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Duty in crisis

/ 04:03 AM March 16, 2020

I woke up to news that medical interns of the Philippine General Hospital volunteered to be part of the workforce, serving as frontliners and easing some of the load that the hospital staff had been struggling to carry. To explain: medical colleges have pulled out medical clerks and interns from their hospital duties, as these have yet to take their medical boards and swear the Hippocratic Oath. As a result, remaining hospital staff have struggled with the double load of caring for a steady influx of patients, as well as taking on the job of fallen comrades who have suffered from exposure or illness. Even elderly senior doctors, long settled into practice, have been called to the battle in varying capacities. Those interns who have volunteered to work are surely welcome at the frontlines.

It is a time for duty. It’s not a time for endlessly ruing the domino line of decisions that have gotten us to our current status. It is also, one might argue, not a time for dwelling on critique of the government and those of its agencies that are hapless and poorly coordinated—not because we sympathize with our incoherent President or his allies, and not because we ought not to exercise our right to free speech, but because we’ve been shown time and again that public outcry doesn’t matter to the powers that be, and time is of the essence.

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Some romanticize our bayanihan spirit. Misty-eyed commentators have commended Filipinos for love and unity in times of crises. But it’s simply the time for action and the recognition of one’s duty to the community, as the situation uniquely calls for cooperation from all sectors, otherwise we would all be bound for failure. It truly is a time for everyday heroism, and for picking up the slack where the government cannot, or will not, because we have been left with no choice.

Over the weekend, acts of heroism and appreciation popped up here and there. Restaurants bringing food and drink to frontliners. Communities carefully sewing face masks. A licensed chemist distributing ethyl alcohol for free. Supermarkets doing their part to curb hoarding of supplies. Groups raising funds for the procurement of test kits and protective equipment, or for validation and production of the kits developed by the University of the Philippines and its allied researchers. And now, medical students and other health care trainees shouldering burdens and manning posts beyond their requirements.

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A Facebook post by a layperson went viral this week as it criticized those who insist on congratulating, consoling, or praising those at the frontlines of health care, saying that health care professionals doing their part are paid to do so and should expect no thanks; but no payment or reward is commensurate to the fear of exposure, or the fear of exposing loved ones in turn. No payslip is enough enticement for the forced isolation, as the rest of the Philippines settles down to long peaceful stays at home, while health care workers, and those likewise at risk of exposure, isolate themselves from their family members and loved ones.

Perhaps no thanks are due, but the recognition that they are doing their duty at great personal risk might be welcome. This isn’t volunteerism but a sense of duty and knowing one’s part: the enactment of principles which, most days, seem abstract but which become very real, very fast in the face of a pandemic.

It would also behoove us to remember that we all have a duty, too — not to offer goods or services if we can’t, but to do our part in slowing down the spread of contagion, and looking out for the welfare of communities at large. The efforts of frontliners are useless if the rest of us don’t cooperate, and yet we still see restaurants and other gathering places packed with people. We still have companies that could allow staff to work remotely, but have not done so. This carelessness undermines the work of those in the so-called trenches of the pandemic, and is a clear failure to do the duty of an ordinary Filipino in this time of crisis. To paraphrase Milton: they also serve who stay at home and wait.

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