By TONYO CRUZ
In his latest national address, the president compared quarantined Filipinos to Bilibid prisoners.
Maybe, Filipinos and Bilibid prisoners now know what the term of “loss of liberty” means, but the similarities end there. For unlike the convicts at Bilibid, Filipinos are not guilty of any crime.
True, many go out daily but not to flout the quarantine, only to buy basic necessities, get the paltry emergency aid, and to cooperate with other citizens in acts of social solidarity.
The President was again evidently angry at “pasaway” citizens, even threatening to impose martial law if we don’t obey the rules. Interestingly, he was not angry at Koko Pimentel who mingled with doctors and patients at a major hospital, and shopped in a big supermarket when the rules clearly state that he should be isolated as he waited for the release of his test results.
Back at the Palace, the voluble foreign affairs secretary revealed rapid testing being done repeatedly on those entering the premises, a matter the Presidential Security Group has confirmed.
The narrative of the supposed “pasaway” citizens is an old trick. Many still fall for it. But of course, people now have the time to think and to review recent events. And by people, we refer to workers eager to go back to work who were promised by the receive both relief goods and emergency aid. People who remember the railroading of the emergency powers law granting the President all the special powers he sought and P275-billion in taxpayer funds to spend. People who were aghast that the President refused to block all flights from China because he could not hurt the feelings of his China friends until it was too late.
Remember when theP told workers that they could still go to work, and when his interior secretary said all they needed was a certificate of employment to be able to coast through the checkpoints? After millions scrambled to get the certificates, they proved useless as there were no mass transportS to ferry them to work, and the police disregarded the certificates their interior secretary said were supposedly sufficient.
Even the frontliners were denied any means of transport, and it took the initiatives of the “reklamador” vice president and concerned citizens for all the world to see the absurdity of frontliners forced to walk to hospitals and back home.
If there were no “pasaway” citizens, we would not have seen the President and his administration forced to correct the many errors and mistakes.
Every day, the government conducts multiple “press briefings” which inundate the media and the public’s mind with piecemeal information — an apparent attempt to make it look like a lot is being done to save the country from the coronavirus pandemic. The President and his administration could congratulate themselves every day and every night, but that does not take away the unease and stress felt by millions of workers who don’t know if they still have work to go back to or, at the very least, if there’s any emergency aid coming to them at all.
In one of his earlier addresses, the President promised that everyone would receive aid, material or financial. But when the administration started to roll out the details of the cash aid, it quickly became apparent that a lot of people are disqualified from receiving any. And when those who managed to get the cash aid or obtained a little help from pawnshops go out to buy basic necessities from public markets, they are dubbed “pasaway.”
The frontliners still go back to work every day, despite all the risks. We have yet to hear of any healthcare worker refusing to serve. Would we be “pasaway” if, for instance, we echo their demand for the regularization of contractual healthcare workers and to provide them adequate PPEs and allowances? Up to now, the government has failed or refused to fill up 13,058 vacant but available plantilla positions under the DOH. That could mean up to eight healthcare workers for each of the country’s 146 cities and 1,488 municipalities.
Citizens continue to do their part: Many continue to produce face masks, face shields, aerosol boxes and hazmat suits because they know fully well the shortages in hospitals. People jump partisan lines to expose transparent acts of ineptitude and negligence. And to the delight of many citizens, we see shining examples of activism, excellence, and compassion among mayors.
Filipinos have been cooperative. We have stayed home. Many are eager to go back to work or to school. But public health is important, and so we give the President the benefit of the doubt, allow him to lead, and also do our civic duty to vigilantly watch what’s being done or not. He now has all the powers, the armed forces, the police, and the money. He can’t blame anyone else now. Bilibid or not.