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Citizenship in the time of pandemic

CAMP Aguinaldo—For the past three months, contemporary life as we know it has been turned upside down. Segments of our society were pushed to the edge in an unprecedented crisis that has exposed the deep crevasses in our society, particularly in our government institutions.

The spread of COVID-19 is a vicious test of the resilience of our government institutions, the capacity of the people in power to run this fragile system, and the capability of the Filipino people to make them accountable.

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With local governments at the epicenter of government response, people saw how local executives performed (or underperformed) in response to the spread of the virus. Many are now convinced more than ever that able executives are crucial in responding to situations of great emergency.

In Metro Manila and other urban centers, these able executives utilized the autonomy granted them by the Local Government Code to make sure their constituents were safe not just from COVID-19, but more so from the ill effects of the mandatory quarantine. Unfortunately, not all local governments have these able executives.

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On the other hand, the need for investments in mechanisms of public health that can easily be activated in situations of public health emergency has been highlighted. Efficient testing and contact tracing are two crucial elements in arresting the spread of a highly contagious pathogen, and it seems the health department can do so much better in this regard.

On a positive note, we have seen the primary asset of our society—a vibrant civil society—in action. Despite being locked up, the exercise of civil liberties was on display as citizens took to social media and observed every step the government took in trying to arrest the spread of COVID-19.

Moreover, we saw how sectors of civil society stepped up to help the government and those who were in need: big businesses mobilized their resources to provide assistance, religious organizations did what they could to help affected communities, a team of fashion designers designed reusable personal protective equipment for frontliners, and random Facebook groups popped up to help vulnerable groups such as jeepney drivers who had lost their source of livelihood due to the quarantine.

These initiatives, among many others, were a testament to the strength of our civil society.

The Asian Development Bank, in a policy brief published in 2013, named the Philippines’ civil society as “some of the most vibrant and advanced in the world… The basis for civil society comes from the Filipino concepts of pakikipagkapwa (holistic interaction with others) and kapwa (shared inner self). Voluntary assistance or charity connotes for Filipinos an equal status between the provider of assistance and the recipient, which is embodied in the terms damayan (assistance of peers in periods of crisis) and pagtutulungan (mutual self-help).”

Nevertheless, civil society and/or private sector cannot work on the pandemic fight alone. They need the government to be at the helm of effective decision-making to make sure that no efforts go to waste in fighting this invisible enemy.

Experts say this new normal could last up to two years until a vaccine is found. One thing that offers hope in this situation is the suggestion by one study that people’s tolerance for reckless government decision-making declines after a society emerges out of a pandemic.

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Here’s hoping that Filipinos will remember the time when the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on their lives, as they cast their ballots in May 2022.

P2Lt. Jesse Angelo L. Altez is a member of the Corps of Professors, Armed Forces of the Philippines. He is a recipient of the Asian Development Bank-Japan Scholarship and obtained a master’s degree in public policy from the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. The views expressed here are entirely his own and do not represent the position of the AFP.

React on Twitter: @AngeloAltez

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
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