After four months
We have not re-opened, not yet here in Metro Manila. I have been following as much news about the impact of Covid-19, the good and the bad — but mostly the bad. It is not my choice to focus on the bad, just that it is there in greater volume than the good. It does not help either that the pattern of political partisanship, the natural tension of co-existing with Covid-19, quarantine blues, economic concerns, and deaths of relatives and friends can be overwhelming.
Because I have tried to observe the Covid-19 phenomenon from a clinical eye since February, I have managed to be more dispassionate about it more often than not. I always thought that the virus from Wuhan was creating a kind of havoc the likes of which I had never imagined I could get to witness. I believed then, as I still do, that the experience of the world, the experience of our country, and what I am going through will have lessons that are life-changing. However, being prejudiced and partisan make us miss the deeper points and I did not want that to happen to me.
From the great panic that hit the world in late February through March, I thought that, by May, a reasonable level of normalcy was beginning to penetrate the first initial shock. The buzz words were “new normal” and the societal paralysis was morphing into busy preparation for a grand re-opening. The world should have seen it coming but it did not (perhaps, it did not want to), and so today we are as tentative and confused as ever. Covid-19 had such a powerful impact yet we wanted to treat it as though we could get over it quickly. Well, we cannot.
Are we in a second wave? I do not think so, at least not the Philippines and not most of the rest of the world. It is true that the curve had flattened (that infamous curve) for some but still climbing steeper for others. At no time yet had the world as a network of countries even felt safe, normal, and that sure on how to go back to what was then normal. At no time, not yet. On the contrary, the controversy has only intensified as colliding interests, led primarily by an “economy versus life” standoff. Nothing is more confusing than when two good values cannot seem to live together.
On the more personal side, as a senior, I am particularly affected by the policy on seniors being imposed by government. I said “imposed”, not implemented, because it has been an arbitrary, one-sided policy from conception to application. That in itself is already questionable, that a policy on keeping seniors inside quarters was arrived at without as wide a consultation as possible. Seniors are not trying to compete with their juniors, although I will venture to say that seniors, by demographics alone, are more knowledgeable, informed, mature, and responsible than their juniors.
It pains me to know that many seniors are among the highest officials of the land, beginning with President Duterte, yet assume that their counterparts in Philippine society are less responsible than them. It smacks of what power has always been – that those who wield it act as though they are better and smarter than the people they allegedly serve. It seems to be that officialdom pays only lip service to that democratic principle that power emanates from the people. By their behavior, now and then, power is reserved for the top, whether elected or appointed, except for that one moment when everybody casts a vote in an election.
For all I know, seniors should stay inside their houses as much as they possibly can. But we will never know the collective score when the present decision-making process eliminates the participation of those for whom the decisions are made. It is this cavalier attitude that says authority is first, people second. That is not the essence of democracy or our Constitution. And it is not surprising that this kind of decision-making is prevalent in all major areas of societal life, including the education of the vast majority of our youth. Is consultation now a degraded value and not an inherent principle of government by the people?
Emergency. Yes, emergencies do queer what is normal and both society and the law recognize and honor this reality. Where is the emergency, the life-and-death situation with seniors or with the education of our youth? We have the opposite of emergency when paralysis more than a flurry of actions defines our national environment. Fasttrack food production and supply, facilitate business so people can earn. In these fields, it is easy to accept the emergency mode. But for seniors and what our students are to do, the biggest emergency is the paralysis blanketing them.
Is the government trying its best? My personal opinion is a big yes. I track the Covid-19 figures on infections and deaths all over the world, thank God for technology and the timely flow of information. My personal fears had me anticipating much, much worse results, especially in densely packed communities of the poor. For what has been achieved, I am extremely grateful, and I hope other Filipinos are, too.
I accept that the conditions imposed by government were to a large extent, responsible for our relatively low infection and death rates. But the emergency is largely over where it comes to life-and-death concerns. Where it should be focused today, with more powers if necessary, is helping a battered people get back to their feet with government support and expert guidance. Precautions are in order, especially for seniors – precautions, not restrictions.
The whole-of-nation approach has been often mentioned but not understood – and will never be – when large swathes of the population, including the best and brightest of our people, are not an active part of governance in such a critical situation. It is not authority that people are asking for, it is consultation and participation. After four months, it must be time.
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