Freedom in the time of COVID

Published August 11, 2021, 6:00 AM

by Milwida Guevara

My early morning walks have been truly beneficial.  I feel stronger, lighter and   healthier.  Studies provide credence to how walking boosts one’s immunity and health. Walking for at least 30 minutes a day promotes stronger bones, better balance and reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. But the most significant joy we can get from walking is the space where our minds are freed from worries and open to reflection.  Listening to the rustle of leaves and the chirping of birds is truly a privilege.

But the third lockdown has taken this freedom away.  Jogging and walking outside our homes have been restricted, if not prohibited.  For the last several days, I have been playing a cat and mouse game with the street guards.  Like a prisoner escaping from her cell, I look around to see if guards are on the watch.    Like a child, I take delight in my temporary escape—only to be stopped by an unseen guard in the corner.  My temporary freedom is foiled by the strictest enforcement of the IATF regulations.

I had hoped that government would see that walking in an open space poses less health risk especially when wearing masks and practicing social distancing.  I can understand though that there are very few parks and open spaces in the city.  The probability is high that people would congregate in the very few oases and get infected.  Government must have thought that it is best to err in the side of caution.  Exemptions are difficult to implement and are iniquitous, generally, in favor of the wealthy.

I have had time to reflect that the loss of freedom of movement outside our homes may seem trivial compared to the “unfreedom” caused by repression and deprivation.  I feel ashamed for feeling sorry for myself.  Political prisoners like Senator de Lima have been languishing for their loss of freedom for years.  Certainly, I have no right to complain.  I take a moment to pray that they may be soon be freed from injustice and harm.

 I also think of the freedom that has been denied to journalists like Maria Ressa.  They have been doing us a great service through their courageous analysis and exposure of how we have been treated unfairly by government.  They are under constant threats of being red-tagged and arrested for the truth that they espouse.

 I also think of the lack of the lack of freedom from hunger of one third of Filipino children under the age of 5.  They are stunted and have not reached the height that is normal for their age. The number is more staggering in BARMM where nearly one-half of the children under 5, (45.25%) are stunted.   Stunting results from malnutrition and repeated infection. These children will never reach their potential because their physical and mental development is impaired.

 And there is the lack of freedom from unemployment.  As of May this year, 7.7% or 3.73 million Filipinos were out of work and had no income to provide for food and basic necessities of their families.  There were 5.49 million or 12.3% of the working population who wanted to find more jobs but there was none.  These figures would rise in the coming days with the restrictions on small establishments, vending on the streets, and provision of services.

And there is the freedom from ignorance which we have yet to attain.  I may be wrong, but 2 out of 10 children who enter grade 1 do not finish grade 6.  In BARMM, 6 out of 10 children do not complete elementary education.

We must certainly look beyond the “unfreedom” posed by  the lockdown to recognize how many of us have been held imprisoned by the lack of educational opportunities, inadequate  provision for education, the absence of the rule of law, and being short-changed by the leaders we elected.

We need to appreciate that our “unfreedom” is only from restrictions on mobility and travel.  We need to be disturbed by the reality that all around us, people are bound by chains of poverty, ignorance, incompetence, and scarcity.  Awareness should be the start of a sincere desire to be less self-centered, and greatly concerned to be the bigger man by empowering others.  Every little thing counts.  Every person matters.

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