Try your best even more

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

The deadliest virus of all time is re-awakened after a few weeks of quarantine. That it was quarantined even for such a short time is itself a miracle. But Covid-19 was that powerful – it froze partisanship for a moment in time. Usually, it takes disasters and calamities to quarantine partisanship, and Covid-19 did not disappoint.

But even Covid-19 cannot quarantine partisanship for long because partisanship is the stronger virus. Many say it began between Eve and the Serpent; others say it was born from Cain and Abel. Which is not essential. What is primordial is the realization that there are no vaccines so far against the virus of partisanship. We can only make the extra effort not to get drawn into the fray.

From the time I was monitoring the eruption of the Wuhan virus, now called Covid-19, I began to play scenario-building options in my mind. I think this is what Bill Gates once recommended for American society – to play simulation games against epidemics. He surmised that if human intelligence and imagination would focus on how to beat any virus that would threaten society, even using digital games, the most creative alternatives or solutions would pop up.

I agree. Even if I do not even dare propose to greater society what had come to my mind these past four months, I must admit I did run them through family and friends. But I never dared bring proposals on when and how to do quarantines. to government. It is not that I did not have good ideas, but the people in charge are the ones mandated to lead and are accountable. They must be talking to experts every day.

But even Covid-19 cannot quarantine partisanship for long because partisanship is the stronger virus.

— Jose Ma. Montelibano

When I read about different countries locking down, and others who chose not to right away, I also began tracking and comparing how different decisions impacted their respective societies – especially how many infections and deaths were caused. It did not seem conclusive that those who locked down were better off because no country chose not to lock down completely. Sweden has been touted as a rare example of a country whose government chose not to lockdown but relied mostly on the sense of responsibility of its citizenry to follow the advice of medical professionals. However, thousands died in that experiment.

Even after the experience of China since January and the rest of the world weeks or months after, there is not enough basis or length of time to arrive at accurate conclusions. Wuhan was the first hit, the first to open, and now wants to do mass testing on their 11 million residents over 10 days. This new decision on mass testing indicates there are reasons that the Chinese government has not fully disclosed or allowed open discussions about. They are afraid of something and we suspect it is the feared second wave – maybe because some evidence is emerging.

One year from now, May or June of 2021, many more facts and scientific conclusions will be available for the whole world to mull over. There may be cures by then, vaccines or therapeutic interventions, and the experience of second or third waves. By then, I can better assess how the government has performed. Today, I can only assume that the senior leadership including all the high officials actively involved in our IATF must have felt for the people as they felt for family and friends. I assume they have tried their best.

Today is not my day to be critical. Today is my day for encouraging all our local and national leaders to try your best even more. We are in the beginning of re-opening society towards full operations, and that will take more weeks to unfold. I know that each decision-maker, from the President to the town mayor, wants to save lives just as they want to save economic production, economic income, and as many businesses and jobs as possible. I also know they will make some mistakes from our collective first-time experience.

Today is not my day to be critical. Today is my day for encouraging all our local and national leaders to try your best even more. We are in the beginning of re-opening society towards full operations, and that will take more weeks to unfold.

–Jose Ma. Montelibano

Now is not the time to be proud when we stumble; now is the time to quickly try again, better than before. Whether a mistake is politicized or not, it is a mistake and needs to be corrected right away as time is not on our side when illness or death is the price we may pay. Physical distancing is a nightmare. Whenever did Filipinos experience physical distancing? Our culture has taught us the opposite. We must observe physical distancing but I hope violators can be reminded, not penalized if some forget. After all, a senator was guilty of even more, and a serving police general was forgiven.

I have questions about the support given 18 million families, or 80% of all families in the Philippines. It is not the amount; it is about the need. Is poverty, then, closer to 80% than it is to 18%? Are those that cannot support their families in two months of lockdown considered middle class or poor? I think they are poor more than a real middle class if they are that vulnerable. We might as well consider them so and re-arrange our measures for poverty. Our national pride is not worth misrepresenting ourselves as not poor if we cannot survive two months without government assistance for food.

Related to that serious lack of capacity to feed ourselves is the blessing of realization that we can plant enough to feed ourselves. I am so elated that a sudden spurt of planting around our homes and communities is defining many areas. This move is a gold mine that local and national governments can strongly encourage and support. It avoids most panic feeding in the next lockdown. Oh, excuse me, I do anticipate a second or third wave, and at least one more lockdown.

And that is why I want to ask all Filipinos, in the public and private sector, to try our best even more.

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