Unity in time of crisis

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

“The Bayanihan Spirit” | Photo by jasondevilla via Flickr/Creative Commons

It is truly heartwarming to receive very positive and encouraging feedback to our call for unity from various Filipino-American organizations here in the US, who are now calling for the early delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines, showing a united front despite having different political beliefs and persuasions. Clearly, Filipino-Americans are extremely concerned about the critical situation in our country where they have friends or relatives.

There is obviously a deep and genuine concern from Filipino-Americans about the situation in the Philippines, especially during this critical time. During the virtual meeting last Wednesday, they expressed this during the Filipino American Voice United and the Federation of Philippine American Chambers of Commerce, dubbed as Call to Action and Unity of FilAm Communities: Humanitarian Response to the Philippine COVID Crisis.

It was good to see Senator Manny Pacquiao during the virtual meeting. Everyone knows the senator has been among the first to help the country cope with the pandemic through his Manny Pacquiao Foundation and billionaire Jack Ma donating 50,000 test kits to the Philippines in May last year.

I explained to the group that we understand where President Biden is coming from in prioritizing the vaccination of Americans since the pandemic has badly hit the US. However, the White House informed us that they plan to put together a group to study how they can start sharing vaccines to the rest of the world once they achieve their target vaccine supply, knowing fully well the need for global herd immunity in placing this pandemic under control. To this end, vaccine rollout has been accelerated in the US, averaging three million vaccinations per day.

Despite the challenges, the Philippine embassy in Washington continues to reach out and meet with vaccine manufacturers to see how quickly we can deliver vaccine doses that we hope to secure through perhaps another tripartite agreement. The Level 4 Alert raised by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the Philippines due to the surge of COVID-19 cases in the country precisely underscores the urgent need for the early delivery of the vaccines to help mitigate the economic and health impact of the pandemic. It’s natural for countries like the US to issue the Level 4 Alert to protect their citizens. When required, we impose similar measures, temporarily banning the entry of foreign nationals from countries with high infection rates, limiting the number of inbound passengers to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially since new virus strains continue to emerge.

“Despite the challenges, the Philippine embassy in Washington continues to reach out and meet with vaccine manufacturers to see how quickly we can deliver vaccine doses that we hope to secure through perhaps another tripartite agreement.”

Yesterday, we had another virtual meeting with Filipino-Americans in New York, together with Consul General Elmer Cato, to discuss anti-Asian hate crimes in many parts of the US. The surge in hate crimes has been very noticeable in major US cities, especially in New York, which showed an exponential increase of 833 percent in 2020.

Last February, we sent a note verbale to the US State Department to call attention to the rising incidents of hate crimes against Asian-Americans, including Filipinos. Divergent groups are also working together to stop the attacks, showing solidarity in combatting hate and discrimination.

We are pleased to see collective efforts have not fallen on deaf ears, with the US Senate overwhelmingly voting to pass an anti-Asian hate crime bill, crossing party lines supporting the proposed legislation that aims to strengthen efforts to stem the tide of anti-Asian hate crimes. The ball is now in the court of the US House of Representatives. Still, expectations are high that the proposed legislation will also get strong bipartisan support and swiftly pass so President Biden can sign it into law.

We note the community pantries being put up in many areas in the Philippines, a tangible sign that Filipinos in times of crisis will band together to care for those in need. A community pantry does not require any prodding from any authority because help comes naturally to Filipinos during hard times.

“This bayanihan spirit also makes Filipinos stand out wherever they may be, as it displays their willingness to go the extra mile to help others without expecting anything in return. This is why Filipino-Americans are very much appreciated and highly respected in the United States.”

The community pantry in Quezon City has since spawned similar initiatives in Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. Even schools are putting up community pantries, with people donating rice, noodles, vegetables, canned goods, and other items.

Operating on the principle of “Give what you can, take only what you need,” these community pantries demonstrate bayanihan or the true Filipino spirit of communal unity and solidarity to help lift their fellowmen. This bayanihan spirit also makes Filipinos stand out wherever they may be, as it displays their willingness to go the extra mile to help others without expecting anything in return. This is why Filipino-Americans are very much appreciated and highly respected in the United States.

Unfortunately, some still find something to criticize about the community pantries, finding fault with the long lines of people waiting for their turn. This is a natural consequence, as seen in the US when thousands of people lined up at food banks distributing groceries to unemployed Americans.

“While the situation we and the rest of the world are facing is difficult, this spirit of unity gives us the assurance that we will overcome this crisis and ultimately conquer it.”

Many have lost jobs because of the pandemic, and therefore those who can really help because these community pantries keep people from resorting to crime to feed their families. Instead of carping, we should be proud because other countries such as Timor Leste are looking at this example of solidarity we are showing.

While the situation we and the rest of the world are facing is difficult, this spirit of unity gives us the assurance that we will overcome this crisis and ultimately conquer it.
Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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