I fear for us

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I do not fear for me, I fear for us. Taking care of just myself is not a difficult thing to do, even if I am a senior citizen. The lack of mobility is well compensated by greater knowledge and responsibility. As evidence, the highest echelon of governance in the Duterte administration is littered with senior citizens. No, I am not my greatest fear at all. I take my chances at life better than most people half my age.

It is us I fear for, the collective Filipino. The war against Covid-19 is not going in our favor. The play at statistics, how they are gathered, and how they are packaged for public information, is not reassuring. No matter how DOH will present the daily report on Covid-19, we are not winning the war. The proof is that government puts restrictions in our lives, admittedly in their desire to save lives. But restrictions reflect the truth about our vulnerability. The less movement, the less production, the less education, the less consumption, the less revenue, the less income, the less defense in a life that is so sadly dependent on money.

“At the end of each day, the sick and the dying grow in numbers, and we are wondering if there is any plan B when plan A is not working.”

It is useless to quibble about the intelligence of the individuals who run our lives in a Covid-threatened environment. First, if we do not believe in their qualifications and proven capacities to lead us in this kind of war, who will listen to us? Second, how does complaining help our individual, family, and community life today? At the end of each day, the sick and the dying grow in numbers, and we are wondering if there is any plan B when plan A is not working.

My lifelong experience tells me that if we have not resolved the problem with Plan A when it was not so bad in March, then we cannot resolve it more when the problem is worse today. The numbers speak for themselves in the absence of any visible and understandable target that we can all fight for. Motherhood statements like “flattening with the curve” cannot appease a rightfully questioning mind when the curve is climbing more. When all we get are instructions to stay home, to stay safe, without a formula how we can live our lives with food and income security, must we now think of how to do things by ourselves?

Thank goodness that many are finding their own ways to survive, with a few to actual growth via innovation and determination. The greatest burden, though, is on agriculture where production and distribution of food are primordial for survival. Somehow, amidst the din of fear and confusion, there is a plan to plant, plant, plant. A simple plan but one that many people are embracing and becoming a part of, from households to farms. If agriculture continues to perform and assuage fears of hunger, government establishes a powerful base that gives it room for error elsewhere.

“While we hope for the best, we prepare for the worst. This is not in the books of graduate studies; this is Page 1 of life’s playbook on how to survive. The hoping is instinctive, indicative of a life that is designed not only to survive but grow and blossom. The preparation for the worst, however, is not obviously visible.”

Food is everyone’s greatest need, more than medicine, hospitals, and healthcare workers. Not everyone is sick but everyone needs to eat. Safety, of course, comes next, and for this concern, we have all submitted ourselves meekly to government restrictions of our movement. Safety, however, is countered by another factor – the need to produce goods, services, and most of all, money. It has become health versus income, and this is where the brilliance of governance is most required. If government fails here, the situation deteriorates to active discontent and resistance to rules that worsen, not ease, the daily challenges of people and communities.

While we hope for the best, we prepare for the worst. This is not in the books of graduate studies; this is Page 1 of life’s playbook on how to survive. The hoping is instinctive, indicative of a life that is designed not only to survive but grow and blossom. The preparation for the worst, however, is not obviously visible. In fact, I do not know if it is managed at all because I cannot name a program that Filipinos with active reason know of and resonate to. In a war, when the siren blares, people take cover, and some had built bunkers to protect themselves. In our war against Covid-19, what do we do in the advent of the worst scenario?

I fear for us because we do not know what to do to protect our lives when Plan A does not work.”

Therefore I fear for us. When we do not know what to do individually, we depend on what the community will do. But other than locking ourselves in our houses, what else has community been guiding us to do? We have the presumed weakest, the seniors, and the presumed weak as well because they are 20 years old or younger. Because they have not been encouraged to take care of themselves, who will when quarantine is not enough? On the community level, the only ones with a game plan (which is only to obey orders from above) are the barangay officials. In a war that threatens everybody, are barangay officials enough to fight and win the war?

In a war, citizens need to be empowered, not restricted, and weakened more because of the restrictions. In a war, citizens are the army, the only army. Officers are never the army; they, in fact, need the army. The bane of a misunderstood democracy is becoming especially obvious when governance has little to do with the “by the people” – a role relegated to voting every three years. I fear for us because we do not know what to do to protect our lives when Plan A does not work.

The Bayanihan Whole-of-Nation approach misses the most important factor – the very citizens who comprise the nation. If the only strategy is to restrict half of the army to barracks, the same half who possesses the deepest wisdom and most dynamic physical strength, then the war is lost. Citizens must play the most active, not defensive, role in a war. When they do not, I fear for us.

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