Mea culpa

"What are we doing wrong?"



In the middle of this continuing COVID-19 pandemic, one cannot avoid feeling a deep sense of frustration. Frankly speaking, there appears no end in sight to this public health crisis that has beset our nation. Solutions similar to our neighboring countries have been explored, the same strategies have been employed, but we are nowhere near the results that others in the Southeast Asian region have achieved.

This begs the question - what are we doing wrong?

A cursory analysis of how ASEAN nations have fared in the face of this pandemic puts the Philippines and Indonesia trailing behind developing economies such as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

This is ironic for the Philippines - a country known all throughout the world for the competence and commitment of its healthcare professionals.

In the last ten weeks, community quarantine measures of differing restrictions have been imposed. Businesses, schools and even churches have been closed. Barangays have been placed under lockdown, in an effort to prevent the further spread of the virus. Millions of pesos have been allocated and spent to fund relief and recovery efforts and to provide social amelioration for socially vulnerable sectors.

Despite government action to increase the capacity of our hospitals and expand our testing capability, the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase by the day, and our country continues to be left behind in this global health emergency.

Our enhanced community quarantine measures were far stricter than those imposed in Thailand. While it has been almost a month since a single case of local transmission has been reported in Thailand, the Philippine government had to reimpose extreme restrictions in Cebu, bringing the city back to enhanced community quarantine status.

Far more funds and resources have been allocated to our healthcare system than in Laos and Cambodia, but our Southeast Asian neighbors seemed to have achieved “more with less.” Last week, Laos reported that all COVID-19 patients have now fully recovered, while Cambodia is a close second with a 92-percent recovery rate.

The Philippines implemented a social amelioration program that has afforded financial assistance amounting to almost eight thousand pesos for each of the country’s poorest households. Compare that to Vietnam’s relief assistance of four thousand pesos extended to workers who have lost their livelihood during the COVID-19 lockdown. But, after lifting restrictions, Vietnam is able to successfully restart its economy by exporting COVID test kits and mechanical ventilators to Europe, effectively turning a crisis into an opportunity.

Then again, what are we doing wrong?

There is no doubt about the President’s and his administration’s resolve to address this public health emergency. The fundamentals have been set in place – from ensuring universal healthcare coverage for those tested positive for COVID-19, establishing RT-PCR testing centers in several parts of the country, and setting up community isolation facilities in every municipality. Several local government officials have demonstrated proactive leadership, fittingly complementing national government efforts. Even the President’s call for emergency powers to respond to this crisis has won broad support, even from independent and a number of opposition legislators.

The Philippines has implemented tried-and-tested solutions to mitigate the crisis, but all efforts to flatten the curve has become an arduous protracted battle.

Much may be desired from the government’s COVID-19 strategy, especially in terms of contact tracing and isolation and infection prevention, but far more than government action is required.

When much of the blame is pinned on the government’s inadequacies, our role in the crisis often becomes an afterthought.

The inconvenient truth is we are an indispensable part of the solution.

Our government cannot succeed without our fullest participation.

The government may have to render accountability for its decisions. But so must every one of us admit to the mistakes that needs correcting, and the good that we have left undone.

Hence, this “mea culpa.”

Our first “grievous fault” is thinking that the law should apply to all but ourselves. We are all too familiar with what needs to be done to keep ourselves safe amidst this pandemic – from physical distancing to staying at home. From wearing facemasks and avoiding crowds. But while we hope to exact these same restrictions from others, many would try to find exemptions for themselves. Inasmuch as the government would like to keep the people in their homes, many would find ingenuine ways to evade the quarantine measures. Sadly, our lack of respect for the rigor of rules have resulted in a flawed culture of self-entitlement, where many would even flaunt their exemptions from restrictions imposed on everyone else.

Our second “grievous fault” is seeing the wrong, but believing that there is nothing that can be done anyway. By doing so, we impose upon ourselves a culture of helpless resignation. When we recognize the error, but refuse to do anything about it, this attitude misconstrues corruption, inefficiency and wastefulness as being the way that it is done. As a result, not only do we fail to correct what is wrong, we also lose the courage to do what is right. This attitude of helplessness consequently results in losing control, not only over one’s own actions, but even over society’s as a whole. That is why no matter how hard we try to prepare for whatever eventuality, it always seems that the virus has the upper hand.

Our third “grievous fault” is caring less about the nation than we would care for our own family. The COVID-19 pandemic knows no kith nor kin, and unless we are able to get our act together, it will be extremely difficult for our nation to successfully put a stop to its continuing spread. While our strong family culture has provided a social support system like no other, it has also impeded us from looking into a more altruistic perspective of this crisis. For many, we only begin to care only when a family or friend is affected, and we naturally left apathetic as to how the pandemic has affected our country as a whole.

As our Southeast Asian neighbors, such as Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, have taught us – this pandemic requires more than just what the government can do on its own.

Equally important is what each of us can and must do.

First, to uphold that the law must be applied to all. Quarantine measures, physical distancing and wearing face masks will fail if not everyone is willing to do their part. The rules must be followed, and exceptions should be sparse.

Second, to be hopeful and believe that despite failings and setbacks, something of better consequence can be accomplished. Our capacity to address this crisis is never shaped by our weaknesses and failures, but is determined by our strong resolve and clarity of purpose. Even when the government and other social institutions fail, such failures don’t limit their capacity to correct themselves and do better.

Third, to realize that this problem requires a national solution. Many times during this crisis, we may have to put our own and our family’s interests secondary to that our country’s. The tens of thousands of medical and security frontliners who risk their lives and safety know this too well. But even ordinary citizens may have to play the same role, to give up their own comforts and conveniences so that a higher good will be served.

There is no easy way to curb COVID-19. But as grave a threat as COVID-19 is our failure to realize that each one of us plays an indispensable role in responding to this pandemic. There is a human and social cost to the pandemic, but such can be adequately mitigated if we were to fulfill our part with openness and optimism and with empathy to the plight of others, guided by a shared moral purpose.

Topics: Jude Acidre , coronavirus disease 2019 , COVID-19 , Southeast Asia , Vietnam , Thailand , Laos
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