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Rough Cuts | Omission is betrayal

President Rodrigo Duterte went home to his native Davao City last Saturday, the very first day of the implementation of the down-grading of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) to a Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MGCQ).

Presidential spokesman lawyer Harry Roque anticipating negative comments from the perennial Duterte critics, made immediate preemptive statement saying that after the slight relaxation of some restrictions under the MGCQ the President, as part of his sworn duties to oversee efforts of ensuring the well-being of the Filipino people, needs to go to places where he thinks his personal knowledge of the actual situation could help him make correct decisions. And such places the President needs to visit do not exclude the area where he comes from. More so, since the President’s family are residing in Davao City, not in Malacanang.

By yesterday, if Secretary Roque was correct, the President was already back in Malacanang to attend to several official functions of the Presidency. In other words, because of Duterte’s grueling schedule his last week-end trip to Davao City was far from enough to give justice to the justification made by Spokesman Roque. That is, for Duterte to fly to other provinces in Mindanao.

Yes, the President really needs to visit not just his native Davao but other provinces or cities in the country because the residents of the other areas are also his constituents. In fact, during the early days of the President’s term we were making unsolicited suggestions through this space, that he visits other provinces in Mindanao and pushing for the inclusion of Tawi-tawi in his itinerary. While we know the President has visited Sulu and Basilan, we have yet to hear reports of a Presidential visit in the island Province of Tawi-tawi. The latter is the farthest southernmost province of the Philippines. In fact it is much closer to Malaysia than to the nearest seat of regional agencies of the Philippine government.

Tawi-tawi has in fact often been missed out in the listing of areas on the provincial situations as to incidence of CoViD 19 infection in the whole of the Philippines. Sulu and Basilan were included in the reporting by the Department of Health. But Tawi-tawi was not.

When the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the government’s CoViD 19 pandemic response releases its daily list of CoViD 19 infection, deaths and recovery figures, Tawi-tawi has not come out even once. Of course, if interpreted positively, it is one good sign that the country has a province, though known to be one of the less privileged of areas, that has been able to sustain its status as pandemic-free.
But the negative ramification of the non-mention of the predominantly Moro populated province in the list of provinces in the CoViD 19 infection data is that it appears that the authorities somehow forget that there is one Philippine Province out there south.

Only very recently that we saw Tawi-tawi included in the list; and that was in the places that were among those already considered in the lowest risk level of CoViD incidence.
The northernmost Province of Batanes, is even better. At least in our day-to-day monitoring of the government’s CoviD 19 situationer briefing by the government, there were several instances that Batanes was mentioned or listed.

Frankly we could not blame the residents of Tawi-tawi and their officials who would feel somewhat indifferent to the central government based in Manila. The almost total absence of visits in the province by the country’s top officials would add up to their feeling of neglect and isolation.

How much more if the Province’s share of national wealth and other development requested by Tawi-tawi officials would not come on time or not come at all? How much feeling of exclusion from the national development agenda if the province is not even mentioned in the list of places where government efforts in controlling the spread of the deadly virus are focused?

And perhaps, adding insult to the already injurious government apathy is the long running national television program where it says, “Mula Batanes hanggang Sulu.” Seemingly, there has been no effort at all to correct that erroneous description of the country’s territorial coverage. Ironically, the program’s leading personality is no less than the country’s third highest ranking official – Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

Hasn’t Sotto noticed the omission? Or, perhaps the Senate President has never come across the dictum that “Omission is in itself a kind of unforgivable betrayal?”

Seemingly, there has been no effort at all to correct that erroneous description of the country’s territorial coverage. Ironically, the program’s leading personality is no less than the country’s third highest ranking official – Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

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