Ordinary Filipinos’ cry: ‘I can’t breathe!’ | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

In view of the looming passage into law of the terror bill, I declare that I am a law-abiding senior citizen, not a terrorist, in expressing my views below.

With other like-minded citizens who have attained some degree of mature objectivity, I note the following major accomplishments of our government while we were helplessly locked down in the past three months:

The National Telecommunications Commission successfully shut down ABS-CBN, the country’s largest media network—a primary source of news, information, social commentary and entertainment—at the worst possible time for our people. As a diffident House of Representatives debates the final fate of the network, congratulations to the perpetrators and the beneficiaries of the closure, whoever they are.

Proponents in government have revived the push for federalism, under the purported umbrella of Charter change, the latest shelved version of which benefits elected incumbents through term extensions, repartitioning of districts and regions, and proposes an expanded bureaucracy.

A regional trial court has convicted Maria Ressa, chief executive of news site Rappler, together with a former associate, Reynaldo Santos, of the crime of cyberlibel. At the same time, the President’s spokesperson assured the Filipino people that he was a staunch supporter of press freedom.

Both houses of Congress expeditiously passed the highly controversial terror bill of 2020 and have submitted it for approval by the President amid widespread appeals and protests against its enactment. Respected legal experts here and abroad have pointed out provisions in the law which pose potential dangers to the constitutional and legal rights of Filipino citizens.

With all these happening while virtually immobilized by the nationwide lockdown, the ordinary citizen can only gasp, “I can’t breathe!”

Longest continuous lockdown

To cap everything, on the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) front, here’s what the government has been able to accomplish:

After three and a half months under various degrees of community quarantine (equivalent to more than seven cycles of the standard quarantine time of 14 days), the longest continuous lockdown of any country, the curve of new infections has not flattened. But the “feel good” press briefings emphasize the lengthening of the “doubling time” of infections and a significant decline in death rates.

The originally announced modest goal of 20,000 daily tests hasn’t been achieved after four months (we’re only doing about half the number), during much of which most Filipinos had to stay in their homes with no means of livelihood.

Now the new target per the Department of Health (DOH) is 1.68 million (1.5 percent of the population) tested by the end of July (Philippine Star, June 16). Quite late, but good luck.

The release of substantial amounts of funds to combat the pandemic appears to have spawned new opportunities for corruption and irregularities which the government still has to effectively check.

From allegations of abuses by local government unit officials (scores of whom are presently under investigation) in the distribution of the Social Amelioration Program cash assistance, to overpricing of protective gear, health-care equipment and materials, the June 18 headline of the Inquirer announced, “Ombudsman probes DOH mess in virus response.”

In a separate news article in the same issue, the Presidential spokesperson was also quoted: “Roque: PhilHealth fund woes due to corruption.” Somehow, with all these allegations, investigations and finger-pointing, one can’t help feeling that it is the already suffering citizens who are getting the short end of the stick.

What people need

On the whole, our people have been cooperative despite their hardships. But they need more accurate, regularly communicated information going forward, especially in those areas directly affecting their daily lives, starting with the different aspects of easing the resumption of their livelihood.

The televised regular briefings by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which helped the worst-hit state in the United States emerge as a shining example of the most dramatic recovery, would be a good model for the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases. But then, in New York they know who’s clearly in charge.

Unlike COVID-19, which exploded in our midst like a bomb, the progress of repressive acts is gradual and subtle. The public is made to believe that punitive actions taken against particular individuals or institutions are due to specific legal offenses or crimes they have committed. When it comes to legislation, society is assured that a legally controversial and imprecisely worded draft law, open to wide interpretation by the implementing authority, will not lead to abuse.

But the multispiked coronavirus and the many-faceted repression virus are similar in one important way.

The former is most effective in a weakened immune system, and invades the most vulnerable organs of the human body, causing eventual failure. The latter works most effectively when the independent organs of government are weakened over time through a variety of ways—a coterie of sycophants, perks, career advancement, excessive exercise of authority, pressure and even intimidation. The result is the same—systemic failure.

While it is our duty as citizens always to be on guard in protecting our constitutional and legal rights, it is really our leaders in the three coequal branches of government who have the prime duty to enforce the check-and-balance mechanism of our particular democratic structure.

As our not-too-distant history has painfully shown, the weakening or abdication by any one branch of its assigned role becomes an open invitation for encroachment by another branch, leading to a de facto authoritarian environment and the unchecked spread of the repression virus. —CONTRIBUTED

“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.”

—Leonardo da Vinci

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