By RJ NIETO
Despite the meteoric rise in the number of hospitalized Filipinos, we are still in the early days of the COVID-19 epidemic. However, it appears that this early in the game, our supplies are already running out.
Over the past several days, I have been busy linking both private and public hospitals to potential donors of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Masks, shields, goggles, overalls, these protect our brave medical frontliners from getting infected by the same persons they treat. At least nine doctors have died while I’m writing this piece, and some of their deaths could have been prevented if Health Secretary Francisco Duque spent less time giving himself a premature pat on the back and more in doing his actual job.
To help lessen the number of hospital cases, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a Luzon-wide Community Quarantine, which limits contact between people and thus decelerate the rate of infection.
But I guess Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel believes the law doesn’t apply to him.
Despite having been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, despite the confirmed COVID-19 tests of his fellow senators, and despite exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms himself, Pimentel still decided to go to Makati Medical Center, endangering the lives of workers in an already overburdened Philippine healthcare system.
The entire country, including Makati Med, was furious at Pimentel. But the oblivious Pimentel saw nothing wrong with what he did, as he granted media interview after media interview and defended his indefensible position. A day later, S&R confirmed he shopped for groceries in its Bonifacio Global City branch last week, to the horror of S&R’s patrons.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo was quick to defend Pimentel, saying, “It’s not his fault,” only to backtrack a day later, saying, “Any transgressor must be dealt with in accordance with law.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, said the government will not take the intiative to investigate and said these abnormal times call for more compassion on violators of the law.
Borrowing the words of George Orwell in his book Animal Farm, Panelo and Guevarra unwittingly reminded me that all Filipinos are equal, but some Filipinos are more equal than others.
Take the infamous case of truants in Laguna who, after getting caught breaking the community’s curfew, were detained in a dog cage. Or how about the case of homeless 69-year-old Dorothy Espejo, who Malate cops arrested for cursing at them?
Pimentel, a sitting senator who should’ve led by example, violated quarantine laws. Pimentel, a sitting senator who should’ve led by example, did not just hurt people’s feelings: he risked their lives.
Yes, the barangay officials were charged for inflicting inhuman punishment, and the homeless woman is likely to be freed. Still, the fact remains that the government’s knee-jerk reaction against poor citizens is heartbreakingly different from that against the Political and Economic Elite.
Makati Med’s management is probably afraid of retaliation from the political elite. I saw screenshots of supposed Viber groups of doctors where a Makati Med official asked for everyone’s help, should Pimentel or his dominant ruling party PDP-Laban exact revenge on that official for speaking out.
Sociopolitical inequality is not some newfangled thing, as most of us have been aware of it since we were little, and most of us are experience it every day.
But do we have to be so painfully reminded of it during this epidemic? Do we have to be reminded of our pitiful existence at a time when we already worry about losing not only our own lives? And not just our own lives, but also those of our loved ones?
The lockdown has been in effect for barely over a week, but we already see that many Filipinos have become restless, not just because they fear the virus, but also because they fear how they’ll stand up again, if and when they survive.
Do we need to see stunts like that of Pimentel? Do we need to hear words like those of Panelo’s and Guevarra’s? Do we need to be reminded, right now, that the Philippines is a federation of two states, the haves and have-nots?
The Filipino nation needs to unite now more than ever. What we want are government officials who inspire confidence, who can make the nation feel like that we have a pretty good shot at overcoming the viral enemy.
Even in the nation’s darkest hours, we see a public servant being his usual entitled self. Even in the nation’s darkest hours, we see members of the political and economic elite defending their own as they attack the rest.
Mr. President, the Filipino people do not deserve this right now. The Filipino people do not deserve this, ever.
Mr. President, what we deserve right now is leadership by example not just from you, but also from your men. We deserve that kind of leadership, all the time.
Mr. President, if the politicians around you choose to defend their fellow politicians, then I will defend the doctors.
Filipinos can benefit from fewer politicians, but the already suffering Filipinos will certainly suffer even more from fewer doctors.
And it just so happens that the leader of your own political party could have killed one, or maybe more.