"We have learned to be more self-reliant than ever before without losing our compassion and community spirit."
To say that 2020 was a most challenging year is to be kind to ourselves. It is an attempt to lift one's spirits after going through some of the most horrific experiences in living memory. Somehow, it is also a way to forget those horrors in a determined effort to move on with all the heartaches and baggage of the past 300 days. It is a year that will forever be etched in our collective memory as simply catastrophic.
What began as a possible breakout year for the country halfway through the Duterte presidency turned out to be a real downer. The promise of our 2020 GDP growing even better than the average 6.3 percent of the past three years turned out to be a major dud. The latest figures show that we will be lucky if we hit just under negative 8 percent growth this year.
The 2020 budget was meant to drive our productive sectors to even greater heights with the doubling of our funding for needed infrastructure which has lagged behind for years. With the government going that route, the private sector was also expected to boost spending on priority development projects whether on tollways, ports and basic utilities. More agriculture, transport, health and education spending was also embedded in last year's budget together with support and assistance to small- and medium-scale enterprises. Then, disasters came.
Just as 2020 was rolling, came the Taal Volcano eruption. It disrupted a good part of our industrial belt in the Calabarzon area. Then, as we were settling down completing the relocation and rehabilitation of those displaced by the eruption came the pandemic. It completely disrupted not just our way of life but the world's as well.
Unprepared to deal with such an invisible threat, our medical and health care experts initially dismissed it as something like the ordinary flu – an unpardonable assessment which ultimately brought us near the brink by year end. Of course, these guys can claim that we are still better off than other countries. While we have the second highest infection rate in ASEAN (Indonesia is ahead by a slight margin) and a better than the global average in mortality and recovery rates, we remain among the top countries considered most vulnerable to a second or third spike in cases.
Far from being prepared to deal with the longer term effects of this pandemic in terms of both lives and livelihood, our response measures leave much to be desired. We are as concerned as before about the capability of our medical/health care system to cope with a possible spike in cases or even the entry of the deadlier strain of COVID-19 virus. if our experience with the procurement of much-needed medical equipment and supplies is any gauge, we are going to have a lot of overhauling to do. Just listening to the empty assurances of our officials on the vaccine procurement and roll out program leaves us truly dumbfounded.
We have yet to account for the billions of spending money especially in the procurement of much-needed health and education materials and the assistance to the vulnerable sectors and the laid off/unemployed (as in assistance to workers including OFWs) as provided for in the two Bayanihan acts. We also have to pass the economic bills meant to jumpstart our small- and medium-scale enterprises. These remain pending in the Senate.
We can go on and on enumerating our fears and frustrations about those things which happened in the past 300 or so days that can happen all over again if we do not call out those who are supposed to nurse and transit the nation to a more predictable 2021. But that would be adding more salt to our wound.
Suffice it to say that we, the people, have been learning our lessons better than most of our officials. We have learned to cope with lockdowns although we bristle over the seeming inconsistencies in many of the issuances meant to safeguard our lives and our livelihoods. Notwithstanding the contradictory directives and uneven, at times uncoordinated and even conflicting implementation of guidelines across the board, we have struggled on finding our way through the maze.
We have learned to be more self-reliant than ever before without losing our compassion and community spirit. That kind of resiliency, of facing the challenges no matter how and looking after each other in the face of danger has seen us through these hard times. No wonder, as the surveys so correctly noted, we are as hopeful as ever despite our reservations and concerns about what 2021 can bring.
It is our hope in better things to come and our faith in the ultimate goodness of the Almighty which has carried us through the hard times. May 2021 be a better year indeed. A blessed New Year to all.