The second month of the year has just begun, but already many people feel as though 2020 has dragged on too long.
We crossed over into the new year with news of the bushfires in Australia. While the conflagration was relatively far from home, it was a stark reminder that our physical world is precarious and that events out of our control could alter life as we know it.
On the first week of January, we learned that United States President Donald Trump greenlighted the assassination of a top military officer of Iran. The Iranian government vowed to retaliate. A series of tweets from Trump heightened the tension, and sparked worries of another war. For us here in the Philippines, this meant greater likelihood of an increase in the price of oil and subsequently all other products and services, and the loss of jobs for our overseas workers in the entire Middle East.
On January 12, what was supposed to be a quiet Sunday, Taal Volcano started spewing ash, and alert levels were increased from Level 2 to Level 4 in a matter of hours. The Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology eventually raised the possibility of an explosive eruption in a matter of days or weeks, and thousands of residents in the danger zone were evacuated.
Just as the volcano appeared to simmer down, we got wind of a strange virus that was traced to Wuhan City in China. After several reports and misreports of suspected cases, the first case was confirmed last Thursday; a second confirmed patient, who was the partner of that first patient, died Saturday at San Lazaro Hospital. What makes the virus alarming is that, being new, there is no known cure yet for it, and that human-to-human transmission has been reported in other countries.
In the middle of all this, the death of an American basketball superstar caused sports fans worldwide to grieve. This has been a truly unfortunate month, they lamented.
And then on the first day of the new month, a fire engulfed a plastics plant and warehouse in Manila; the blaze caused the collapse of part of the Skyway project.
Amid all these unfortunate occurrences, it is easy to be fatalistic and attribute everything to sheer bad luck, or, worse, the wrath of God.
Nobody would deny that these first few weeks of 2020 have been challenging. But perhaps these could seem less overwhelming when we regain control of the narrative. We can acknowledge that while there may be many things outside of our control, many things remain to be.
For instance, in the face of natural disasters and health emergencies, national and local authorities can commit to have plans ready for implementation. Leaders should know their priorities and be decisive on their courses of action, relying on the advice of experts instead of “close advisers.” People should be exhorted to believe and pass on only credible information, instead of sharing unconfirmed, misleading or downright fake reports.
Filipinos, certainly, have not lost their sense of humor amid all these troubles – this is fine, so long as it does not trivialize the plight of others, sow falsehood or confusion, and hinder efforts to address problem. We are known to be a resilient and hopeful lot.
Then again, resilience and hope will not work without commonsensical plans and decisive action. Above all, let us hope, not for the absence of trouble – that would be an impossibility – but for the wherewithal and fortitude to address them as intelligently and as objectively as we can.