‘Good vibes only’
Back when COVID-19 wasn’t a thing and the biggest disappointment in our news feeds was the finale of “Game of Thrones,” “good vibes only” was a mantra to ward off unpleasant thoughts and news. But now, over a year since the start of quarantines in the Philippines, with nothing to show for it but spiking cases and deaths, the time for forced positivity is over. We have to come to terms with real lapses in our response to the pandemic, and find ways to correct our course.
For one, implementation of public safety protocols has been spotty at best. While some cases saw stringent punishment for citizens breaching quarantines, there were also multiple instances of prominent individuals getting away with similar violations. Uneven enforcement of COVID-19 rules rendered those very rules useless.
Contact tracing, a crucial aspect of COVID-19 response, also remained weak months into the pandemic. Toward the end of 2020, local governments were still manually encoding data. Contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong noted in November that the country was able to trace only seven contacts per COVID-infected person—way short of the ideal ratio of 1:37 for urban communities and 1:30 for rural areas.
Though these failings were painfully obvious and resulted in deadly consequences for Filipinos, the government insisted that things were just fine and dandy. In June, as Philippine COVID-19 cases breached 35,000 and fatalities surpassed the 1,000 mark, Malacañang claimed we were “winning” the fight.
In August, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque expressed delight (“nagagalak”) at the Social Weather Stations survey result that 45.5 percent of Filipinos were jobless due to the COVID-19 crisis. He pointed at Pinoy “resilience” and said “it could have been worse”—never mind that this meant half of the Filipino working population lost their livelihoods.
And just this month, the Palace outright described the government’s COVID-19 response as “excellent” even as cases and deaths continued to rise, vaccine rollout suffered delays, and new virus variants were detected in the country.
But as absurd as it is to hear the government’s positive spin on the pandemic, it is equally bizarre that some Filipino citizens are themselves turning a blind eye on reality. While hospitals are inundated with COVID-19 patients, while neighbors and friends are dying of the virus, some Pinoys still have the confidence to say “Huwag magreklamo. Matutong makontento (Stop complaining. Learn to be content). The government is doing its best.”
This level of positivity is almost too ridiculous to grasp, and frankly unhelpful. Filipinos should not be content with the kind of pandemic response we’ve seen so far—one that has been riddled with inadequacies and avoidable mistakes—especially because many of us have had to sacrifice on our end. We deserve better from our government and public health stakeholders. We deserve leaders who acknowledge mistakes and actively correct them.
In the past year, the majority of Filipinos complied with quarantines and lockdowns, hoping that our physical distance from each other would help curb the spread of the disease. We figured that the earlier we minimized physical contact, the sooner we could keep the pandemic under control and reopen the economy. But while much of the country did their part by staying at home, the rest failed to take the pandemic seriously, choosing instead to downplay it.
And that is why, one full year since the start of quarantines, we are still at square one.
It is one thing to be optimistic; it is another to be willfully blind. Today, we have good reason to be hopeful as various vaccines are finally arriving and being rolled out in the country. But this doesn’t mean we can let slide the inadequacies of our COVID-19 response.
By now, we ought to have learned that failures in responding to a health crisis just cannot be concealed with rosy notions of Filipino resilience and congratulatory pats on the back. We can’t just “think positive” and completely disregard the areas where we fell short.
These shortcomings contributed to the tragedy of 12,800-plus COVID-19 deaths in the Philippines, not to mention the great economic burden on citizens who lost their income or incurred treatment costs. Ignoring these failures means we’re prolonging the tragedy, and that those who failed their obligations are not held accountable for their incompetence.
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