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One hundred days of the absurd and tyrannical

In the days leading up to the outbreak of this new coronavirus disease, government attention still rested squarely on the efforts against media giant ABS-CBN. Knowing all too well the virus’ presence in the country as far back as Jan. 30 whilst infected Chinese nationals slipped through our borders undetected, government response to this should have been clear: Control the influx of foreigners from active regions coming to and from the country. However, despite overwhelming public opinion in favor of travel restrictions to and from the Chinese mainland as early as January, and despite similar preemptive measures done by fellow governments as far as from the pandemic epicenter as those in Europe and North America, this government, out of respect for China — which has only ever expressed sincere friendship to our country — refused to accede to public demand, and instead cowed at the prospect of its retribution. Rather than listen to reason, they downplayed the virus and assured the public of its “natural death” — something unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Either out of arrogance or ignorance, it was clear the government had severely underestimated the threat of the coronavirus. We paid the price for that mistake today.

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Regardless of one’s familiarity with the intricacies of political affairs, one thing was painfully clear: Government was in panic. It was not a panic, however, brought about by the prospect of government being wrong and having done nothing, but of the Filipino realizing as much. So, when cases began spreading throughout the Metro in early March, the government realized the need for swift and decisive action to seize the narrative and project at least some semblance of control over the country’s increasingly volatile situation. Ergo, they set about containing the virus in the most visibly bombastic way possible: mobilizing the police and armed forces to enact a poorly planned “community quarantine” that forced nearly 13,000,000 Filipinos—many of whom suffer through substandard housing conditions in the infamously densely populated National Capital Region—into their homes without ample preparation, regulation, or assistance, depriving millions more dependent on the cities for their livelihoods, and inducing many to hurriedly attempt excursions to the provinces out of fear of being trapped in the Metro. Like many a Filipino, they were left to survive on nothing but the ingenuity that the harshness of this country had forced upon them.

Quarantine itself is not necessarily the problem. I give it to government for realizing the need for it. But under such circumstances, one assumes them to ready funds, renegotiate working contracts, or provide adequate assistance programs ahead of any extended measure to mitigate public suffering; that was the case in Italy — one of the first to enact a total lockdown; or at the very least, conduct mass testing — which Taiwan owes its success to. But it seems that would be to overestimate their capabilities against too high of a standard. The things government does do, however, are thought of and executed so poorly as to be better off never having been done in the first place. It is within reason to say that the efforts of the likes of the Balik Probinsya Program have played a part in the viral outbreaks in the Visayas and Mindanao regions.

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A crisis such as this would have required unified, concerted efforts on the part of government to orchestrate concrete maneuvers in pursuit of outcomes in tune with the needs of both public and economic welfare. But it seems the only unified, concerted effort here is in spewing out as many midnight proclamations, derogatory speeches, and conflicting statements as possible in order to confuse the Filipino. Indeed, if this government were an orchestra, it is one of amateurs who take joy in playing out of tune just to spite the avid listener. Rather than an adequate delegation of jurisdiction and responsibility, this crisis has instead led to the unwelcome incursions of Malacañang, the executive department, and a highly-militarized Inter-Agency Task Force, over the autonomy of cities and municipalities throughout the country, stretching thin the eternal bond of Philippine patronage politics that bridges our national-local divide. Kept out of the nation’s decision-making process, local officials were left to go about the business of policy, blind, and then forced to acquiesce to the demands set forth by a blatantly inhumane administration. The President and his men stress it out: They are the supreme authority in the struggle against the coronavirus; and they shall take all the credit, none of the blame.

So, with the characteristic brand of machismo and authoritarianism that has defined this administration, the plan was finally laid out: This is war. Against whom is clear to us today. Whether it is the accumulation of powers, the emboldening of oppressive apparatuses, the relentless crusade against the media, the passing of the anti-terrorism bill, or the suppression of dissent against the failings of the President and government, these are the death throes of a dying democracy. We push the boundaries of the absurd for every day that this government, amid a global pandemic that has killed more than a thousand of its own citizens and infected many thousands more, chooses to prioritize the consolidation of its own position than the people.

That said, this government is not without praise. For although it has been inconsistent with very much everything else — to the detriment of this country — it has at least been consistent in its dismantling of our democracy, its suppression of our civil liberties, and its complete and utter disregard for the lives of our fellow Filipinos.

Beyond the lives of those sacrificed on the altar of ineptitude, a great toll has been exacted from us. When the lockdowns lift and we are all thrust upon the outside to brave the dangers of this pandemic out of necessity, what should be clear to every patriot and nationalist, every citizen of this country, is that whereas the coronavirus threatens to take away our lives, this government will take away our very right to life itself.

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Vincent Kyle D. Parada, 20, is a junior political science student at Ateneo de Manila University. This essay won this year’s UP Alpha Sigma Fraternity Alay sa Sambayanan Open E-Writing Competition.

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