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Choosy

As this government that has failed to call dibs on any vaccine faced criticism for its choice of vaccine supplier as it scrambled to source the vaccine that our leaders thought would fall on their lap as they napped under the mango tree, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque cockily told Filipinos not to be choosy when it comes to the brand of vaccine government will provide due to the limited supply.

Filipinos had been making all sorts of comments regarding the government’s prioritization of China-made Sinovac vaccine that not only has a lower efficacy rate than its western counterparts, it is also the most expensive among the available choices at more than P3,000 a dose.

It is but natural for a people who have already been subjected to one of the world’s longest, strictest yet utterly ineffective lockdowns to be expecting more from their government by now, almost one year after this ordeal that has been characterized and aggravated by an incompetent government response began.

We endured the lockdowns. We cooperated with the checkpoints. Some of us bought motorcycle barriers that were eventually proven unnecessary. All of us still continue using plastic face shields even if no other countries have made that unwieldy accessory as part of their coronavirus response. The ever resilient Filipino obeyed each and every order of our country’s Boomer Command that is mostly composed of retired generals and ineffective old men in the hope that our dear leader’s dependence on a vaccine as a silver bullet to end all our suffering would be matched by action.

As usual, in a country where words are rarely backed by action, our government dropped the vaccine ball. The people responsible for securing a supply of vaccine for our country twiddled their thumbs while countries run by more proactive and competent people called dibs, made reservations, and paid in advance. Our government’s Covid-19 vaccine action plan was probably based on the proverbial Juan Tamad, who saw the mango that he wanted to eat but decided that taking a nap under the tree and waiting for it to fall would be the best course of action.

While our Juan Tamads napped, other governments hustled.That laziness and incompetence is why we are now scrounging around for scraps. It is not our fault as a people, but as the saying goes, “beggars can’t be choosers” and that is probably why Mr. Roque is taking offense that Filipinos have the gall to demand due diligence from their government and be choosy at this time.

They dropped the vaccine ball and, instead of making up for their mistake, our government has gone ahead and chosen the least effective but more expensive vaccine. It would not be so bad if local governments had not been able to secure deals with other more palatable vaccine options, such as the one from British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca. According to more transparent and reliable testing, this vaccine is more effective and it is less expensive. This is what the Filipino beggar is choosing but our government has inexplicably chosen to go with the Chinese vaccine. The issue here is that we are not being choosy, the problem is that something stinks.

Filipinos know by now that our standards have been lowered so terribly that we no longer expect nor deserve the best. But even a low-standard people have limits and a government that uses our hard earned taxes to shove the worst among the lot down our throats might’ve been too much.

Maybe, they’ve been so used to hearing nothing from us that they forgot how, up to half a decade ago, we used to be choosy when it comes to our taxes being spent. Billions in unaudited and confidential funds for one government office used to make us hopping mad. We used to expect our public officials to do actual work instead of being content with proof of life in carinderias. We had expectations and standards.

If you come to think of it, this poor quality but expensive vaccine issue could spell the death of any government vaccination program when people stop trusting the government’s choices for them. But, what can you expect from retired generals and yes men, who have no prior experience in public health and epidemic response?

If anything, perhaps it is this stinky Chinese vaccine issue that will finally teach us to rediscover our choosiness and remind us of the standards and expectations we used to hoist upon our government and its officials.

Those of us who live in cities that have chosen the more effective vaccines are lucky to have leaders who care about their constituents. The rest of the country, especially the poor areas, will have to settle for whatever government decides is best for them.

At this point, it may be impossible to stop government from buying the more expensive yet less effective vaccines. But if we survive this ordeal long enough to choose to remain choosy, the good news is that we have an opportunity to choose a better set of government officials by next year.

For now, all we can do is try to survive. Those who cannot take the low quality stuff that our government intends to inject into our bodies should start saving up enough so we can choose our own vaccines.*

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