Abellanosa: Charity and justice in a time of pandemic

Abellanosa: Charity and justice in a time of pandemic

CHARITY works abound these days. Efforts and humanitarian aid from private institutions are truly helpful in any system. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen how immensely generous people can be. Especially in a country where the public sector is partly functional, people cannot but rely on help from the private sector.

However, we must be bothered in one way or another if our system becomes extensively reliant on acts of charity. One, the proliferation of so-called charitable efforts can be dangerous as they may be portals to further abuse and exploitation of the poor. “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Second, genuine charity even within the context of Catholic social ethics cannot, in essence, exist without justice. In fact, one should not even speak about love without having complied the minimum demands of justice.

Precisely why the pandemic should awaken us to a much deeper reality that at the core of our problems is not the lack of charity among peoples but the absence of the most minimum essentials in our social structure sufficient to call our country a decent society. No amount of charitable efforts nor donations from here and there can make us a just country not until and unless the basic services that each and every Filipino should enjoy would be made accessible and available.

Prior to the pandemic, it was already registered that poverty incidence in the Philippines is at 16.6%, which means that 17.6 million Filipinos are poor. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority [PSA] a family of five needs around P10,727 to meet their minimum basic food and non-food needs. With the same family size P7,528 per month is needed to meet food needs. The numbers should even be suspected because poverty through the lens of the government is only measured in terms of income and not integral or total well-being. For example, SWS’s self-rated survey on poverty reveals that as of December 2019 54% among Filipino families considered themselves as mahirap or poor. The estimated numbers of self-rated poor families are 13.1 million for December and 10.3 million for September. The latest self-rated poverty rate is the highest since the 55% in September 2014.

Apparently, Covid-19 cannot be faulted for the people’s misery. Many Filipinos have been living their lives like hell even before the virus entered the Philippine territory. The pandemic simply exposed the depth and intensity of such a misery. The lockdown would not have been that problematic if only it did not increase the “unfreedoms” of the poor. Sadly, the practically two months quarantine were days of paralysis, hunger, and depression for those who have less in life. While the upper bracket of the population was merely concerned with their boredom, the poor had to even think which way to die: through the virus or through hunger?

Then there is the issue of unemployment. After all the pronouncements across administrations that jobs have been increasing, the entire experience unveiled the artificiality of this country’s labor policies. Apparently, the jobs to which majority of Filipinos went the past years were not stable and dependent on many empty bubbles of our economy. Based on the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) Job Displacement Monitoring Report of the total number a month ago, 108,620 workers from 2,317 establishments were affected due to the implementation of Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) and Temporary Closure (TC). This means that either the workers earned less due to the adjustment of the work scheme or schedule or did not earn at all. Around 889 establishments with 41,311 workers implemented FWAs while 368 companies engaged in reduction of workdays, affected 15,556 workers. Other companies also imposed forced leave. Around 9,941 workers were without work from around 225 companies while 58 other companies with 3,655 employees were also affected by the anti-virus measures.

We should be thankful to the many kindhearted Filipinos who have shared their blessings in a time of pandemic. But the greatest accountability to address the many problems that are systemic in nature goes to the government. Justice is the intrinsic criterion of political life and this must be translated into the availability and accessibility of services by all men and women: healthcare, efficient mass transport system, housing, social security for the aged and access to food and water among others. We cannot always impose an ECQ otherwise we shall be building up social unrest due to a sick economy. Should that happen many will die due to violence or even a revolution even before everyone would be infected by the virus.

At first, dependence on so-called charity appears cute but eventually we will figure out that too much suffering due to the system is not acceptable.


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