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Given all the challenges that have gone unsatisfied, I wonder whether this pandemic might not provide, finally, the tipping point that could mobilize us toward our own redemption.
The ever rising count of summary killings in the drug war and the assassinations inspired by President Duterte’s draconian rule; the framing and continuing detention of Senator Leila de Lima and the coup that ousted Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno; the cession of our strategic and resource-rich western sea to China and the Chinese overreach proceeding from such surrender of sovereignty; the growing militarization; the brazen official corruption – any one of those would have been enough to incite a righteous, fighting rage; none has.
But the pandemic – it victimizes everyone and connects everything. Politically, it has been a slow burn, but then, as such, it is better able to sear its deep and painful mark in everyone’s heart and mind.
For nearly two years now the pandemic has brought untold, indiscriminate misery – illness and death, joblessness and hunger – and shows no signs of letting up. That it finds an enabler in a criminally negligent regime does not help either. Such criminal negligence is a consequence of something seen only in nightmares, but a running reality in our case: a presidency characterized by ineptitude, psychosis, and an arbitrariness that mocks the rule of law.
If anything, the pandemic only gives rise to suspicions that the Duterte regime, given not only its characteristically malign predisposition but also its political anxieties, which grow with the approach of the electoral season, might not be too eager to get us out of this hole too soon. The regime’s response to the emergency, rated among the world’s worst in fact, is the most fearsome indicator.
Tracing and testing for infection hardly come halfway to standards. Case isolation and general quarantining are imposed whimsically. Lockdowns are labeled to indicate multiple levels of strictness but are not implemented accordingly such that confusion arises as to what’s allowed and what is not allowed at any given lockdown period. Vaccination is not only slow but met with suspicion and hesitancy mainly because the Duterte regime favors Chinese vaccines despite their lower efficacy and higher prices than most others.
Moreover, state subsidies for incomeless families and for overworked and constantly endangered health workers are measly, if they arrive at all. On the other hand, official expenses for health equipment and supplies and bureaucratic operations having to do with the emergency are simply too ridiculous to preclude corruption.
A nation locked down hungry and sick and afraid can only work for Duterte. Coming to the end of his term desperately preoccupied with scheming to avoid being taken to court and jail, he is favored by a deadly, crazy national distraction. Still, if all this scheming at the expense of people’s lives and sanity does not make for a tipping point, I don’t know what will.
Meantime, a favorite writer of mine might be able to provide timely inspiration:
As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Sailors have an expression about the weather: …[it’s] a great bluffer. I guess the same is true with human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed….
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
That little piece of down-home philosophy (E. B. White, 1973) may not have been offered in the context of anything comparable with our own circumstances, but, taken by itself, on its face virtue, it should be lifting all the same. Hopefully, we are able to sustain the feeling until we come to our moment of existential truth – on May 9, 2022 – and have had by that time overcome our fear of the virus and its twin contagion – Duterte.
Conceivably, the virus will have by then become worn down as a matter of course. Duterte, on the other hand, cannot reach us at the polling booth. It is the ultimate sanctuary, the one place where personal freedom and privacy are guaranteed, where we can vote our conscience, unspied, so that we may become rid of him, finally. – Rappler.com