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Obedient, but afraid and confused

12:30 AM August 27, 2021

Throughout the last almost 19 months, I have ridden the same rollercoaster as most other Filipinos. I started in the beginning feeling more prepared compared to people I knew. After all, I had been monitoring the eruption of Covid-19 in China since January 2020. Even before our March lockdown last year, I had already gathered the family a month before to alert them that we will be observing strict rules in our family compound. In other words, I had my own quarantine protocol already formulated.

When government did implement the lockdown, I felt prepared psychologically and more than sympathetic. I continued to keep abreast of current developments about Covid-19 and quickly realized that most countries were just playing it by ear, guesstimating, trying to predict the unpredictable. Everyone is still struggling, including China who had to lock down some cities recently. The struggle is in straining for a state of certainty because there is simply none yet.

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From the onset, and graphically obvious from the first lockdown, Filipinos obeyed. The national government immediately took charge – meaning it wanted to make all the decisions as though we were in a state of war. I was grateful that it did so. I did not see any sector, including the health agencies and the medical profession, that knew what was going on, much less prepared for contingencies.

The obedience came from fear and in the hope of finding a base for security and confidence. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man was king. For most Filipinos, the fear was of getting sick and dying, plus the fear of not having enough to survive, from food to medicine. Those better off were worried about their businesses, hoping normalcy would return soon. Overall, the reassuring message was that only a few would get infected if we followed quarantine and health protocols. Even more reassuring was the claim of health officials worldwide that an even smaller percentage would die.

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That was March 2020 and we are now at the end of August 2021 – a full 17 and a half months of pandemic experience. Throughout the whole period, Filipinos gave their obedience. Today, however, that obedience is thinning out. When the obedience was given, there were reasons for doing so. People were afraid of Covid-19 and people hoped their obedience would be rewarded by security and clarity. People remain obedient, but they are still fearful and, perhaps, even more confused.

All these pronouncements about authorities blaming the people may have some truth but only in insignificant ways – and authorities know this for a fact. The full responsibility and accountability are on the shoulders of the government who asked for the needed authority and resources plus the people’s obedience. If government cannot accept the accountability, it should concede the responsibility to others.

Fear of infection, fear of death, and fear of hunger are the three basic fears of the people. These cannot be mitigated by just repeating the same health instructions, especially those that millions of our poor can hardly comply with. What protection can people have when vaccines are not yet available – available and affordable by Juan de la Cruz? Some, little, or none? Government is duty-bound to be proactive, even aggressive, in seeking remedies and providing them in an urgent manner. We cannot afford in conscience to wait for another 30,000 Filipinos to die.

What is the breaking point, then, for government and the people? What level of fear, confusion, and hunger will make government think and act differently? At what point will the people think and act differently?

Government cannot be defined by conservatism because that conservatism has witnessed people die steadily and unnecessarily. Covid-19 has killed 30,000 Filipinos under the governance of one mindset. How many more tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Filipinos will have to die before government says it is not doing enough?

On the other hand, Filipinos have been consistently obedient – upwards of 99% obedient. After all, do we see 1 million Filipinos defy the quarantine rules and do crazy things? Most Filipinos do not have a variety of options; at least half of them have none and another 30% have little. What else can they do but wait for government to lead them, and maybe feed them.

They have washed their hands if they had running water, they had kept physical distancing well in rural areas but cannot in densely populated urban areas. They are packed like sardines, and I mean both the people and their houses – if we can call them houses. They wear face masks but we do not know if face masks that do not comply with required specifications still work against giving and receiving the virus.

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And through it all, tens of millions have been experiencing hunger in the last 17 months.

The government has tried to ease the fear, the confusion, and the hunger with ayuda. Beyond the ayuda, the government has been spending hundreds of billions for health-related infrastructure and supplies. But the ayuda has not been enough, and Philhealth has even suspended payments to hospital claims.

What else can government do? It has banked on vaccines being the messiah, budgeted and borrowed to buy them, and now have vaccinated maybe 20% of their target audience. Going the vaccine way like the richer countries will further hemorrhage government budgets.

Yet, government must keep deaths and infections down. That means it must be more aggressive, creative, and experimental. Give Filipinos a fighting chance to save themselves but make available for free if necessary, like the vaccines, other alternatives that can stave off infections and deaths. The DOH should not just prevent alternatives, it should help Filipinos find them.

Filipinos who have given their total obedience have little left to give, 80% of them poor or afraid of falling into poverty. Let us find ways before that obedience is withdrawn.

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