Blood, tears, pandemic fears
While the health care sector continues to deal with myriad COVID-19 problems like overburdened capacities, infected medical workers, and makeshift or unavailable personal protective equipment, the country has been chafing under lockdown. Today, these restrictions will ease. After months of half-baked measures against the pandemic, the coronavirus case count climbs higher. No amount of obfuscation from relevant authorities will be able to mask the following truths: that time and resources to test, isolate, and treat cases have been poorly put to use, and that we are unprepared for a new wave of infections. The prospect fills health professionals and citizens with dread.
And yet, fear of the coronavirus is not our only fear. In a better world, contagion would be our foremost concern. Yet even beyond the pandemic, there is a sense that things are falling apart, so that reality has both elements of a dystopian future and throwbacks to a horrific past.
This week another victim of US police brutality, Minnesota man George Floyd, made international news. Accused of using a counterfeit bill, he was held down with a police officer’s knee pressing on his neck for almost nine minutes. His senseless death was the catalyst of protests and, later, violent riots in Minnesota and other states — perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back after years of escalating racist sentiment and police brutality. There was a sense of unreality as I read live accounts from my Twitter feed of events too bizarre to seem real, both Floyd’s manslaughter and the riots and looting afterwards: the mental image of rioters carrying Hermes bags out of a boutique, and of teargassed protestors.
One wonders what the breaking point will be for our own outrage, in response to horrors of abuse of authority that lie closer to home. There is not enough space in this column to detail the frustrating unpunished crimes against common citizens that have taken place since quarantine, with no recourse: so often those who ought to be protecting the public have been the perpetrators themselves, or protectors of the perpetrators.
The punishments are often wildly disproportionate to the crimes. In some cases no crimes were committed in the first place, as in the case of those detained even with their quarantine passes, or those detained even in areas where quarantine passes were not required or provided. I mention a few cases that have been lingering in my consciousness for weeks: the brutal assault of curfew violator Ronald Campo on May 12 as reported by CNN; the abuse of prostitutes as reported by Rappler on May 21; the warrantless arrest and overnight detainment of a Cebuana artist for a sarcastic Facebook post about positive cases in her area; and smaller crimes against the poorest and most marginalized, which hardly ever make big news. There is a growing list of these incidents and there are journalists and human rights activists who keep track: yet no matter how loudly we cry foul, there appear to be no consequences, and impunity continues to be the watchword for the strongmen and their deputies on the street. One wonders if the antiterrorism bill will merely be a continuation of our current reality, when the slightest hint of dissent, when the slightest toe out of line is already provocation for arrest or worse.
There is nothing that protects the common Filipino: not even social media, formerly the great equalizer through direct evidence of photos and videos, will be enough of a tool with which to seek justice. I fear the coronavirus, and will continue to observe strict protocols and wear the necessary protective equipment as I go about my duties as a health care worker. But there are things I fear more than the coronavirus, things for which there is no protection but silence and complicity: the threat of unjust arrest, and the breakdown of a system that ought to be in place to uphold due process and justice. There is a knee pressing down on the collective neck of an angry, scared, dissatisfied public, and it can be just as terrifying as the coronavirus.
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