Heroes in a pandemic

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Pharmacist preps Covid-19 vaccine | Photo by Steven Cornfield on Unsplash

I am amazed at how people in politics can handle life with such certainty, even in their speculations. When I learn from different sources the numerous possible combinations for President and Vice-President, I wonder what kind of imagination conjured many of these. Indeed, and sadly, the game of partisan politics has become a profession, even an industry, for too many Filipinos.

When the government decided to ease quarantine restrictions in June, I was afraid it was too soon to open business almost as usual. I knew the pressure from both the business owners and the employees/workers was overwhelming. The pandemic is more complicated and frustrating than anyone can imagine. Now, we are on a hard lockdown again, and the already suffering economy and hungry will be hit bad once more – without preparation.

Seeing over the last 16 months just how disruptive the pandemic has been, how in one fell swoop it dismantled global normalcy, and how both the public and private sector seem to be just going from day to day guessing what and where Covid-19 is, we wake up to the fact that presidential elections are less than a year from now. Paradoxical – nothing can be so painfully distracting, yet nothing can also be full of hope and opportunity.

The pandemic did not promise change; it just demanded and continues to demand it. When what is normal titters and falls, the first consequence is unplanned change. That is why I marvel at how so many in the political field can speculate and then believe their guestimates. Everyone is working on very shaky grounds, quite incapable of predicting even the very near future (like what next month will be), yet elections will force us to split our focus.

“The pandemic did not promise change; it just demanded and continues to demand it. When what is normal titters and falls, the first consequence is unplanned change.”

Only 16% of Filipinos accept that they are not poor, while 48% believe they are. The balance of 36% thinks they are borderline poor, which means they do not know at what point they will be poor. Probably, Covid-19 and the government’s response to it will decide that for them. Only 16% feel confident about not being poor, so only 16% have much to lose if their candidates lose. The 84% will just pray that the winners will improve their economic instability.

Let us not forget the hungry. In the 21st century, in a country with one of the richest biodiversity and natural resources, including fertile land, we still have 4.2 million families or 21 million Filipinos experiencing hunger. It seems that the national government has grown so used to the fact that people are hungry and have no serious intent to go on an emergency mode to keep it at low single-digit levels.

The thousands of community pantries showed two things: first, people everywhere are hungry or afraid of going hungry; and second, people everywhere are willing to help the hungry but cannot sustain the effort by themselves. Instead of the government celebrating the reality of community pantries, there were clear signs in some Metro Manila cities that the LGUs were discouraging them. They gave the reason, in careful whispers, that the President himself did not like them.

The thousands of community pantries showed two things: first, people everywhere are hungry or afraid of going hungry; and second, people everywhere are willing to help the hungry but cannot sustain the effort by themselves.”

It is hard to believe that Duterte would not like private-sector efforts to mitigate hunger even if the national and local governments cannot feed hungry enough. This administration has claimed it has deep sympathy with the poor, but there is no determination to feed the hungry. It must have been the fact that some community pantries, and especially the first one started by Patricia Non, were red-tagged early in the game. Because of that, the Bayanihan spirit itself, the force behind any whole-of-nation approach, was covered by a wet blanket.

I hope the President himself can make a clear appeal for the citizenry to help those experiencing hunger in their neighborhoods. The republic is not the government; it is the people. Filipinos must help Filipinos instinctually, just as government does by legal mandate. Together, the political will and massive government resources with the participation of millions of citizens can solve the worst of problems, whether it is Covid-19, illegal drugs, rebellion, or hunger.

We are in dark times, unable to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic with clarity, consistency, and confidence. I speak of government, and I speak of the private sector as well. We rise or fall together, and that is a fact. Yet, it is the Filipino people who will absorb the first and long-term shock. Government is only a structure whose officers and employees come and go. Public servants can quit anytime, but the citizenry cannot. That is why the citizens are the source of authority because they carry the ultimate consequence before or after any misgovernance.

Citizens and government are partners, not adversaries. But partisan politics does not allow unity. Without division, competition, even conflict, partisan politics becomes unnecessary. When politics cannot rise to become sound governance, it becomes the worst enemy of the people.

When Hidilyn Diaz won the first Philippine gold medal ever, the country rejoiced. As one, the Filipino people cheered and felt a national pride from the greatness of a fellow Filipino. As I write this, we pray for more medals from the few Filipino athletes in the competition, especially our national boxers. The angst for hope, for pride, for dignity, for good news, is so palpable that it eagerly waits for heroes like Hidilyn.

“When Hidilyn Diaz won the first Philippine gold medal ever, the country rejoiced. As one, the Filipino people cheered and felt a national pride from the greatness of a fellow Filipino.”

Why only from sports, then, can we have heroes? What about governance? Are our public officials and government employees not capable of being our heroes? They already have a noble code of conduct and ethical standards, which is compulsory and sets the stage for them to be our role models. Can they not rise to the occasion?

A hard lockdown is staring us in the face with another Covid surge in the offing. We must stay strong, be our own heroes if we cannot find enough heroes out there.

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