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Spying on our working poor

/ 05:04 AM January 20, 2022

Ano na naman daw? What will they think of next? is the question one often hears whenever government operatives embark on something so unsettling (a mild term) if not so directly oppressive to the so-called poor, deprived, and oppressed or the PDO, as ideologues of a bygone era called them. The proletariat, the hoi polloi, the masa. The so-called basic sectors to jet-setting development workers. The C-D-E, as pollsters and demographers would refer to them. The wretched of the earth, the anawim, to bible scholars. The so-called.

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Now comes a government announcement that “mystery passengers” will be deployed to spy on public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers and riders. The lead paragraph of an Inquirer news report (“PNP to have own spies on PUV drives, riders,” 1/19/22, by Dexter Cabalza: “The Philippine National Police has jumped into the ‘mystery passengers’ bandwagon and will deploy its own transport spies on various PUVs in Metro Manila to ensure drivers and commuters comply with the ‘no vaccination, no ride’ policy of the Department of Transportation.”

That, even as the Inquirer’s headline on the same day read: “Workers are exempted: ‘No vax, no ride’ clarified.”

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The context of all this spying is to stem the unprecedented daily rise in the number of COVID-19 positive cases (of the mutant Omicron variety, it is presumed) that reached 39,004 on Jan. 15 last week, with the positivity rate close to 50 percent, the highest since the pandemic began two long years ago. Compare that to 168 on Dec. 21, 2021. The recent steep rise in numbers was only based on those who were tested. As alien hunters would say, “The truth is out there” and the number crunchers, bless them, can only extrapolate. It is more comforting to me to see the decline in the number of deaths.

Announcing that there will be spies and mystery passengers is saying it so crudely it grates on the nerves. Spying on the riding public, the working poor mostly, who need to go from Point A to Point B to earn a living or respond to emergencies is the pits. Worse, the driver who has to keep his eyes on the road and the rearview and side mirrors are to be spied on as well.

We’re spying on you. How loudly it is said.

But even before these egregious threats were made, tear-jerking scenes were already unfolding in checkpoints. People pleading to law enforcers, passengers caught with fake vaccination cards, commuters stating reasons for not having anything to show. Drivers being blamed. Elsewhere some enterprising counterfeiters were caught in flagrante delicto with fake vaccination cards to sell to the equally enterprising.

While there are those who deliberately flaunt breaking the law—the so-called “Poblacion girls and boys” of this world who think themselves entitled—there are those who must find means to get through and beyond, to get through the barriers, to get through the day, to make it through the night, as the song goes. It is the latter who need understanding and compassion, not a threat that if they are caught they will be driven further to penury with detention, fines, etc.

Is resorting to spying — and announcing it as a threat — a knee-jerk solution of persons put in national positions to battle the pandemic, persons who came from the military instead of from the fields of medicine, management, or social work, fields that deal closely day by day with human beings? While law enforcement deals with people too, it leans heavily on order, deterrence, and punishment.

Is there a more compassionate way? Let us know.

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The coronavirus is fearsome enough but just as fearsome is the prospect of a poor worker’s family going hungry and dying of malnutrition. And there is the toll on mental health that is being addressed, thank God, by private entities and individuals who make themselves available for those on the verge of, if not already deep into depression. I don’t think the government is busy addressing this, and if it is, it is not loud enough about it. Not as loud as its spying threat.

Large areas of our archipelago have yet to rise from the havoc that Supertyphoon “Odette” wrought the week before Christmas. That we have yet to learn about suicide outbreaks in those areas speaks a lot about our people’s emotional sturdiness. (All right, I will not use the word resilience.) Behold how they rise again and again from the ruins. They do not need to be threatened.

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TAGS: COVID-19 protocols, Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, mystery passengers
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