Heroes or revolutionaries

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo courtesy of livetoexplore.ph

Just one week and I feel terribly weak, depressed, and frustrated. Just one week and it has been worse than the last five months of community quarantine and restricted movement for senior citizens like me. Losing the freedom to move around as before, irritating that may be when one feels he is responsible and strong enough to be productive in society, is not depressive to me. Plainly that – irritating.

But feeling the exhaustion and desperation of medical front liners, followed right away by a continuing scandalous drama in PhilHealth as the disgraced institution is gutted by greed, I suddenly caved in. For several years, considering my own understanding of governance in the context of Philippine history and culture, and my deep desire to contribute my share or more in easing the pain and misery of the poor and hungry, I did commit to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. I must have reached a tipping point because I am so tempted to curse the darkness.

I had anticipated that five continuous months of intense and dangerous work for medical front liners would naturally arrive at a most weakened state – them as workers and the health systems of different areas. We cannot keep up anymore with the number of health front liners who have been, and still are, infected with Covid-19. In a war zone, as we are continually told we are at war against Covid-19, this would mean the number of wounded warriors. I am afraid to ask how many have died in the line of duty because I fear more have sacrificed their lives than AFP soldiers in the Marawi siege.

Heroes do arise in times of war, and we do not pity them. Rather, they inspire us and strengthen our own resolve to fight and win. However, even as I do not pity those who are heroes to me and society, I feel their pain and their fears. Most of all, I feel their need for support from leaders in government and from us citizens whom they serve. They do not need to be accused of betrayal from openly expressing their views and sentiments when only survival and victory motivated them. To foment revolution while at war is treason, and our health warriors are not traitors.

“Heroes do arise in times of war, and we do not pity them. Rather, they inspire us and strengthen our own resolve to fight and win. However, even as I do not pity those who are heroes to me and society, I feel their pain and their fears.”

I tried to put myself in the shoes of the commander-in-chief and imagine how I would react if my warriors made public an open letter, a desperate appeal to me. I can understand that I would have wished for a more private communique, knowing that I have a whole nation whose morale is also low and needs boosting. At the same time, I can see the wounded, I can remember the dead, and I see the battle raging with no definite end in sight. And my warriors are on their knees, literally from exhaustion, begging my understanding and specific executive support.

Would my disappointment at the way they delivered the message lead me to suspect them of betrayal and revolution? Would I discount the truth of their suffering and, instead, give weight they are opposed to my governance and threatening me with a walkout or, worse, a revolution? Personally, it would be extremely unlikely for me to miss the gist of the message, to miss the emotional appeal, whatever I suspect. I believe the President would not either – unless he had been led to believe a lie. Sadly, a cordon sanitaire can exist, but it is supposed to sanitize, not pollute.

“Would my disappointment at the way they delivered the message lead me to suspect them of betrayal and revolution? Would I discount the truth of their suffering and, instead, give weight they are opposed to my governance and threatening me with a walkout or, worse, a revolution?”

Thankfully, I am not in the shoes of the one up there. I am only a senior citizen, restricted in my movement, and accepting of that quarantine if only not to burden the medical front liners with another patient with some morbidities. Today, that is how I can immediately show my sympathy – by staying in the house and staying healthy. Next, I must campaign for others to do the same, as many as I can reach. We will all contribute to the time out – self-imposed ECQ.

Even beyond this, I wonder how else the citizenry can help our medical warriors. The President had clearly said that money was a problem, that it will not be as easy to help the kind of massive numbers in the Ayuda program. And I know he was looking at the material support for the health front liners. Maybe citizens can pick up the slack but would need enough information and a mechanism to do so. Would it be possible for the associations representing the medical front liners to identify their needs that the private sector, even individual citizens, can pitch into?

With all this worry about people begging for relief, the stench of PhilHealth scandals again hit the airwaves and social media. As if the state of a raging pandemic that defies any and all DOH strategies were not enough, as if confusing data and statistics that drive more fear than hope were not enough, another (yes, another and another) PhilHealth scandal is unloaded to a distressed population. It is one thing to hear that the reserve funds of PhilHealth will be gone in 2021, but it is a worse thing to note that corruption in PhilHealth has reached “cultural” proportions. Against the greed of the corrupt, there is never going to be enough funds.

“It is one thing to hear that the reserve funds of PhilHealth will be gone in 2021, but it is a worse thing to note that corruption in PhilHealth has reached “cultural” proportions.”

PhilHealth is, to me, the greatest blessing that government has ever awarded to the less fortunate of Filipinos. Hundreds of billions in less than ten years have been poured to fund PhilHealth programs and it now faces bankruptcy – unless government takes the extraordinary step to provide unprogrammed funds. I am confident that the national government will, but surely at the sacrifice of other needed services.

In the center of the eye of a pandemic, my depression is not coming from Covid-19 the enemy. It is from within, from viruses worse than Covid-19, yet not less deadly to the lives and morale of our troops, not less destructive to the poor whose health benefits are severely prejudiced. Yet, we cannot give up.

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