Tumultuous is not even a word that would suffice what our country has gone through this year.
The economy has slumped to its worst in recent memory, leaving business close and many out of a job. More than 400,000 Filipinos have been infected with the dreaded coronavirus with more than 8,500 dead.
And politics is in its worst state, with a more polarized discourse and divisive governance. But Christmas, as they say, goes on.
In his latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti (an Italian phrase which translates to “All Brothers”), Pope Francis reflects on pandemics and other calamities in history.
He first described the pandemic as one that has “momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all.”
Francis further adds, quoting his Extraordinary Moment of Prayer last March, that “the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about appearances, has fallen away…that we are brothers and sisters of one another.”
“The façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about appearances, has fallen away…that we are brothers and sisters of one another.” – Pope Francis
Year of Solidarity
Indeed, there has been no better time for solidarity than this year. In January, the unexpected eruption of Taal Volcano displaced thousands living in and around Taal Lake from their homes in an instant. Immediately, help poured from different parts of the country. But the eruption of Taal was just the prequel to a long year of hardship and suffering.
In March, we saw an unprecedented and sharp turn of events that have led us to where we are now. The community quarantine—one of the longest in the world—is now nearing its ninth month.
Francis observes that despite our “hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all.”
One example comes to mind. The President, who has had a lot of airtime during the quarantine period, has more often than not instigated divisive speech instead of rallying the country to beat the coronavirus. He has often stirred the conversation to him and his controversial pronouncements, which are usually politically incorrect at best and lies at worst.
Francis warns that degeneration into an “unhealthy populism” wherein “individuals are able to exploit politically a people’s culture, under whatever ideological banner, for their own personal advantage or continuing grip on power.”
The guise under which politicians operate, using their donations on the one hand as an excuse while fully waging the mechanisms of patronage politics on the other, has been exploited because of much-needed help during the duration of the quarantine period. They take advantage of a helpless populace who are left with nothing but to beg at their feet as if they were giving out their own money—at the advantage of their own political survival.
Finally, Francis emphasizes the need to change the structures that have long been upheld. He warns that “[t]he marketplace, by itself cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith.”
He further says that neoliberalism “simply reproduces by itself resorting to magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’”.
The pandemic and its debilitating effects will leave a mark on our country’s economic and political history, but it should not just remain a narrative that has negatively impacted us. It should serve as an ultimate lesson of what needs to be done so that when a similar crisis happens in the future, we will be more prepared.
And the answers are not far-fetched from what has been touted all along: accessible healthcare, better and more sustainable jobs, more help for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), and, most importantly, investing in the Filipino youth through education that not only seeks to produce better grades, but also one that encourages critical thinking, among many others.
The government only needs to listen intently, sans propaganda, and motherhood statements.
About the Author
Edward Joseph H. Maguindayao is a graduate student at the University of the Philippines – Diliman.