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So contemptuous of public reaction

Did no one among the Palace’s bright boys think to stop the fresh dumping of dolomite on the banks of Manila Bay, if only for the optics? Surely the Palace’s billion-peso-funded communication office read the dismaying subtext: COVID-19 patients are dying in tents, in cars, in transit, for want of space in hospitals, and unemployment stalks hundreds of thousands of Filipinos locked down — and the administration is engaged in beautifying the bayside muck. But it’s all of a piece with the great leader pulling off a disappearing act while the nation is in extremis and, in the face of questions on his whereabouts, willfully lying low: by his admission like a child — “parang bata” — petulantly digging in his heels.

By now, with Harry Roque rating the disastrous pandemic response “excellent” to President Duterte declaring ignorance of when the Philippines will get sufficient vaccines, it should be clear that things won’t get better anytime soon. There was an apparent attempt to regain lost ground with the great leader making himself visible twice in four days, but the mocking posture and language hardly soothed the general agitation. With such messaging — so lacking in empathy and concern, so (as in the presidential fixer’s release of proof-of-life photos) contemptuous of public reaction — the trend was, not to sit up and listen to what he had to say, as perhaps the people of Singapore would to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong providing an update of the government’s continuing efforts to combat the pandemic and rallying them to do their share, but to switch off and refuse to be insulted.

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It doesn’t help that we are seeing a replay of last year’s distribution of “ayuda,” down to the queues that form before daybreak, the need for the niggardly amounts being so enormous that even the elderly venture out to claim what’s offered. On TV, the scenes in Quezon City were particularly horrendous, as though no lesson had been learned from the 2020 experience.

It’s on record that not everyone received the promised second tranche of the SAP (special amelioration fund), and it’s still unclear where that fund went. Now, with the ongoing distribution of the P22.9-billion cash aid, all manner of tricks are surfacing: waivers stating that recipients will not complain about what they were given; families presented sums smaller than the announced P4,000; names unaccountably missing from the list, yet even the dead are listed. Etc. There seems no end to the impoverished (and therefore powerless) getting shafted.

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But no, it’s not a small matter considering the national budget that’s said to be awash in funds for “infrastructure.” The amounts allocated for those crippled by the lockdown are piddling—certainly not enough for food and maintenance meds—but those who need them have to grip the knife’s edge, all but losing hope in Seamus Heaney’s “longed-for tidal wave of justice”…

And ironies constantly present themselves as though to back Malacañang’s fractured messaging. COVID-19-positive Roque announces his medical confinement and has the crust to bristle at questions on how and why he easily got a hospital room. The broadcast journalist Chiara Zambrano reports on China’s invasion of the West Philippine Sea and officials rush to call her out for “thrill-seeking” and an “insatiable desire” for a scoop. (When in 2016 then Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. announced the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration throwing out China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea, he did so in a funereal tone, as though someone important had died.)

In this paper’s issue of April 8, in a layout that may or may not have been intentional, the front page is spot-on in illustrating the inequity that has ever marked this country: A picture shows residents of Baseco Compound in Tondo, Manila, seated on plastic chairs in an “ayuda” queue, trying mightily to shield themselves from the scorching sun. Just below it is the teaser of a business report: “17 PH tycoons among world billionaires.”

Yet it’s the disadvantaged who are now showing the way through a “community pantry” set up on Maginhawa Street in Quezon City, for those in need to take what they need, and that has within days been replicated in Sampaloc, Manila, and in Tanza, Cavite. The message is hopeful: to take matters into one’s own hands when the moment calls for it.

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TAGS: Commentary, public reaction, Rodrigo Duterte, Rosario A. Garcellano
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