,” offer of free board and lodging for quarantined Dagupeños. 

That’s it. Best practices? But these were the initiatives proposed by the national government. No added values from the city. Nothing for jobless parents could not afford milk for their young kids, nothing for PWDs to cope with quarantine, nothing for the youths to build on, nothing to make medicines readily available to seniors, nothing for jeepney and tricycle drivers for alternative sources of income. Nothing.

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