Live and die with Covid-19

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

President Duterte gives his remarks at a Business Forum in Korea | Photo by Jeon Han/Korea.net via Creative Commons/Flickr

I caught myself being sucked into the perennial quicksand of controversy and negativity, driven mainly through partisanship – emotionally, that is. Thankfully, I have not engaged anyone in antagonistic exchanges, limited so far in expressing opposing ideas and sentiments. There have been a lot of provocations and further expanded today by the advent of the political season for the May 2022 presidential elections. Going 19 months into the pandemic and strict quarantine protocols for seniors like me have built up the tension, too.

Naturally, I chide myself for almost falling into a trap that I have been in before. It has been 50 years since my first voting experience, plus another ten years when I was younger and already exposed to the political dynamics of my boyhood. I remember the 1953 Magsaysay-Quirino contest in my short pants days, the recent 2019 elections 66 years apart, plus martial law and two people power revolutions in between. Nothing should surprise me anymore. Still, learning lessons from the past is not guaranteed by simply growing old.

We will slide into more anger and political bickering while still battling Covid – a severe and persistent pressure point. If we were not Filipinos, the chances are that we would have been in the streets many months ago. But a pattern of submission and resignation is not easy to discard and harder still for those challenged by poverty and lack of opportunity. We choose to swallow our disappointments, endure our pain points and do not quickly turn to rage and violence.

History can be kind or harsh to the memory of Philippine presidents. I now remember a very recent history where President Duterte reached levels of approval and support that most presidents would have wished they had. I wonder why he encouraged his most passionate followers to turn belligerent against the small minority who did not believe in him. With 90% popularity, magnanimity would have been so easy. But to each his style, as I have seen from Quirino to Duterte. Each now will get his just rewards and consequences.

Sliding to 75% by June 2021 and threatened by another dip because of current controversies, the intense divisiveness generated not only by opposing political views and personalities by mercenaries in the social media arena will drive even more fractiousness. Of course, Duterte cannot call for unity when there has been no effort invested towards oneness. Instead, and the coming months will show it in spades, discord and disruptions will rock our environment. It will set a new momentum of hostility, and all the while, Covid will continue to beset us.

“With 90% popularity, magnanimity would have been so easy. But to each his style, as I have seen from Quirino to Duterte. Each now will get his just rewards and consequences.”

With all these happening around us, how do we keep our heads above water, enough to breathe well, enough to see well, and enough to think well? To help most Filipinos survive, primarily, they immersed themselves in thoughts and activities. If they, and I mean most of the adult population, were as wired to the political noise, they would be at the edge of being disruptive themselves. We who are more exposed to current news and developments must try harder to scour for the good news that can neutralize the bad.

We are thankful that the abject lack of effective recommendations by our health authorities, including most mainstream doctors, had led many to come up with Covid and critical care info and medical packages. Had it not been for that, we only had WHO protocol like wearing face masks, washing hands frequently, and physical distancing. What has DOH added during the previous 18 months besides being told of the same in March last year? Nothing except to discourage the people from trying alternative means to save themselves.

Today, our quarantine protocols are easing up, not because of an improving health situation but because of deteriorating economic conditions. Our new infection rates have substantially decreased, nearly half of the peak. Having no more significant funds to support the jobless and the hungry, the science of pandemic management gives way to economic and political science.

I almost forgot that we were used to a few thousand days, and we are still 5 to 6 times that level. The deaths, though, do not allow me to forget. Filipinos are still dying at three times the rate they did in 2020.

However, despite infections and deaths, the harsh reality is that our government cannot afford to support the business world and the labor force. No more money. Following the no-more-money trail, I understand that the science of health has to give way to the science of economics – and the science of politics.

To make things very clear in Filipinos’ minds, the country’s pandemic managers should already consider a complete transition from that science of health to whatever science dictates today. That way, Filipinos can stop counting infections and deaths and just start thinking about where the next wages will come from.

We live and die with Covid-19 – that is the reality. How we can best survive is something we have to figure out. Home care, community care, whatever, but we must not wait for politics, for politicians.”

Businesses, especially, cannot survive much longer, companies that are still open, I mean. It was a painful choice that was so easy to anticipate initially, but believing in messiahs, even if they are vaccines, kept us ill-prepared to take care of ourselves.

Well, here we are, having to take care of our own. It is a good moment for citizens to understand that the government is no substitute for the responsibility of taking care of ourselves. Politicians may want to keep the people believing in a silver bullet where there is none. That perspective has allowed tens of thousands of Filipinos to die without the proper means to help themselves. Lockdowns did not stop the deaths, and neither will an open economic environment.

We live and die with Covid-19 – that is the reality. How we can best survive is something we have to figure out. Home care, community care, whatever, but we must not wait for politics, for politicians.

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