A stranded Philippines

Filipino translation; Bisaya translation

In my last column, I wrote about the special Social Weather Stations (SWS) May 4-10, 2020 Covid-19 Mobile Phone Survey which reported that 83% of Filipinos saw their quality of life deteriorate in May 2020 from the year before. This was the worst finding on this question in the 37-year series of 135 SWS surveys, breaking the previous record 62% who felt the same way in June 2008 in the last years of the Macapagal Arroyo presidency.

In the same survey, conducted among working-age Filipinos (15 years old and above), SWS also found 43% expecting their quality-of-life to worsen (termed by SWS as “Pessimists”), versus 24% expecting it to stay the same, and 24% expecting it to improve (“Optimists”) in the next 12 months. This is also the worst finding on this question in SWS surveys, breaking the previous record 34% in March 2005.

According to SWS,  “Net Optimism is rarely negative . . .  Negative ratings in 1984, 2000, and 2005 were associated with political unrest in the late Marcos-era, the impeachment crisis of Joseph Estrada, and the controversial 2004 election of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.” It also observes, “The last time the score was negative was in June 2008 at –6. Thereafter, the score has been positive in all 46 surveys between September 2008 and December 2019. Moreover, all scores have been high (+20 to +29) or better since September 2009.”

Why are Filipinos seeing their situation so negatively?

It’s not just the pandemic. It’s also because of the government response to COVID-19, characterized by ineptitude as I wrote last Tuesday.

This ineptitude is illustrated by another striking finding in the SWS survey –that 5.4% of working-age Filipinos were stranded by quarantines, estimated to be about 4.1 million Filipinos stranded based on the 2020 projected population of 75.8 million working-age persons.

Imagine what such stranding did to these individuals and their families. Imagine their misery and suffering. Imagine being Michelle Silvertino, stranded for days in Pasay, sick and abandoned, eventually dying.

The face of Silvertino with the images of EJK victims like Kian de los Santos will be the indelible images of the worst of the Duterte administration, in the same way that the Mamasapano and Ampatuan massacres will be the lasting images of the worst of the Aquino and Arroyo administrations.

The scandalous and unjust way the government is dealing with jeepney drivers and operators is an example also of government ineptitude. That is a social volcano right there and when that explodes, God help us all.

The country is badly stranded. Look at what is happening in Cebu where more doctors and nurses are needed but they are sent more police and soldiers and where Governor touts harmful remedies to the public. Just go to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and pity the OFWs and locally stranded individuals exposed to  the elements. Instead of working overtime to solve these problems, Congress prioritizes the passage of a bad anti-terror bill and members of the House of Representatives files a bill renaming the airport out of hatred of a national hero.

There are of course bright spots in the Senate. I follow avidly several Senators – Pia Cayetano, Sonny Angara, Grace Poe, Nancy Binay, Joel Villanueva, Win Gatchalian, Kiko Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, and Leila de Lima – and I can only admire their fortitude and determination to move forward with their work as legislators. I am particularly cheering for the success of Senator Cayetano’s advocacy for bicycle lanes and admire very much the strength of character of Angara (who has tested positive with coronavirus), Villanueva (who lost a sister), and the unjustly detained De Lima whose personal circumstances have been challenging to say the least.

In the House of Representatives, kudos to the Makabayan Bloc and to opposition stalwarts like Edsel Lagman and my own representative Kit Belmonte. Their disciplined fiscalization work and commitment to public interest have been impressive.

In the executive branch, one bright light has been the Bangsamoro. The decisive and visionary leadership of Chief Minister Murad, assisted by competent and hardworking cabinet members like Interior and Local Government Minister Naguib Sinarimbo and Minister of Social Services Raissa Jajurie has been pivotal. Their excellent performance in this crisis is the best proof that creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was the right thing to do.

Finally, the Supreme Court has done a good job in leading the judiciary in this time of crisis. The recent virtual oath taking of new lawyers, which I will write about next week, illustrates this adaptability.

There is way out of the deep hole we are in and it does not have to include Duterte’s ouster. On that, I agree with VP Leni Robredo. But the Duterte administration must abandon its top-down, Manila-centric, militaristic, and blame-the-people-who-are-pasaway approach. Instead, they must listen, build consensus, be adaptive and imaginative, and unite the citizenry. Then we can move forward.

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