"A wily style of governance."
“Maliit na bagay” was how President Rodrigo Duterte recently described the pandemic caused by COVID-19, the same health issue that led to governments across the globe closing their borders, businesses shutting down, hospitals revamping their routine services, medical scientists scratching their heads, and worse, thousands dying without their loved ones by their side.
By this time, we all know that Duterte has little emphatic qualities. I would translate that in the vernacular, “walang malasakit.” Of course, his sycophants will deny that – but let them be trapped in their polluted bubble. Some leadership issues may not necessarily allow leaders to satisfy every wish of Juan and Juana, but possessing empathy or the ability to discern and truly identify with the concerns of your citizenry will vastly improve the stewardship of a country.
But the dismissive remark of Duterte right at this time when COVID in our country is grinding its gears to the next high level is reflective of his wily style. It is his attempt to smokescreen the pathetic failure by his administration to effectively address a serious health crisis that is still unfolding, and deal honestly with an existential threat.
Let us look at the facts. First, in the early stage of the pandemic, he dismissively brushed aside COVID as merely like the flu, one that will pass with a single sneeze. Our borders were not promptly locked but instead, there was the continued flow of traffic from the very continent where the flu originated. That dismissal is characteristic of the strong-arm personas displayed by his equally boastful contemporaries such as Trump, Bolsonaro, and other leaders who can only rely on machismo, swagger, and more swagger. But look what has happened to the US and Brazil, particularly when it comes to COVID deaths. These two countries ranked in the top five in terms of deaths and contamination spread, and most likely spurred by a populace who failed to appreciate the impact of a still-lingering pandemic.
What COVID-19 has ironically brought to light are precisely the healthcare issues that Duterte has neglected to address. Let us give him some leeway by saying that previous administrations have failed to rehabilitate an already inefficient healthcare system. But that is no excuse if one can goad a populace to run rampant against drug abuse. On top of that, we have the curse of the PhilHealth scandal, the dubious appointment of retired military officers as crisis health managers, and the panicky directives that aim and shoot but still fail to hit the big targets. Unlike his Drug War where the targets are felled bull’s eye after the so-called resistance or ‘nanlaban,’ his COVID war is aiming at holes above our heads.
Wily. A wily style of governance. Words from this Fist Bump government serve to divert (Senator Leila De Lima), suppress (former Supreme Court chief justice Sereno), demonize (drug users), persecute (ABS-CBN), discredit (Maria Ressa), deflect, and deny.
We, taxpayers and good-willing citizens of this country say to all these barrages of words— enough of the barefaced deceit. We could not afford to see activists liquidated by terror bullets, or our friends and loved ones carried and hauled away to their solitary deaths just because one man and his small-minded coterie have mandated that the activist is a terrorist and that the deadly virus is “one small thing.”
If there is one small thing, that is the ugly truth that while we are neck-deep and amid a health crisis, we have a government that looks askance and with cynicism at our health concerns. That cynicism has been cleverly manipulated by Malacanang to deflect the calls for it to assume full responsibility and account for the failure that has hounded all of us since the start of the pandemic.
Joel Vega is a freelance publications editor and author of the award-winning poetry collection “Drift” published by the UST Publishing House. He lives in Arnhem, The Netherlands.