FROM THE PUBLISHER ’ S DESK
Public health has often been the staple of politics and our government — regardless of the political party and no matter who is running it — always faces a great deal of public skepticism .
These twin facts are magnified during the Covid-19 pandemic . It presents a distinctive occasion to speculate on the interplay between public sentiment and electoral politics .
The Guam electorate is not exactly ideologically oriented , but in a Covid-fatigued island suffocated by mandates , Republican politicians have a ready-made campaign spiel for this year ’ s elections .
“ It ’ s time to restore freedom ,” former two-term governor Felix Camacho said when he announced his bid to return to Adelup last month .
It ’ s difficult to characterize Camacho ’ s eight years in office . There were no major scandals that rocked the island — at least nothing that we can remember now — other than the embarrassing diplomatic blunder that involved his unsanctioned “ state visit ” to Taiwan .
There ’ s nothing remarkable about his administration either — not even his failed attempt to change “ Guam to Guahan ,” which he marked as his “ legacy ” in his last state of the island address . He seemed like a reluctant governor during his second term . While spending most of his time off-island , George Bamba , Shawn Gumataotao and Bernadette Meno were the composite face of the government of Guam .
The pandemic-stricken election year presents an opportunity for Camacho to redeem himself . It gives him a perfect keynote that comes with soundbites that appeal to emotion .
“ We need to live . We need to breathe ,
The politics of public health in the time of Covid
and as human beings , we need to be together . We are social beings . We are not meant to be separated , which has led to so many social ills ,” he said .
From now until the time Gov . Lou Leon Guerrero lifts the Covid restrictions , Camacho is equipped with the right words that appeal to the people ’ s desire for normalcy .
" The word fear is paralyzing ," he said . " Every aspect of our lives is touched by big government . Throughout the nation and the world , fear has been used by governments to control our lives . It has compelled us as individuals to comply with government mandates for the vaccine , for masks , for social distancing , for isolation and for quarantine ."
The Covid-19 pandemic is unique to our time ( although its impact is not unique to Guam .) This public health disaster put every government across the world under pressure to respond quickly and decisively . Some governments hastily imposed strict lockdown policies to curb case numbers . Others settled for loose policies to minimize the pandemic ’ s damage to the economy . The health-versus-economy conundrum has been a universal debate during this Covid era .
Guam is no exception . There were no similar public health disasters that befell former governors in the past to allow us to make a comparative evaluation of Leon Guerrero ’ s performance .
Did she handle the pandemic well ? We looked at our neighbor-islands for answers . The CNMI managed to control community transmission and flatten the curve for eight months until October 2021 when the delta variant emerged . Palau managed to remain Covid-free for nearly two years until the omicron variant came into the picture .
Did the administration ’ s policies work ?
As far as Camacho is concerned , the Democrats ’ game plan that comes with Covid-related restrictions has not lived up to the promise that “ everything will be OK .”
Guam ’ s death toll was 328 as of Feb . 28 and the total Covid count was 44,573 , accounting for 28 percent of the island ’ s population . But it could ’ ve been worse , according to public health officials . These statistics can only be compared to a contingent scenario based on the administration ’ s initial ( and contentious ) death projection , which was 20,000 . In which case , the administration can claim “ policy success ”— albeit in the Orwellian sense .
We , as citizens , don ’ t want to take responsibility . If anything fails , the government is our default patsy .
The Covid economy is another story . It ’ s a paradox . Despite the shutdown of several businesses , Guam sees a booming economy on steroids . Guam has never been this wealthy — thanks to the endless flow of federal dollars . In the past two years , Guam received a total of $ 8 billion in federal aid and spending .
The Leon Guerrero administration may claim success in managing federal funds through local programs , although it was marred by some questionable deals .
Guam voters may put great stock in experience in electing political leaders : this year . Success will be rewarded and failures will be punished .
As is the case around the world , the incumbents are easier to discredit than the aspiring challengers who are not in the hot seat to confront the unsettling crisis .
“ I can ’ t second-guess the governor and the lt . governor because I am not in the seat when this pandemic evolved ,” Camacho admitted .
This year ’ s gubernatorial race will determine how policy reactions translate into voting decisions .
Publisher / Editor-in-Chief Mar-Vic Cagurangan publisher @ pacificislandtimes . com
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