Having to save ourselves

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Rice Planters | Photo by Shubert Ciencia via Creative Commons/Flickr

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, which holds 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 5 trillion 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.

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.

“The budget proposal is staggering – 5 trillion pesos. It is hard to wrap my head around 5 trillion pesos, which holds 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.”

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.

Oh, yes, the science that the DOH, FDA, and the IATF have 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, they raised quarantine levels. 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 the 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 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.

“Billions moved in days and but just millions for health workers cannot. The pandemic has strangely altered science and finance.”

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 assist only one street of residents. Lockdown the metropolis, and you will be forced to aid 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.

“We, the Filipino people, are the country, not the government. We are the ones who work, who build, who plant, who rear our young, and who hold power. It will have to be us who will confront the challenges and overcome them.”

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 simultaneously. If we are part of the lucky few, we may have to reach out to the hungry and feed them. It may be time for the 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.

While floundering, literally, the government has yet to realize one fundamental fact in all of these. We, the Filipino people, are the country, not the government. We are the ones who work, who build, who plant, who rear our young, and who hold 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.

You may also like

1 comment

Roberto M Reyes /AKA Bobby M. Reyes September 10, 2021 - 11:35 pm

Thank you, Boy Montelibano, for your well-researched and finely-crafted op-ed piece. Nearly two-months before you wrote your piece, the Philippine Daily Mirror published my article that was titled, “How OFW/OF Nations Can Save Filipinos From Themselves and Their Leaders.” But my approach was for “Filipinos to save (the homeland) FROM themselves AND THEIR LEADERS.”
https://www.philippinedailymirror.com/how-ofw-of-nations-can-save-filipinos-from-themselves-and-their-leaders/
For almost two decades, I have been writing about how my Fellow Sorsoganons could save our province FROM themselves AND THEIR LEADERS. In order to counter the argument that I was writing from outside the province (some 12,000 miles away) and no longer knew what was happening in Sorsogon, I went home to my legal residence in Sorsogon City (that I never abandoned). Coming home also enabled me to meet the qualifications for residency of the COMELEC). And ran for governor in the May 9, 2016, election — to offer the voters a choice.
I campaigned only from the radio (in six stations in the province). But I had two teams of young volunteers that distributed nearly 150,000 copies of my bio-data and some other leaflets.
No matter how my team and I pleaded to the voters to stop letting the politicians fry them (the people) by using their own people’s lard (“piniprito sila sa sadiring mantica”), still voters sold their votes for just PHpesos 700 to PHp 1,000, per ballot.
My only consolation was that I proved the Trapos (that I called the “Herodes of Sorsogon”) wrong when they boasted that I would come up last in a field of eight gubernatorial candidates.
I came out fifth, is spite of my presidential candidate endorsing the chosen one of her running mate. She did not follow the advice of some of her campaign managers to just declare a “free zone” in the Sorsogon gubernatorial race.
I lost tens of thousands of voters that promised to consider my candidacy. Why? Because suddenly, my presidential candidate dropped me off like like a hot sweet potato. That was how she “paid” (pun intended) my efforts to persuade her to run for president or vice president, by organizing the Facebook Group that I created for her on June 19, 2014 (2-0-1-4). When in fact, I never asked a single peso from her to support my candidacy. On the other hand, it was my family that spent for her candidacy (in supporting the various provincial chapters of the Facebook Group that I organized for her). The Facebook Group had more than 70,000 members at its height of popularity, plus tens of thousands more in about 20 provincial chapters.
Perhaps, you, Mr. Montelibano, and I should team up and put our “FILIPINOS MUST SAVE THEMSELVES (ALSO FROM THEMSELVES AND THEIR LEADERS) articles into a book. Yes, so that young voters can learn from it for the next elections from 2025 and perhaps for the five more election cycles.
Right now, our homeland is almost beyond redemption. Yes, with the kind of voters and the unkind national policy-&-decision makers constantly “winning” elections because many of the voters are either blind and/or deaf at the same time.

Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

X