When history repeats itself

Nelson Celis, TMT / October 14, 2020
Posted by CenPEG, 21 Oct. 2020

We are all familiar with the expression “history repeats itself.” Thucydides (460 to 400 BC), the father of history and author of the History of the Peloponnesian War (431 BC), defined it as “events of future history will be of the same nature, or nearly so, as the history of the past, so long as men are men.” He was also the father of the school of political realism, which views political behavior of individuals and the subsequent outcomes of relations between states as moderated by the emotions of fear and self-interest.

History repeats itself is also what we heard from our learned oldies who give advice that we have to learn from our and others’ mistakes so that history doesn’t repeat itself. Other philosophers saw history like the changing of four seasons repeating every year. However, Mark Twain said, “History never repeats itself but it rhymes” — there are like-sounding conditions that re-occur throughout history but not closely or the same sound.

Anyhow, whether history repeats itself or rhymes, it teaches us how to respond as critical thinkers. A typical example of history happening in a vicious cycle is data misManagement (i.e., explained at https://www.manilatimes.net/2020/06/24/opinion/columnists/topanalysis/data-mismanagement/734008/) in the government offices by unscrupulous officers and staff. We have learned that history revealed inexcusable misuse of funds, fraud, inaccurate or misleading reports, altered election results, budget misappropriation, connivance with product and service providers, etc. This cycle had become an unpleasant pattern since time immemorial that even President Rodrigo Duterte promised to eradicate it during his anti-corruption campaign before the 2016 elections.

Recently, the Commission on Audit (CoA) did it again by unearthing its cyclic findings on the Department of Health (DoH). Aside from overstocking of medicines that plagued public hospitals in 2013, the DoH was using P17.5 million of expired and nearly expiring medicines then due to lack of planning and monitoring. In 2018, close to P20 billion worth of drugs and medicines were overstocked in its warehouses and that P30 million worth of medicines distributed to various health centers and hospitals were already expired. Fresh CoA findings revealed that some P2.2 billion worth of medicines and medical supplies of the DoH are either overstocked, expired or nearly expired.

As their responses to these cyclic findings, in the press release posted in their website dated July 25, 2019, the DoH stated: “x x x Following the recommendations of CoA in the 2018 report, concerned DoH teams have been relentlessly collaborating to resolve the issues on overstocking, distribution and warehousing, among others. Funds have been allocated for the payment of rental of warehouses and hauling of commodities to facilitate immediate distribution. x x x.” On the other hand, the press release in the DoH website dated Oct. 7, 2020 declared that there’s no P2.2 billion worth of expired medicines and overstocked supplies. Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd said: “We are one with the Commission on Audit and we are closely working with them in deploying and dispatching commodities in a timely manner. x x x.”

From another perspective, history rhymes may be read between the lines of “The Philippines Health System Review” (2018) written by the group of Dr. Manuel Dayrit, to wit:
“Health resources are inequitably distributed. The physical infrastructure of the Philippine health sector is composed of 1,224 hospitals, 2,587 city/rural health centers and 20,216 village health stations. x x x.

“The budget of the DoH has increased 12-fold over the past 12 years, from P10 billion in 2005 to P123 billion in 2017, reflecting the increased priority for health care x x x.
“Addressing health system inefficiencies and health inequities brought about by the very characteristic of the Philippine health system remain critical challenges in the Philippines. x x x.
“While there have been efforts to encourage the public and civil society in governing health programs, the participation of civil society organizations in provincial, city and municipal councils is highly uneven as it depends on the openness of the local government executive.

“In PhilHealth, representation on its board of directors is lopsided in favor of government ex-officio, with only one slot devoted to consumer/patient representation. The lack of an organized citizens’ effort (such as a watchdog) to oversee social health insurance issues and proposals for reforms are also major shortcomings.

“Medical care is fraught with serious information asymmetry between provider (hospitals, doctors) and patient, as well as funder (health insurance, HMO) and patient. x x x”

Then two weeks ago, President Duterte spoke about corruption and said, “I offered to resign as president, sabi ko kasi nagsasawa na ako…Even with the investigation or the clamor for government to shake the tree, wala, hanggang ngayon, it’s being committed every day. Can you stop it? You cannot, there is no way.”

How do we break the history of corruption in repeating itself? How do we stop corruption? The President said in his speech, “I appeal again to Congress, I cannot fight corruption…I cannot find a way to move those who are most resistant to finding fault and resisting moves of government to improve. Congress might want to enact legislation.”

When the President says something, especially if related to legislation, it happens. Remember the abrupt processing time reduction in providing services by our government offices to our citizens? It is because he signed into law Republic Act (RA) 11032, or the “Ease of Doing Business Act (EoDB) of 2018.” The Congress listened to him well when he emphasized in his inaugural speech in 2016, “I direct all department secretaries and the heads of agencies to reduce the requirements and the processing time of all applications, from the submission to the release.” He just uttered the magic word “to simplify” to break the vicious cycle of turtle-speed government service.

EoDB is very much related to RA 8792, or the “E-Commerce Law of 2000” — an act promoting the universal use of electronic transaction in the government and general public. “To simplify” is to adopt digital transformation (https://www.manilatimes.net/digital-transformation-2019-2022/588937/) and it’s been happening. Just a caution, we need proper management of digital transformation as it is the key to getting rid of corruption in any aspect of business process of government offices and in eliminating data misManagement, including cheating in national and local elections.

Even the coronavirus pandemic speeded up digital transformation in so many aspects of our daily living like ‘work from home,’ online business transactions, online meetings, etc. It even cleansed Mother Earth of heavy air pollution!

Hence, when history repeats itself, or when it rhymes, it only needs a proactive and decisive leader…or divine intervention.

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