"Some of our officials waste the opportunity in front of them. Sayang."
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven – Ecclesiastes 3:1-9
Kairos: A Greek word meaning the right, opportune or critical moment
I am reminded of these passages after reading front-page statements attributed to Secretaries Harry Roque and Francisco Duque III which came out yesterday that brought more confusion than enlightenment, more anxiety than hope to a public. We have all been under tremendous stress coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the top-of-mind concerns populating the airwaves such as the drama that attended the just-concluded junking of the ABS-CBN franchise.
Asked about the threat of some groups to undertake a “Peoples Initiative” to have the franchise renewed/issued, Roque demurred and simply said let the Supreme Court decide. Instead of referring to the clear and unmistakable language of the 1987 Constitution which allows such an initiative only for public purposes such as the matter of term limits and political dynasties but not for private interests such as a franchise, Roque who is a respected lawyer and law professor, for reasons of his own, chose to dance around the issue.
Instead of clearing the air once and for all and extinguish any efforts to use the issue for purposes other than the matter of the sole and exclusive authority of the House of Representatives to initiate and grant franchises under the same Constitution, Roque wasted the opportunity to do so. He ditched his Kairos moment to clear the air and put this highly emotional issue to rest. Sayang.
The case of Duque was even more deplorable. Coming out of some weeks of isolation last Wednesday, the embattled Health Secretary stunned the public with the announcement that the country “flattened the curve last April yet” even as his own agency has been reporting an alarming spike in infections for the past month or so to the point that most hospitals in the Metro Manila area have openly admitted they are running out of capacity to deal with cases.
Without bothering with his agency reports, Duque said: “We have successfully flattened the curve since April and the metrics we are saying arriving at that conclusion is actually the case doubling time and also the mortality doubling time has gotten longer and is now in the moderate risk classification. Over time, we have managed to stabilize the number of new cases being reported at anywhere to 220 cases per day.”
Told that his own department has been reporting an average of 1,000 new cases every day for at least ten days in a row, Duque backtracked hours later, saying that the epidemic curve “bent” during the early stages of the lockdown last April. So outrageous was his earlier assertion that no less than Senate Majority Leader Migz Zubiri and his colleague, Senator Sonny Angara, both of whom had COVID-19, were taken aback and started asking where Duque was coming from.
Ever his gracious self, Zubiri went out of his way to explain the boo-boo saying Duque called him to apologize then adding that “he must be under a lot of pressure plus the fact that a new member of the Cabinet (DPWH Secretary Mark Villar) tested positive for Covid 19 adding to that.”
Good for Duque; he has friends like Zubiri. But to a public which has been under a lot of pressure and stress not only for fear of getting infected but for loss of jobs, friends and kin, it was simply another of those insensitive and unavailing Duque pronouncements. He simply wasted his possible redemption in the public eye. He wasted his Kairos moment. There is a time for making bold assertions and a time to waste; a time to hold fast to the truth and the public trust.
Why am I making a big thing out of Kairos moments? Simple. We have been, all of us save for a few, doing our very best to stay healthy, work within the mandated protocols to save lives, save the economy and gear up for a new, hopefully, better future once this pandemic gets to be subdued to a tolerable level. We know we may have to coexist with it for some time, even longer than expected. So, we look up to leaders we can trust who can really show the way to such a new hopeful environment of truthfulness, courage and sensitivity. We need them not just to throw figures and statistics around as if we will be contented with mention of hospital beds or testing capacity or some such giveaways. Mentions of these in the face of raging infections and related problems merely enhance the view that all along we have had a shambolic response to this outbreak.
We had hoped that given four months of quarantine, they would be in a position to share with us not just statistics and anecdotal assistance efforts but bold, tested and positive steps towards our safety and recovery. We had hoped that even before they shout of Victory as Roque did when confronted with the fact that our infections were just about the same as predicted by the UP COVID-19 response team when he claimed instead that we were about 2,000 cases fewer than what UP had forecast.
We had hoped that before claiming that we had flattened the curve only to backtrack hours later people like Duque whom the public look up to for guidance would have been more sensitive and took the occasion to say that government is doing its best that this should be one, national effort. That we are all in this together. That we share the grief and fears as well but we should be able to overcome things if we do our share.
In a word, we had hoped that they should have nursed their moments in public discourse to display results and the courage to admit that it may take time for us to get to where we want and need to be. But, more importantly, show some humanity, a level of empathy to dispel the fears and inject hope under the circumstances.
Like New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s reaction when told that the island nation had almost certainly conquered COVID-19. She said “I did a little dance” and proceeded to announce that the restrictions have been lifted, travel has been allowed but that people should continue to abide by the health protocols. This is not to suggest, by any chance, for Roque and Duque to do a “little dance.” That would be the biggest insult they can give to a suffering public but to at least say that we will, with utmost cooperation and active public participation, be able to move on and show positive results.
They can do so by citing the examples of the best practices which have been done by individuals, families, communities and local governments all of whom have come around to do their share in uplifting the spirits by doing good works and staying within the protocols. That is a better way to use moments given to them than merely citing statistics and figures which later on turn out to be unsubstantiated or even false.