ILOILO City – The sky bled red, yet unseen, the war started, yet the gates left unguarded, the rustling winds whispered but no one seemed to care nor bothered to hear. The enemy’s a warfare artisan, without form nor sound it had gripped our fates tight and left us blind. Blemishes epitomized our warriors’ physique propelling to the battlefield–breathing heavily, grasping their breaths. Alas! They moved and defended the gates–or was it too late?
If only they’d listened to Dr. Li Wenliang’s whistling, the world may not have stopped ticking and the people’s hearts may not have stopped beating. If only they’d not cocooned themselves in denial, the gates may have been guarded by warriors awaiting the enemy in untainted suits.
It was 31st of December that the enemy was surveillanced to cross the periphery, mysterious pneumonia plagued about a cluster of 41 patients in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. A week succeeding it, 7th of January, Chinese authorities had unmasked the enemy where they identified a new type of coronavirus which was called novel coronavirus. Before the month ended, 30th of January, the WHO trumpeted the world with the 2019-nCoV outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern, and also emphasized the potential spread to countries with weaker health systems, it was at this moment that the enemy was unbosomed to have penetrated our country’s perimeter–the Philippines confirmed the first case of 2019-nCoV. Days after, 2nd of February, the first casualty outside China was recorded in the Philippines, the patient was a known companion of the woman who was the first recorded case in the country.
Fifth of February, another case sprouted, yet the curve seemed to flatten. Cloaks again bosomed the enemy, the spots where they reckoned to plunge into perditions were made unknown, or was it seemingly true that a traitor conspired and confined the enemy’s attacks out of the public eye? It was almost a month, and the bell tolled no more. The people rejoiced as health secretary Francisco Duque III delivered a news that our country had been successful in keeping the virus at bay as global cases soar. But could we breathe at ease? Was there a battle plan prepared if chains start to break as the enemy starts to lash?
For Sun Tzu, in The Art of War, “Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows…just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions,”. They were relaxed, became arrogant as they were lauded, and now we were doomed while we toil without a scythe.
Citing from ‘The Politics of Pandemics’, an article from The Economist, “Nothing stokes rumour and fear more than the suspicion that politicians are hiding the truth. When they downplay the threat in a misguided attempt to avoid panic, they end up sowing confusion and costing lives.” Tuesday morning, 24th of March, the number had skyrocketed to over 500 in the Philippines, according to the Department of Health (DOH). Of this record, 33 have died while 19 have recovered. The increasing trend is getting harsher each day, and knowing this is better than denying, for we can discern what is seen and channel effective patterns of response. This is a storm we need to weather.
From the same source as the latter, it pointed out that there are three factors that will determine how our leaders can cope: firstly, their attitude to uncertainty; secondly, the structure and competence of our health systems; and thirdly, above all, whether they are trusted.
Philippine’s Attitude to Uncertainty
It was perhaps the government’s perception of the uncertainty that led us to our first failure to gear up. Actions to slow the spread of the virus are more effective if they are reprimanded prior such as but not limited to banning mass gatherings and imposing travel restrictions from countries with confirmed cases. Nonetheless, it was too late, blaming the government’s negligence and having them accountable will be demanded, but for now, we need to navigate to the needs of the people.
The National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) has been in the forefront of people’s struggles and crafted immediate demands which include implementing immediate medical solutions and not military action. South Korea and China have shown the power of big data and mass-testing as a way of identifying cases and limiting the spread. As such, we need to ensure free and mass-testing services which will serve the interest of the vast majority and not those in power.
Structure and Competence of Philippine’s Health Systems
Much less can we do for now to overhaul our healthcare system and improve it abruptly. But as NUSP also demanded, it is with great importance to re-channel the P4.5-billion confidential intelligence funds to health services and support and fund local scientists and health-workers. On this outbreak right now, it has exposed the incompetence of private hospital systems as they were optimized for fee-paying services, passing hugely the responsibility to public ones lacking the necessary resources.
People’s Trust to the Philippine Government
The pandemic has further sketched the caricatures of incompetent leaders who are socially distanced and detached from social realities. The imposition of social distancing can prevent virus transmission yet a privileged measure, as inequality is existing, and a burden to be braced by the poor. The government needs to channel its economic resources to support the poor families in times of need, especially those suffering from a ‘no work, no pay’ policy, imposing stringent price freezes and controlling the price of goods.
And to quote The Economist once again, “Worried voters may well have less of an appetite for the theatrical wrestling match of partisan politics. They need their governments to deal with the real problems they are facing—which is what politics should have been about all along.” As the Philippine government hurdles to more powers, may it not be a reason to hinder the free flow of information and open dialogue between its people, may it not surge an authoritarian rule. Dynamic response to the problem requires trust and constructive feedback from those who are grounded, and with first hand experience of the social and economic consequences of this pandemic. Let this be not the next failure of our government. But what can we expect?
The enemy is moving swiftly as the wind. As Sun Tzu said, “He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning may be called a heaven-born captain.” The Filipino people can’t afford another failure. The sky is bleeding red, and now we know it, the war has started, and we rally the people to combat.
“There are short days and long; the moon has its periods of waning and waxing,” Sun Tzu would reckon. After this pandemic, when all is well, the masses will take revenge and demand accountability to the government’s failure, but now, we cooperate with vigilance./www.panaytoday.net
* Writer Harley Davidson Regua is an alumnus of University of the Philippines Visayas, and a former chairperson of the UPV College of Arts and Sciences Student Council and the League of Filipino Students UPV chapter.