From my window (Part 2)

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

If Lesson # 1 was the realization that Covid19 has brought humanity to its highest level of equality ever, it does not mean that we have that equality today. Not by a long way. But it goes to show how extremely unequal things have been for mankind from the very beginning – and how impossible it would be to, using a Covid19 terminology, flatten the spikes of inequality. A mere virus, though, proves to us that equality does exist in a very real dimension, that queens and peasants, that prime ministers and laborers, that senators and health workers can get infected just the same.

Before Covid19, the great equalizer (and probably the only one) was always death. Now, a virus has placed the second category of equality – infection that can lead to a quick death. Globally, the high and the mighty are equal to the lowly and ordinary in their fear of infection and death. Because of that fear and previous experience with epidemics (the lesson of pandemics seems too long ago to learn from), the quarantine of communities, including quarantines of nations, has been resorted to. This new dimension of equality points to the need for all to follow one mandated procedure because the infection of the poorest will ultimately contaminate the richest, especially when the poor far outnumber the rich.

An open letter allegedly from a general in our Marines, titled A Quarantined Mind, has made the rounds in several Viber groups I have access to. He made very sharp points, highlighting simplicity in the context of chaos. He said that in this war against Covid19, the frontliners are families, not health workers. He further wrote that government asked every citizen to fight but effectively immobilizes them if it does not give them the right task.

This task is to prevent Covid19 from infiltrating the frontliners’ perimeter and defenses. Thus, families should be armed with the right tools, knowledge, and equipment. As fighting forces, feed them to sustain the fight and keep tab of casualties. The general says that giving them responsibility and importance in this war might do the trick.

I believe the general wants to deliver the message that this is OUR fight, not the government’s alone, and not the frontliners alone no matter how brave they are. In this message, I am totally one with him.

It is not as though the essence of what the general proposes is not the intent of government or decision-makers. The community quarantine itself is asking each citizen, primarily through the family, to take responsibility not only for themselves but for others, too, by not infecting anyone. There is a great volume of medical recommendations and instructions on preventive measures that we are all asked to follow. I cannot speak for the majority, though, because I do have Internet access when I want to. Many other Filipinos may not – which then limits their knowledge, a critical tool.

From the news and press conferences of the IATF, plus reports of the emergency funds approved by Congress, we are informed of their plans and actions, including food supply for vulnerable communities. This definitely points to the intent and mission to feed the frontliners, the poorer families numbering in the millions. This is not only a solid strategy for winning the war, it is also a preventive necessity against riots that turn into rebellion.

The shattering reality for Filipinos today is that the families, the homes, are not able, and therefore, not prepared, for any collective national threat like Covid19 because they have already shown a pitiful weakness in preventing illegal drugs from infecting their young. The millions of drug dependents (last I heard was President Duterte’s estimate of 4 million) represent the equivalent of families where each belongs, families that are unable to address the addiction of their own sons and daughters.

Worse, while the families have been helpless with the illegal drugs addicting their members, the community themselves have proven just as helpless. 4 million drug dependents from 4 million families mean that 20% of families have infected members. Nothing shows more clearly how weak and unprepared our communities are.

Covid19’s Lesson # 2 for me is precisely this – that if the central command in a war wants to reach their frontliners, in this case all of us citizens, or families in the terminology of the good general, the structures that we call puroks, barangays, municipalities, cities and provinces are now compromised, disorganized except for a few with plenty of resources, and have, like most citizens, depended on the national government in times of crisis, natural calamities, insurgencies, or illegal drugs.

The weaknesses of communities which are the equivalent of squads, companies, battalions, brigades, and divisions have to be addressed even before a serious attempt can be made to arm the frontliners – except for food and medicine. The country has to return to the native sense of community that takes as one everybody, every family, and not only the officers. Because Covid19 is teaching us that the officers are not enough when their soldiers, the citizens, and families, do not know what to do except to ask for help.

Lesson # 2 necessitates a reboot of communities, most especially instilling in citizens and families that the nation is everyone’s business, and everyone’s business must be made clear to all. We cannot have politicians promising the people heaven and earth, then surprised why so many just wait. The people were programmed to wait because the politicians presented themselves as Marvel heroes, ready, able, and willing to give the people what they need.

Covid19 is bring back to the people their own sense of responsibility for their lives. No one can save anybody except for the minuscule number that hospitals can accommodate. Each of us has to save our own lives, by staying healthy, by staying home, by watching out for one another. Lesson # 2 – bring back the true sense of community, responsible and organized, nation builders.

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