Abellanosa: A more serious virus

Fringes and frontiers

I WAS reacting last week to the apparent lack of concern of some politicians on what was then a potential problem: the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Let’s say it was potential because then there was no confirmed case yet. Typical of Filipino attitude our politicians were somewhat relaxed. The president consumed his time fuming over the cancellation of Bato de la Rosa’s US visa. Local executives were playing safe in their stand towards China. Why cancel trips or disallow the entry of our “friends” to our country? This was a common refrain among certain mayors and governors who were, like their chief executive, enchanted by China’s diplomatic potion.

Hours before he publicly declared the first case of coronavirus in the country, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque said that there is no need to ban Chinese from the mainland who are entering to the Philippines. Legarda told Duque that she’s concerned with public health. Duque however, responded to Legarda: “Diplomatic relations with China may sour if the Philippines decides to bar mainland Chinese from entering the country as part of preventive measures against the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (nCoV).”

Apparently the health secretary did not sound like a medical professional. Instead, he spoke like a political tactician whose task would be to worry about fragile friendships between or among countries. This is not only sad but also ridiculous. After all it was the Chinese philosopher Confucius who said, no less, that the woes or ills of society arise when names or titles are not rectified. Duque should have been true to his oath to defend and protect the public’s interest when it comes to health, and leave the issue of diplomacy to diplomats.

So let’s slap our face and wake up to the truth that there is another deadlier virus in our country. It is difficult to cure. It is more fatal. It is the poverty of our political system. Here we have some if not many politicians and bureaucrats who cannot put their acts together. Easy for them to always say that people should not politicize the situation because we should instead help the government. But how can people help a government (or officials to be exact) who are mostly busy with something else other than public interest. Have we easily forgotten that before Duque made commotion with his announcement the media was instead focused on Malacanang’s move to terminate the VFA?

Really, this country is sick. It has been sick even before the coronavirus could enter the territory. We’re sick with complacency and lack of planning. I remember posting in social media reacting to a post in which a city mayor was reported to have said that he’s not going to bar Chinese into his city. I got criticisms for being “negative” and “reactive.” I was accused of reading things too politically.

All I asked was for that official to tell us “objectively” how ready his city is. To what hospitals will patients go should the number of cases increase? How ready are we in terms of facilities? How should health care professional position themselves in case there’s an outbreak? What means of information have been disseminated in order to inform the public and thus avoid panic? Now, the masks are even running out and there are no alternatives being identified as substitutes for the panicking public to buy. Instead of giving people objective answers to basic questions, local officials remain silent. Either they’re telling us that there is nothing to be afraid because we’ll all die anyway, or honestly we don’t know what to do.

Sadly, this is not the first situation wherein we run like headless chickens. When Taal volcano erupted the experts were suddenly heard here and there. Everyone in government became experts. The brilliance of our politicians was eventually highlighted and we realized that the Philippines has a lot of intelligent people. Yes! That’s right! A lot of intelligent people but only after a volcano erupted or when half of the population was left dead after a disaster. Now we are seeing and hearing the brilliance of our public health officials. We are being made to appreciate how good our politicians are in their diplomatic skills.

Precisely, there is so much reason to worry. But for me it is not the virus. It is the impoverished attitude of those who are in a supposedly better position to mitigate the situation by finding ways. Such an attitude is not only a symptom of sickness in our social system – “it is” the sickness itself. It is killing us from within. Like the coronavirus it is dangerous because it is asymptomatic. Filipinos don’t know that they are infected with complacency, the inability to plan, and the utter delay in reacting to things.


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