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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Philippines under the COVID-19 sinkhole

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Paul Tena
Paul Tena is an alumnus of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of Politixxx Today and he also traverses into fiction writing in his spare time. Sometimes he goes by his pen name JPE Tena. His debut novel, The Lore Kingdom, was named an Honorable Mention in 2021 Lampara Prize. For more information, you may reach him via tenajpe@gmail.com.

The tale begins in the first quarter of 2020. Then, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) had a limited reach. Also, at the time, it has yet to morph into a global pandemic that would cause eventual and irreparable damage to many countries across the globe–including the Philippines.

The Beginnings

A call to ban flights from China–the initial epicenter of the virus–grew stronger. The Philippine government did not heed the call in the name of good ties. Consequently, the Philippines soon reported its first case of infection. The need for a lockdown followed. To no surprise, our government coined a term Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in the hopes of containing the spread of COVID-19. It didn’t end there. Terms like Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ), General Community Quarantine (GCQ), and Modified General Community Quarantine, all became staples of the news. Soon, the imposition of varying lockdowns was observed to contain the virus.

A glimmer of hope arrived when the University of the Philippines (UP) procured relatively affordable testing kits. Despite the lockdown, the Philippine government lagged in the mass testing of possible carriers of the virus. As a result, the cases ballooned that seemingly went out of control.

Assuming without conceding that the Philippines observed the most diligent efforts to contain the virus, it seemed that these did not meet up to the expectations of the people. Continuous call for mass testing followed yet the persistent downplay of some key officials came with it. 

The Second Quarter

Another notable development transpired when Inter Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases member Dr. Tony Leachon abandoned his post. This resonates as a red flag on how the entire IATF manages the situation. As an observer, it appears to us that an internal turmoil boils within the pinnacle of the echelon.

The same period also coincided with the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise (the Philippines’ largest television network) as well as the passing of the Anti-Terror Bill (ATB) into law. Many critics of the government raised their eyebrows in the series of these events. In fact, a handful perceives that the ATB will be used as a tool to silence the critical voices against the government. Unsurprisingly, petitions stormed before the Supreme Court to question the controversial decisions of the Duterte administration.

Through it all, the consensus on all ends of the political spectrum is to beat the pandemic. However, the inevitable disagreements on pressing matters and bewilderment in our leaders’ priorities cause the prolonged agony of our current state.

The Third Quarter

In addition, as the tail end of the year approached, we see little to no signs of flattening of the curve in the Philippines. Still, another sign of positivity can be attributed to the possibility of the vaccine against COVID-19. The race for the cure, through the vaccine, sets our hopes up and high.  

At this point, President Duterte even expressed his interest on the Russian vaccine. He even opened up the idea to have the testing to be conducted within our territory. On the other hand, China also vies in the race while the US and the UK, among many other countries, have their bets on the prize to cure the ever complicated COVID pandemic. Unfortunately, for the Philippines, we can only wait until a foreign pharmaceutical company or other state-backed research to finally find a way out of the misery brought by COVID.

The considerations also now point on the economic effect brought by the pandemic. So far, we have yet to see a concrete plan on how to address the bankruptcy of businesses. Moreover, although the government initially aided those who lost jobs, the long-term aftermath on joblessness seem too far from the scratched surface of options.

The Hope

By now, one thing’s certain: only the production of a vaccine is our ticket out of the state of despair. As we wait, further contemplation on the loopholes in our system must be pondered thoroughly. Even if a cure will be produced, if we don’t address our weaknesses in battling the virus, then, we are merely offering short-term solutions that can be disrupted by another virus or any other havoc in the future.

We should strengthen our research, healthcare and economic aspects of our country regardless of our situation must be a priority as soon as we find the permanent cure against COVID-19. The glaring flaws that we are facing are but a tip of the iceberg of the deeply-entrenched problems in the Philippines. In the end, we can’t always romanticize our resilience. Instead, we must invest on the matters that will prepare us in cases of catastrophic events. In that way, we will be equipped to battle whatever troubles that circumstances will be hurled at us without plunging into chaos.

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