[OPINION] Changing Filipino behavior to help fight a public health crisis

Athena Charanne R. Presto
[OPINION] Changing Filipino behavior to help fight a public health crisis
'We are required to stay put in our own houses, yet a lot of us would not feel safe nor at home. Having a toxic relative is an unfortunately normal part of Filipino family life.'

The Philippines is in a public health crisis – a problem that is medical as well as social. Depending on the culture that we have, our collective behavior and social environment have great potential in solving or aggravating the coronavirus pandemic.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his March 12 speech that “because COVID-19 will be with us for a long time, there are baseline things that we must get used to, like…adopting new social norms.” This means that we have to question the things that we usually do. And then we change the things that can make us more vulnerable to the virus.

Aside from having a more hygienic lifestyle and practicing social distancing, there are still others that need mentioning here. 

Example 1: Re-orient “May awa ang Diyos” (God is merciful). Religion is a lot of things, but it is not enough to cannot ensure people’s health amidst a pandemic. Faith can be beneficial in keeping a positive outlook, but we need to be careful that it does not downplay the problem at hand. God is merciful, yes, but in the time of pandemic, mercy is not the only thing that we need. We also need to follow preventive measures – no mass gatherings – and be critical of our government’s crisis management.

Example 2: Parents need to listen to their children. Millennials and Gen Z navigate social media well and are better informed, especially when they know how to discern real from fake news. The younger generation also has more access to real-life COVID-19 stories that give them an idea of how grave this virus really is. Many parents may feel like they are being disrespected when their children tell them what to do, but this is a cultural mindset that we can leave behind as we move on with community quarantine.

Example 3: Acknowledge that a home and a house are two different things. These two should ideally overlap, but lived experiences of some Filipinos show otherwise. We are required to stay put in our own houses, yet a lot of us would not feel safe nor at home. Having a toxic relative is an unfortunately normal part of Filipino family life. There is no need, then, to shame those who did not choose to stay in their houses within this month-long quarantine.

Example 4: Know that we are not vulnerable the same way and do something about it. If we ever feel that everything is perfectly okay, then we need to talk to other people – ask our building guard, our kasambahay, our delivery boy, or anyone who does not enjoy the same comforts as we. This pandemic has divided people into those who can afford to follow blanket precautionary measures, and those who have no choice but to work and stay cramped within their settlements. We should stop assuming that because things are going to be okay for us, then it’s the same for everybody else.

Example 5: Drop the “Baka kailanganin ko” (I may need it in the future) mentality. This mentality has caused people to hoard medical supplies, leaving frontliners, especially health workers, with little resources to protect themselves. This mentality has also caused hesitation from people to transfer a little bit of savings to the marginalized who consider a peso a matter of life and death. We have a lot of donation drives online both for frontliners and the marginalized sectors who are most vulnerable to this virus. Our ready, secure finances for the future are already real-time lifelines for some – surely, chipping in would not hurt. (READ: [OPINION] Notes from a supermarket on the last day of freedom)

Example 6: Stop counting individual contributions in ending this pandemic. This isn’t the essence of bayanihan that has gotten the nation out of various crises many times before. Bayanihan is recognizing that we do not have the same capacity to help, and those who have more to give should assist those who have less. The goal is to get everybody through this crisis. This is an expensive and daunting task whose cost and demands need to be shared by Filipinos who can afford to contribute – which includes but is not exclusive to monetary donation.

Example 7: Question “Sumunod ka na lang” (Just obey). Telling people to just follow equates telling people not to point out shortcomings in proposed crisis management. There are real problems that many vulnerable sectors face which are not included in crisis management. Speaking truth to exclusion and socio-economic divide does not mean being unwilling to help the government. Quite the contrary, even. 

These are not normal times. We should not wait for coronavirus symptoms to manifest especially since we might be asymptomatic carriers. We need to act as if we already carry the virus, and change our behavior so we do not transmit it to someone else. It is important to emphasize, however, that changing what have been normal Filipino behaviors can still be helpful even after we get through this pandemic.  

For now, let’s defeat this public health crisis as a collective. #CourageOn! – Rappler.com

Athena Charanne ‘Ash’ R. Presto teaches at the Sociology Department of the University of the Philippines-Diliman. She tweets at @sosyolohija.