Kudos to the Philippine government for its handling of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. By now, it is safe to assume that the Philippines has hurdled Valentine’s Day and avoided further spread of the virus, perhaps a sign of maturity for the Filipino people, and actual practice of the guidelines for prevention of COVID-19 issued by the Department of Health (DoH).
We are reminded of the famous book written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” about a love affair set in the Caribbean that happened during a cholera outbreak. It was described as a time of immense and constant fear, but also as a time of love and passion. In the end, the reader learns that the symptoms of love are perhaps the same as those for cholera, for one can suffer and learn of purpose from both matters. We call on Filipino writers to look into writing about love in the time of COVID-19.
While the outbreak is not over yet, the Philippines can certainly be said to have reacted quickly, in precise fashion, not just to physically contain and quarantine those who were infected, including those patients under observation, but also the nation’s fears and concerns. There was no panicky response that elicited a frantic and anxious populace. There was no ransacking of goods, except for masks, the prices of which capitalist pigs marked up, and the overall outlook by the country was of mild concern, which was addressed by the authorities.
The downplay of the virus by the country’s leader was risky. He turned out to be correct all along. President Rodrigo Duterte, in a taped message aired last Wednesday, asked Filipinos to “remain calm, vigilant, and responsible.” This was exactly what was needed to be heard by everyone. The President added, “I also ask for your trust and cooperation, support as we face the challenge. Let us unify together as one nation. This challenge can be overcome.”
Calculated decisions that appeared to have been sat upon, but were really subject to intense scrutiny and analysis, turned out to be the right ones. The travel ban on incoming planes from China was well-taken. Taiwan was not spared in view of the One China Policy, which makes perfect sense, but was later lifted in view of reduced threats. Other travel bans involving Hong Kong and Singapore are being looked into but are still being studied as of this moment.
The Philippines also did not run out of facilities for this problem. The Southeast Asian Games housing in Capas, Tarlac was immediately put into good use for its usage as quarantine zone for Filipinos repatriated from ground zero in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Aside from this, the government readied the 10,000-bed drug rehabilitation facility in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, and Caballo Island near Corregidor Island, which previously served as quarantine zones for Filipino peacekeepers back in 2014 who went to Ebola-stricken Liberia.
There still remain challenges — our countrymen who remain under observation in our government hospitals, the Filipinos in the quarantined cruise ship in Japan, and the thousands of overseas Filipino workers in countries that have infected citizens. All government offices, including local governments, continue to be hard at work in avoiding the further spread of COVID-19, and in bringing home Filipinos from places hit hard by the infection.
Meanwhile, the Philippines has to look into the effects of this pandemic, especially a possible downturn in the economy. It is no secret that the Philippines is tied closely to the Chinese economy and even our local tourism should expect a huge dip. The government has no choice but to look for other avenues to recover lost income.
The DoH, Department of Tourism and the Department of the Interior and Local Government have issued a joint memorandum to encourage local tourism and encourage local governments to continue holding fiestas and other public events, provided precautionary measures are implemented. The President last week also called for the owners of the country’s airlines to promote local tourism.
Some commentators have criticized the government for cancelling the Visiting Forces Agreement at the worst time when a pivot to COVID-19 infected China is unavailing at this moment.
Everything happens for a reason, and this might be the time for the Philippines to realize true independence and support from its own citizens. Love in the time of COVID-19 may actually translate into absolute love and passion for one’s own country.