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Having to save ourselves

12:30 AM September 10, 2021

I have occasionally read news on the budget deliberations in Congress. It is an annual procedure where I usually am more interested in the totals – except for agriculture and health at this critical time. To me, our food and our state of health are the two most important concerns highlighted by the pandemic.

The budget proposal is staggering – 5 trillion pesos. It is hard to wrap my head around 5 trillion pesos, and I suppose this holds true for most Filipinos. There are too many zeros to count and too little in return that the majority can see from it. With hunger floating between consistently floating around 15-30%, it is hard to imagine 5 trillion pesos. With ayuda almost nowhere to be found, it is hard to think about 5trillion pesos with a tinge of deep resentment. With PhilHealth life down to 5 years and its pattern of corruption controversies, it is impossible to imagine 5 trillion pesos.

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I am sure, too, that if we were to reach out to small farmers and fisherfolks, about three million of them, and include their families, they would be disbelieving that there is 5 trillion out there when they can hardly feel any benefit from past and smaller budgets.

Just the other day, I chanced upon streaming videos of health workers claiming their special risk allowance has not been received by them or by the hospitals where they are employed. But they heard Duque given the orders to immediately release the money just as Duque was immediately ordered to buy 8 billion pesos worth of face masks and PPEs. Billions moved in days and but just millions for health workers cannot. The pandemic has strangely altered science and finance.

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Oh, yes, the science that the DOH, FDA, and the IATF has repeatedly emphasized to us as their main guide in pandemic management. That science, too, is undergoing a great alteration. It used to be that when infection cases were high, quarantine levels were raised. When infections decrease, quarantine protocols are eased. No more. From a scientific point of view, there is no explanation. It’s good that there is no attempt to do so because scornful laughter might follow.

But there must be a formula, even if it is not scientific. In my mind, there is no reason that government as the central and sole operating authority in the current pandemic would want to upset Filipinos. Add the fact that elections are around the corner and politicians want their best face forward. So, why the seemingly irrational plan to lower quarantine protocols in the middle of an active surge? It is like sending Taal residents back to their homes while the volcano is erupting.

As I said, it may not be scientific but there definitely is a formula. And to understand that formula better, follow the money trail. This time, though, not the money path to personal pockets but the money in the budget of the national government and the LGUs. When there is little money left with still four months to go before the end of 2021, surges of Covid infections are absolute nightmares. They not only make many more people sick, seek hospital or medical treatment, many also die. That is the first line of horror. The second line is less deadly but more massive. Lockdowns proportionate to the surge of infections cause hunger to spike, involving tens of millions.

What is left for more ayuda? Is anything left at all? The granular lockdowns reflect the scarcity of funds. Lock down a street and you give assistance to only one street of residents. Lock down the metropolis and you will be forced to give aid to as many as two million families. Thus, it seems that the experiment of granular lockdowns is an experiment of how to stretch limited budgets while taking the risks of more infections and deaths.

The government knows that Covid is most active in barangays when population density is highest – meaning poor, too. They are poor, hungry, and angry if not supported when they cannot work. Angry with elections so close? Lowering quarantine levels can make these poor communities move around to earn wages. Unfortunately, they will also increase the number of active Covid carriers in the streets – and spread the virus to the rest of us.

Except in the case of corruption, where the greediest will exploit the situation at the worst of times, I do not see malice in the rather confusing decisions of government. I see bad communication. I see a lack of transparency. I see pride separate them and us, as though we will naturally blame them for this mess. Well, we most probably will blame them because we have no one else to blame. This administration wanted full and centralized control and they got it. They, too, have no one to blame but themselves.

Still and all, while blame is being tossed around, it has contained itself in small circles because usual gatherings are still prohibited. It would also be counterproductive for us to stay in the blame game and do nothing. We already know who is at fault but we have to contend with our needs at the same time. If we are part of the lucky few, then we may have to reach out to the hungry and feed them. It may be time for government to send out a public appeal for community pantries to help the poor in their neighborhood and for food banks to be set up where possible.

In all of these, while floundering, literally, the government has yet to realize one fundamental fact. We, the Filipino people, we are the country, not the government. We are the ones who work, who build, who plant, who rear our young, and who hold the power. It will have to be us who will confront the challenges and overcome them. There will be no Bayanihan-to-Heal-or-Recover-as-One without the people proactive in the center. And we are not.

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TAGS: IATF, Jose Ma. Montelibano, ourselves
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