A virus that unites, a gov’t that divides | Inquirer Opinion

A virus that unites, a gov’t that divides

A major crisis that puts at risk all lives regardless of economic status and political color presents a perfect opportunity for any country to rally its people to unite behind their government. And it’s always the natural tendency of citizens to unite behind their government when faced with a common enemy in times of war or under conditions that mimic the hazards of war. The COVID-19 pandemic is one such crisis that should work to unify a divided country. It presents a huge chance to make people set aside their political bickering and unify them in the war against the coronavirus. A united and supportive citizenry is the single biggest asset any government facing a crisis should work to have. Is our government working to harness people’s support that would naturally flow in its favor in this time of crisis? Distressingly, it has been doing the complete opposite. The Duterte administration’s words and actions instead antagonize and alienate the people.

The single biggest forum to shore up people’s support is the President’s weekly televised address. In the early days of the lockdown, the people (regardless of political leanings) were eagerly anticipating the President’s televised speeches, because they were hungry for either candid admissions or words of assurance from their government. Disappointingly, the President has wasted the opportunity to connect to his people by not only talking about issues irrelevant to the health crisis, but also by delivering his televised reports to an already sleeping people. Now, the people have virtually lost interest in listening to the President’s reports. What a terribly wasted opportunity to unify the country.


We have to acknowledge that our country’s designated anti-coronavirus czars are confronted with very complicated problems. They occupy unenviable positions because they face very difficult choices of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” The contradictory solutions demanded by the health emergency and the economic crisis are a virtual Gordian knot. But one grievously flawed strategy the czars have adopted is to assume criminal intent in every person caught violating lockdown rules, or that they have failed to clearly instruct police authorities not to immediately presume and treat lockdown violators as outright criminals. As a result, many citizens would be herded into holding facilities and detention centers, and others subjected to instant corporal punishments.

The pandemic czars, police authorities, and local governments must bear in mind that full compliance with the lockdown rules entails financial costs affordable only to the rich. The rules have an inherent economic bias against the poor. The underprivileged are the ones who have no choice but to walk on the streets. They have limited access to masks, face shields, and tests, and they are wont to ply their trade despite restrictions. Most of these people move and act in order to survive, and in the process they may end up violating a lockdown rule or two. They must be treated with compassion instead of being condemned as outright criminals.


And then there are the actions of Congress that wrongly interchanged the acts of approval and disapproval on the anti-terrorism law and the ABS-CBN franchise renewal application. With these twin actions, it’s as if Congress is telling the people: “Coronaviruses are terrorists spread by ABS-CBN. They must be dealt with by arming the police force with an iron fist, and by decapitating the biggest independent media organization.” If that sounds bizarre, it’s actually a poor approximation of the absurdity of what Congress did.

The current crisis presents a perfect chance for the people to set aside their political bickering, and for them to work hand in hand with their government in battling the health and economic crises. Instead, the government has deepened the people’s alienation. We will emerge from this crisis even more deeply divided as a nation.

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