Don’t forget poor, marginalized in ‘new normal’
Like it or not, this pandemic has changed the way we live and the way we will live. Policymakers, government officials, think tanks, and academics, among others, are starting to float their ideas on how we can conduct education, labor, business, and other matters during and after this public health crisis—what is being touted as the “new normal.”
A top-down approach has always been used in the planning and crafting of options for moving forward. That is to say, only people with enough political, economic, and/or cultural capital have a say in how things should be done. With this, post-COVID-19 normalcy, much like the old normal, can be very exclusionary and disenfranchising. No matter how well-intentioned the suggestions are of their powerful proponents, lived experiences from below cannot be reduced to assumptions. What is worse is when proposals for a new normal are not even data-driven or cognizant of these lived experiences.
Last April 27, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano filed House Bill No. 6623 or the “New Normal for the Workplace and Public Spaces Act of 2020.” The said bill contains several provisions that are, to say the least, not well-
informed and are out of touch. For example, the online mode of education is being promoted. While this could be objectively good and can be compliant with global trends and standards, in the Philippine context, barriers to this mode of learning exist, such as internet access and connectivity issues, the availability of laptops and other necessary devices, etc. We are all too familiar with stories of students who do not even have shoes to wear or paper to write on, and money to buy them either. How do we expect them to seamlessly transition to virtual learning? To push forward with this is tantamount to denying a great number of Filipinos their right to education. This is one of the many flaws of a top-down and detached approach to building the new normal.
Evidently, it is the marginalized sector, without proper safeguards, security of tenure, and social safety nets, that bears the brunt of this pandemic. While we recognize the need for academics, experts, and policymakers to be at the helm of planning and implementing this new normal, the people facing the highest vulnerability should likewise be there with them, so that this new normal is just and inclusive.
There is a need to democratize this new normalcy, to give the basic sectors a seat at the table and hear what they have to say, their woes and reservations, hopes and aspirations. If we fail to do this, all these plans of action are nothing but apparatuses for the powerful to reinstate and reinforce themselves and to push the urban poor, farmers and fishers, indigenous peoples, contractual and informal workers further toward increased marginalization.
The first challenge to our leaders is to actively listen to the people they claim to serve, in the same way that they should listen to experts and academics. Secondly, they have to be creative, innovative, and compassionate thinkers so that as we move forward, nobody is left behind. When these hurdles are surpassed, the path we should take becomes clear: toward a new normal from below.
Emmanuel Lacadin, San Vicente, Tarlac City
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