[OPINION] Hugas-kamay: Why DIY solutions to a public problem will not keep us alive

Alois Isinika
[OPINION] Hugas-kamay: Why DIY solutions to a public problem will not keep us alive
We must not only rely on individual efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The state has to fulfill its obligations first by addressing structural problems as they cut across classes.

I noticed that it has been a habit of the Duterte government to hand down its responsibilities to its citizens since the Luzon-wide lockdown began.

For instance, the Department of Health came up with a “TikTok COVID dance challenge” to encourage the younger segment of the population to echo its call for virus prevention.

The Department of Tourism also used the same strategy to persuade millennials to promote their hometown’s tourist spots. They believed that doing this would ultimately mitigate the enormous structural impact of the pandemic on our tourism.

When I say it is a habit, I mean there’s a recent history. Just earlier this year, when the Taal Volcano began erupting, the government asked the private sector and groups to take action for the affected communities. This came after the Duterte administration’s calamity funds were slashed for the third year. Talk about exercising foresight, because we know that we are a calamity-ridden nation.

What is wrong with handing down the state’s responsibilities to its citizens? Personal responsibilities become the alternative narrative for state neglect.

Hand-me-down responsibilities: private problems vs public issues

Let’s borrow C. Wright Mills’ concept of troubles and issues from his magnum opus The Sociological Imagination. He said troubles are private problems that happen to you and to the people around you, while issues are matters that go beyond your immediate circles. Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic is an issue because the phenomenon is a huge one – big enough for it to have an impact on our economy, tourism, education, and other sectors.

Considering the magnitude of the health issue, it necessitates the state to come up with a solution that cuts across segments of Philippine society – not just the elites, the Instagram influencers, and the “friends” and allies.

To fight the coronavirus, families have to make handwashing a frequent habit. Infographics flood social media feeds. TV stations air infomercials to encourage people to do the best practices. But then again, some homes and schools in the country do not even have a decent supply of clean water. In this case, not being able to practice handwashing goes beyond being dugyot (untidy), which is a personal trouble.

Officials have also urged the public to practice social distancing, but photos and videos taken during the first workday of the then metro-wide lockdown showed there was a failure to enforce it properly. Public use vehicles – the ones that the masses use to go to work – were too crowded. Just being inside the MRT would give you anxiety amid the pandemic.

Here, we’re talking about several public issues, which include the perennial problem of mass transportation and the flocking of Filipinos to the metro for economic opportunities. These go beyond the matigas ang ulo (hard-headed) and walang disiplina (undisciplined) narratives thrown at the working class for not following the simple one-to-two-meter physical distancing policy.

Lastly, locking up Filipinos in their homes without giving them an opportunity to get tested for the virus means delegating a structural health problem to the hands of citizens – whether they are capable of handling it or not.

A hand-to-mouth lifestyle might not allow them to skip a workday. Not everyone can sustain a self-quarantine lifestyle. Not everyone has a pantry with contents that can last up to a month. The fragile social safety net of the Duterte administration can barely support everyone sustainably to begin with, and the half-baked policies they have implemented overlook the economic capability of its affected citizens, which is inherently classist.

The state’s obligation

At this point, you might be wondering whether I am advocating for people to stop doing their part to contain the pandemic. No, that is not the point.

Individual efforts are always needed. We still need to wash our hands frequently and maintain a healthy lifestyle. We need to physically distance ourselves from one another when space permits. We need to stay at home to protect ourselves and other people from acquiring the virus. We need to always look after our affected fellows.

However, structural problems need to be addressed immediately as we do not live in a vacuum, and that is the state’s obligation. We have different sets of social ills, and often they intersect and breed smaller ones. It is never appropriate to tell the people – especially the marginalized – bahala na kayo diyan (to look after yourself).

When our government makes solutions personalized and DIY, it makes us box ourselves in in such a way that we only think of our own wellbeing. It makes us thrive blindly in our own bubble of privilege.

Most of the time, it even divides us and makes us hate each other’s guts. When this happens, the plight of the marginalized gets forgotten, and we may not collectively survive this pandemic in the end. — Rappler.com

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Alois Isinika

Alois Isinika is a digital communications specialist at Rappler. As a Sociology graduate, he thinks and talks a lot about the world we live in, that's why he frequently writes for Rappler Blogs or tweets his sentiments at @aloisinika.