OF TREES AND FOREST
By FORMER SENATE PRESIDENT MANNY VILLAR
Former Senate President
It has been a turbulent first three months, to say the least.
The Philippines and the entire world have witnessed both natural and man-made disasters and crises at the start of this new decade. I bet a lot of people have been wondering when will all these stop. As we enter the second quarter of 2020, it’s turning out to be a first quarter we all just want to forget.
The year started with the conflict between the United States and Iran escalating when the former conducted a drone attack that killed Qasem Soleimani commander of Iran’s Quds Forces. Iran would later retaliate with missile attacks against US bases in Iraq. The world was terrified and the financial market was on its toes after a sudden but temporary surge in oil prices. Luckily the tension subsided.
Then on January 12, the picturesque Taal Volcano unleashed its fury, killing 39 people and displacing more than 400,000 residents. The ashfall it spewed reached the Calabarzon area as well as Metro Manila.
At the backdrop of the volcanic tremors was an emerging crisis that would shake the entire world. It actually began as we were bidding farewell to 2019 when Chinese health officials notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of pneumonia cases of unknown causes in Wuhan City, Hubei province, in China. WHO experts would later identify and name the viral cause as the novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19.
Our extreme mobility and borderless world meant that the virus, which can be transmitted through human contact, would have an easy way of crossing borders. It would not take long before countries outside China reported their own COVID-19 cases.
The Philippines reported its first COVID-19 case on January 30, 2020, and its first death due to the deadly virus on February 2. The first local transmission was reported on March 7 prompting government to impose community quarantine in the nation’s capital. President Rodrigo Duterte later placed the entire island of Luzon under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) limiting the movement of people in their communities.
It has been a dreadful first three months. And for residents of Metro Manila and Luzon and other parts of the country, it has been an anxious and frightful few weeks quarantined in our homes uncertain about the coming days ahead. I am sure that for many of us, our blood pressure increases a bit whenever the DOH reports new numbers of infections and deaths.
There are indications that the ECQ will be extended. And even when it is lifted it is certain that the impact of the virus will stay with us for a long time. In particular, the economic costs will certainly be devastating. But it is important to get our priorities straight. While government needs to exert efforts to protect the economy, our priority should be the safety and health of our people. Wealth lost is nothing compared to lives lost.
Do not despair, no matter how bleak our situation might seem. As a people, we have encountered obstacles and challenges in the past and we have emerged victorious. I have always believed that the heroism of our people shines brightest during the most difficult times. Just look at the doctors, nurses, and other health professionals, the police and military officers, workers in groceries, markets, pharmacies, and factories producing essentials and protective equipment, media professionals, OFWs, and ordinary Filipinos who put their lives on the line in order to serve the public.
We will conquer this virus. We will weather the storm. We will be victorious. And we will build back a better, more caring, and more prosperous society.