The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in partnership with PUBLiCUS Asia, Inc. and the Association of Political Consultants in Asia (APCA), hosted on Thursday the second COVID-19 Virtual Learning Session designed to give Philippine local executive and their international counterparts the opportunity to share best case practices in combating COVID-19.
Mayors Oscar Moreno (Cagayan de Oro City), Ronnel Rivera (General Santos City), Vico Sotto (Pasig City), and Rex Gatchalian (Valenzuela City) presented the collaborative efforts spearheaded by their local government units on area-focused mitigation and response.
Guest speakers from the City of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada also shared what they have learned so far in dealing with COVID-19. Mr. Gary Kent, Chief Financial Officer; and Mr. Tim Beckett, Fire Chief and Director of Emergency Management presented the strategies employed by the large Canadian city in addressing the challenges of COVID-19.
COMMS, TECH, DATA FUEL COVID-19 RESPONSE
As the center of Region 10, Cagayan de Oro attends to the needs of the entire region when it comes to assessing suspected COVID-19 patients. According to Mayor Oscar Moreno, it was a challenge early on to cater to the influx of cases given the limited testing capacity the city initially had.
In response to this challenge, Moreno began conducting daily press briefers to update the city on the fast-changing developments of the COVID-19 situation in the area and the LGU’s responses. Held in coordination with representatives of the Department of Health, city health units, and the local police, Moreno emphasized that cooperation at all levels of local government has helped engage the community to observe health protocols.
In return, Mayor Moreno reported that there has been a decrease of new COVID-19 cases and partial easing of quarantine measures.
For General Santos City, Mayor Ronnel Rivera discussed the preemptive measures taken by the city to prevent community transmission.
In coordination with the Department of Education, General Santos has temporarily converted classrooms into quarantine facilities for individuals who show influenza-like symptoms. The program is also supplemented by a mobile application that enables authorities to identify individuals who may have been in contact with positive cases, thus boosting the city’s contact tracing efforts.
Rivera shared that data has been at the core of their decision making. The community-based strategies have proven effective given how citizens are empowered by being included in the decision making process through consultations.
Rivera also stressed that investments in non-pharmaceutical solutions are critical until a vaccine has been proven effective.
Data and technology have also been front-and-center in Valenzuela City’s fight against COVID-19. Mayor Gatchalian shared that effective use of their existing community based monitoring system empowered the local government to quickly identify individuals and households in need of aid, even in the absence of a national ID system.
He also shared that his administration aims to make most, if not all essential city hall services available online to minimize the need for physical transactions at government offices.
Additionally, Gatchalian noted that public-private sector collaboration has boosted Valenzuela’s COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and quarantine capabilities. With the local government leading the charge, public-private partnerships have empowered the city to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19 within its borders without having to rely on national government support.
Meanwhile, neophyte Mayor Vico Sotto highlighted the importance of disaster communication. Sotto discussed how he has strived to streamlining the process of communication to provide constituents with all the information they need during the pandemic. Improved communication between Pasig City Hall and its constituents allowed the city to implement quarantine, conduct contact tracing, and testing programs more efficiently.
Sotto also noted that the pandemic has presented an opportunity to translate challenges into solutions, such as the strengthening of primary healthcare and the promotion of alternative means of transportation such as biking.
LEARNINGS FROM CANADA
Meanwhile, Beckett also expressed his concern on how COVID-19 has affected the City of Mississauga. He shared that information on mitigating the virus rapidly changes given discoveries learned through constant lab research and review of strategies.
The unparalleled pandemic has led to the innovation of Mississauga’s business continuity plans, which helped decision makers quickly react to the needs of the community-at-large.
When asked by session moderator Malou Tiquia to reflect on which lessons from his experiences in Canadian local governance would be most applicable to the challenges discussed by the Philippine mayors, Beckett said it would be to ensure that public health remains the number one priority.
“Stay your course. Make sure that your medical and scientific data is what drives you, and not that of what the popular vote would be. Make sure you’re doing things for the right reasons, and not the popular reasons,” Beckett said, citing the conflict between the clamor of Mississauga residents for the re-opening of their city and scientific data indicating that re-opening at this time could endanger public health.
Kent shared that the economic implications of COVID-19 will be a multi-year problem. Intervention by the national government is needed given that cities are not able to handle the pandemic alone, especially financially.
He also highlighted that COVID-19 has provided the opportunity for Mississauga to shift more of its services online and prevent the need for people to be physically present at government offices.
The third session of the COVID-19 Virtual Learning Sessions organized by USAID will feature the strategies of mayors Noel Rosal (Legazpi City), John Geesnell Yap (Tagbilaran City), Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso (City of Manila), and Sara Duterte-Carpio (Davao City) on managing the negative impacts of the pandemic on the tourism sector. The Filipino speakers would also be joined by Dr. Huong Thi Giang Tran of the World Health Organization – Western Pacific Regional Office and Mr. Rob Joseph of the International City/County Management Association. The event will take place on June 23, Tuesday, 9:00 AM PHT.