Our call to action

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

The thing about bad news is that one does not have to devote much effort to joining it, reacting to it, or spreading it. It has a life of its own because people are pre-conditioned to giving it more attention than good news – as a rule. In today’s heightened partisanship, even mercenaries are constantly at work (except those already weeded out from social media platforms) to ensure that we are kept primed to attack or defend. Especially when there are serious issues that all of us ought to confront and process to a productive resolution, the threatened parties who bear responsibility will distract our attention in a divide-and-rule tactic.

I have said my piece about PhilHealth. It was a deep sadness that drove me to even mention the corruption that has been highlighted there. In truth, PhilHealth to me has been one bright shining light for the poor. I had first encountered it as PhilHealth cards that LGU executives used to give out to their poor constituents. They were quite limited in number then, and even more limited in scope or benefits. But and this is a big But, it was the first expression of society’s consciousness to bring health benefits to the poor among us.

If I mention PhilHealth now, it is to bring back my own hope and best wishes for its reform and continued march for a worthy universal health coverage. Even if the coverage is less universal and would focus only on the lower-income groups, that still would make it a magnificent instrument of humane governance. My prayers are for its true reform and more professional, progressive management.

If we think that PhilHealth is in trouble, then let us prepare ourselves for an even greater challenge. We are quite aware by now about our general situation caused mainly by two factors, 1) Covid-19, and 2) our total unpreparedness for a pandemic environment. Covid-19 has been a shock for five months running now in our country and promises to remain shocking soon.

“Our total unpreparedness is a result of decades of maintaining a weak mindset, the over-preponderance of good governance advocacy at the expense of good citizenship. Our weakness in the Covid-19 situation is the expectation of people for government to solve the problem because good governance demands that.”

Our total unpreparedness is a result of decades of maintaining a weak mindset, the over-preponderance of good governance advocacy at the expense of good citizenship. Our weakness in the Covid-19 situation is the expectation of people for government to solve the problem because good governance demands that. The resiliency of citizens is abjectly underdeveloped, and it shows especially in most of our communities. Consequently, the government Ayuda covered many citizens, a tacit admission that the same majority cannot take care of themselves in a disaster environment.

A perfect storm is forming in the face of hunger and its eye moving directly towards Metro Manila. Both poverty and hunger incidence statistics have already doubled based on June figures and I can see it only rising some more. Covid-19 has disrupted economies and income generation as thousands of businesses have closed (with more to come) and creating more joblessness. The contagion is not really contained, not by a long mile, but government will surely try to loosen quarantine regulations and open more businesses. It will be like a seesaw, sharp ups and downs, open and close situation. Until permanent solutions come.

“A perfect storm is forming in the face of hunger and its eye moving directly towards Metro Manila. Both poverty and hunger incidence statistics have already doubled based on June figures and I can see it only rising some more.”

The contagion is not really my focus because the whole of government, the DOH, and even international health experts and agencies are on board. That is their main responsibility. Ours is hunger, the hunger of our people wherever they are but especially in Metro Manila. The weak and abused zoning regulations and myopic, commercially driven developments have resulted in a perverted population density that is one of the worst in the world. That is why the metropolis is the center of the pandemic here and the residents in the poor communities have nowhere to go.

We, therefore, must contend with an attack on two fronts – contagion and hunger. I would like to focus on hunger because a citizenry is called on to be passive and compliant in the effort to contain Covid-19 but can be an active contributor to easing hunger. If one is not hungry, if one is not afraid of going hungry, then one has the capacity to help a hungry Filipino or many hungry Filipinos. Hunger is not an anomaly that citizens simply concede to government to solve. Hunger is our problem, an all-of-us problem, directly challenging our oneness as a people and the quality of our belief and value systems.

It is high time that our sympathy and empathy find expression is a concerted effort to mitigate the hunger, pain, and fear of fellow but less fortunate Filipinos. In Metro Manila alone are millions of them that we must never close hearts to because they are an integral part of the Filipino family. We had developed and carried this apathy towards the hungry for so long and simply expected the government to do everybody’s obligation. Covid-19 has taught us that we are in this together and hunger is not any less than Covid-19 in destructiveness.

“Now is the time for action, for a citizens’ action, by Filipinos for Filipinos, to deliver one message to the hungry. “We care and we will not leave you behind.””

I know that we care. I know that many of us can share. But I also know that we had gotten used to the poverty and hunger of millions or tens of millions for so long that we had become numbed by persistent reality. But no more. Hunger is more intense and painful than the poverty that many Filipinos inherited from birth. One can endure poverty for a lifetime, necessarily with much suffering, of course. But hunger can be endured only for a truly short time, measured only in days before death comes, or the desperation that will drive the acutely hungry to what I do not like to mention here.

Now is the time to shake off the dust that has covered our sensitivity, that has dampened our sympathy, that has choked our generosity. Now is the time for action, for a citizens’ action, by Filipinos for Filipinos, to deliver one message to the hungry. “We care and we will not leave you behind.”

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