For Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte, there is nothing unique about the way Davao City is managing or responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
What makes Davao City effective in managing Covid-19, Mayor Sara said, is the cooperation of the Dabawenyos, the close partnership and collaboration that the local government has established with the private sector and its relationship with foreign governments.
Mayor Sara emphasized this during her presentation on Thursday at the ‘high profile’ online forum of women leaders dubbed “Regional Discussion on Women: Leading in the New Future” organized by the Malaysia-based Asia Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD).
Mayor Sara was invited to the AIBD forum along with other presenters – Dr. Kiran Bedi, Governor of Pondicherry of India; Dr. Anne Felicia Ambrose, the Associate Professor and Research Director at the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Montefiore Hospital in Bronx; Ms. Atsuko Okuda of the International Telecommunication Union Asia Pacific Region; Indian Union Cabinet Member Smriti Zubin Irani; Malaysian Secretary General of Ministry of Communications and Multimedia Suriani Binti Dato’ Ahmad; and Undersecretary General of United Nations and Executive Secretary of Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific Armida Salsia Alisjahbana.
Mayor Sara’s presentation showed snippets of how the local government responded to the crisis, underlining the collaboration, partnerships, and the cooperation established between the Davao City local government, the private sector, even foreign countries, and the people of Davao themselves.
“It would have been a no-win battle if not for the strong ties that we at the local government were able to secure before and during the pandemic,” she said.
She cited the all-out support of the epidemiologists and infectious diseases specialists who worked and guided the local government in coming up with health protocols designed to slow down, hopefully, stop the spread of the infection.
“At the onset, I was aware that the crisis demands an effective and efficient response from people with expertise, experience, and knowledge of deadly diseases,” she said.
Based on the recommendation of the health consultants, Davao City made wearing face masks in public places mandatory amid questions of its role in reducing the transmission of the coronavirus.
It was also the health consultants that designed reusable, washable face masks that have been distributed to those who could not afford commercially sold face masks.
“I have personally campaigned and encouraged the use of face masks largely intended to protect the people against the spread of infection,” she said. “Never was I seen out in public without a mask on — simply because I believe that the best way to influence others, especially those who look up to you, is by showing an example.”
Below is the full text of Mayor Sara’s presentation:
The other component of our active campaign is for people to stay home except for essential movements; to strictly observe two-meter distance from each other; and the frequent washing of hands with soap and water or the use of alcohol-based hand rub.
The wearing of face masks, staying home, social distancing, and frequent handwashing are the four minimum health practices we relentlessly asked from the public to follow.
Our guidelines are based on the recommendations of our health consultants. The guidelines include limiting mass gatherings of people such as special events because the spread of the virus can happen in areas with a large volume of people. The warning was clear. You will likely get infected if you go to places where people gather or meet.
We have also implemented community lockdowns wherein people are prevented to move in and out of their communities if there is an alarming number of the coronavirus cases. We know this affects people’s jobs and livelihood, but this is also coupled with immediate food assistance and other social interventions to affected residents.
I was aware that there were resistance of these policies and protocols, but there was no way that we should back down. We must enforce. And we did.
I also saw the importance of rewarding communities for registering the lowest number of cases, and these communities were the upland areas or hard-to-reach areas inhabited by our local tribes or indigenous peoples.
LGBTQI, farmers’ involvement
Not only the IPs, I also involved the LGBTQI in our food distribution activities. It was a responsibility that highlighted how the members of the sector could organize themselves and work to ease the condition of a sector affected by the crisis.
We were also able to get our farmers to partner with us in addressing pressing needs and at the same providing them economic empowerment.
As a way to engage the public and open the line of communication with them, I launched a daily program aired over the Davao City Disaster Radio, a radio station owned by the city government.
Everyday, on air, I used the platform to explain the decisions, measures, and policies that we were implementing.
I also consciously asked them to understand, encourage them to cooperate, and enjoined them to support the steps undertaken by the government as they were crafted to protect lives.
I recall, one day, I was on air for 8 hours to answer queries and provide explanations and answers to questions about community lockdowns, transportation, jobs, food, medicine, and hospitalization.
Open communication, public participation
For 8 long hours, I listened to some angry calls and complaints and expressions of hostility to the health protocols we have laid down.
It was exhausting. But it was heartwarming at the same time, knowing that the people of Davao and the local government were engaged in a dialogue that underlined a common goal — the protection of the people against the deadly virus.
Despite some expressions of doubts and tones of resistance against some of our policies, the dialogue on the radio became the people’s platform to air their commitment to support the government.
At one point, I was comforted by the fact that the people were behind their leaders, supporting us in our efforts to contain and limit the impact of the pandemic.
As I look back, I would say that Davao City was one step ahead of the other cities in responding to the crisis.
And even before the national government could be able to cascade down to the local governments its National Action Plan against Covid-19, we have already achieved many successes in our own plan, which incidentally mirrored the national government’s plan that contained preventing the spread of the virus; contact tracing; isolating people infected of the virus; treatment of people infected with the virus; and, the reintegration of people recovering from the virus.
We even added into our response – the cremation referral system, knowing that Covid-19 deaths would be another difficult challenge to confront concerned families.
Let me reiterate this.
We owe it to our partners — the private sector, our friends from different foreign governments, and most importantly, our medical and non-medical frontliners, our Covid-19 heroes, who put their lives on the line to serve others.
The business community not only the Davao City-based industries but also those from Metro Manila also supported our response to Covid-19 from the start.
And we thank the people of Davao. Around 1.6 million of them, who listened and followed orders, policies, and health protocols — even if they somehow looked at these as curtailing their freedom of movement or even if they questioned these because it interrupted their life of comfort and luxury.
Our efforts were effective because you listened and you willingly sacrificed some of your comforts.
Right now, we can only hope that all these will continue to work for all of us until we find the cure.
In closing, I call on my fellow women leaders to be always relentless despite the challenges that come our way.
And in the face of adversities, in the face of great pressure, in the face of fear and uncertainty, let us pause and examine ourselves — try to look for the values we have collected along the way.
And as we relentlessly move forward, let us share to the world these values that made us who we are today, the same values that brought us where we are now.
Daghang salamat. CIO