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Pinoy Kasi

Government resilience

/ 04:06 AM October 06, 2021

I’ve disliked the word “resilience” for years now, seeing it used often by the rich and powerful, and the government, in a condescending way: “Oh, look at Filipinos, always smiling even in the worst situations.” Mass media, especially foreign groups, have played that tune as well, complete with photographs, favorites being those of smiling Filipinos neck-deep in floodwaters.

No doubt, Filipinos have resilience, which we’ve had to develop given that we are one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world what with earthquakes, typhoons and floods, volcanic eruptions, not to mention mass violence and disease outbreaks, the COVID-19 pandemic being the latest.

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But the “we Filipinos are so resilient” mantra ends up obscuring the harsh realities that beneath those smiles people suffer grievously, people break down, and are dogged by depression and anxiety. I see it among all age groups, from the very young to the elderly, rural and urban, and all genders.

When I agree to give talks on resilience — I’ve had four such invitations in the last month — I use this angle: resilience is not innate, and resilience needs to be constantly developed and strengthened. I refer to Fr. Horacio de la Costa’s piece about how Filipinos dealt with the destruction left behind by World War II: music and faith, but explain there’s much more. Our arsenal for resilience includes humor and food and socialization. I do suggest expanding the strategies to include more exercise and walking. I refer as well to positive psychology and its emphasis on count-our-blessings reflection, and other various mindfulness programs.

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There’s no lack of tools to buffer the adverse impact of trauma and of tragedies but I know, too, there are so many obstacles. There’s grinding poverty: sure, I tell my mindfulness friends, but let’s not forget that yoga isn’t a very practical option for people with 14 sqm of living space shared with several other people.

Last week, another harsh reality check about resilience in relation to the raging pandemic: an article headlined “Why the Philippines Became the Worst Place to Be in Covid,” based on the Philippines’ scores in a Bloomberg COVID Resilience Rankings, where we came in last among 53 countries.

Bloomberg puts it succinctly describing the country as facing “a perfect storm” grappling with Delta even as “it works with an inadequate testing regime and sees disruptions to its economy and people’s livelihoods.”

We Filipinos feel it all too well with the never-ending lockdowns, poorly disguised by new abbreviations and names (latest: alert levels). The government blames vaccine hesitancy but in many parts of the country, where people do want the vaccines, supplies just aren’t getting in.

As for testing, the “test, test, test” calls (adopted from the World Health Organization’s calls) fall on deaf ears. We just can’t seem to get our act together. Testing remains inadequate, still concentrated on the ones who are already sick.

Filipino nurse Michael Lagunzad responded to one of my columns on the problems around testing and notes that in the UAE, where he is deployed right now, RT-PCR swab tests cost an equivalent of P690 each. Why, he asks, are the tests in the Philippines so expensive?

Overseas Filipino workers have reason to complain, having to pay our exorbitant testing prices when they come home, and going through prolonged quarantine, vaccinated or not. All of that going to waste, too, because our contact tracing system is so weak. Once quarantine’s over, we lose track of people.

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Bloomberg also notes the problems with our devolved system, resulting in a “fragmented response to Covid.” I worry that this is likely to worsen with elections coming and local politicians each doing their own thing. Our COVID leadership comes through as a choir without musical scores, without a conductor, and, worst of all, all members being tone-deaf.

Our leaders are not just tone-deaf but are pig-headed (apologies to pigs), refusing to discard useless and unscientific policies and to adopt the measures that do work. Remember all the talk about flattening the curve for COVID incidence? Seems all that was flattened was the learning curve.

Government needs to be able to listen, in the broad Filipino sense of pinapakinggan, hearing and watching, smelling (for corruption) and feeling, beneath the smiles, people’s anxieties and depression.

If we are indeed a resilient people, wouldn’t it be even better if we had, too, a resilient government?

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TAGS: COVID-19 response, government resilience, Michael L. Tan, Pinoy Kasi
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