Holy Week has come and gone in the Philippines, but whether Christian, Muslim, or non-believer, the Filipino’s Calvary is continuing and its torments multiplying.
Only for a few brief moments in this country’s troubled history has there been any respite from it. The defeat of Spanish colonial forces by the armies of the Republic by the end of the 19th century was one instance. But it was all too fleeting as the local gentry’s treachery and collaboration with US colonial interests frustrated the Revolution’s promise of national independence and social change.
Another was the overthrow of the Marcos terror regime in 1986, in the aftermath of which everything including the realization of those aspirations seemed possible. But that moment was equally brief, as the restoration of dynastic rule put an end to the EDSA promise of an Easter-like rebirth.
The country has since been ruled by incompetent and corrupt regimes dominated by the successors of the Spanish period principalia who have made the Philippines the most pathetic failure in Asia since it supposedly regained its independence. As a consequence of dynastic rule, the same injustice, misery, and uncertainty that defined the lives of their forebears still haunt the poorest 19% of the population and the millions more in danger of joining that ever growing legion because of a breadwinner’s illness, loss of employment, or death.
But as used to it as many presumably are, there is now every indication that the country has entered the worst leg so far of the Filipino Via Dolorosa.
The Philippines has once again overtaken Indonesia, a country with 200 million inhabitants, as the Southeast Asian country with the most numerous cases of COVID-19 during Year Two of the pandemic. It is now 14th in the world in the list of most affected countries. As of Wednesday, April 7, nearly 800,000 people across the archipelago had been afflicted with the virus as the rate of daily infections surged to 10,000-plus daily and with over 13,000 deaths.
As disturbing as those numbers already are, one study suggests that they may be even higher, since many cases and deaths go unreported, and given the tendency of the government to fudge the numbers and the usual flaws in the country’s statistics-gathering capacity.
The administration again blamed the victims and claimed that the surge in infections is due to the afflicted’s failure to follow health protocols. As if it were as infallible as the Pope, it won’t admit that a number of its own decisions, among them the reopening of cinemas, malls, and other public places as well as the easing of domestic and international tourism requirements at the urging of its economic bureaucrats were most responsible for boosting the daily infection rate from less than 2,000 last January to over 8,000 on March 29.
That Holy Monday, President Duterte again placed the National Capital Region (NCR) and the surrounding provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) lockdown until Easter Sunday on April 4, but extended it until the 11th. It is as if 12 long months had not passed since he put the country under the longest and most militarized lockdown on the planet last year. During his March 29 television address to the nation Mr. Duterte indeed said that the Philippines is “back to square one” despite his earlier claim, made through his spokesperson and other officials, that government response to the contagion has been “excellent.”
He was wrong on both counts. With the economy in recession; the inflation rate at an all-time high and rising; 4.4 million workers unemployed and their families destitute and hungry; the educational system in shambles; the country’s supplies of vaccines far, far below the 140 million doses (at two doses per person) needed for the 100 million-plus population to achieve herd immunity; and the slow-as-molasses, red tape-hampered administration of the limited vaccine doses available — with all these, the more accurate description of the country’s present state is that it is back to square zero, and it is because the regime response to the pandemic has been the exact opposite of excellent.
She waited for an entire year to say what has been obvious since Day One of the pandemic to anyone with any discernment, but even his political ally Imee Marcos pointed out two weeks ago that Mr. Duterte should have put doctors and public health experts in charge of the regime’s response to the COVID-19 threat rather than retired generals.
Ferdinand Marcos’ eldest daughter also noted the perplexing absence of logic and common sense behind a Department of Health (DoH)-instigated Executive Order she said Mr. Duterte was being made to issue that would have prevented the private sector — the country’s biggest corporations and chambers of commerce among others — from importing vaccines into the country despite their commitment to turn over to the government 50% of whatever vaccine doses they order.
But unreason, the absence of a national plan, the regime’s unexplained preference for Chinese vaccines to the virtual exclusion of vaccines from other sources, and the sheer incompetence of its bureaucrats are not the only characteristics of what passes for its response to the worst threat to the country and its long-suffering people since World War II. There is as well the same bureaucracy’s sense of entitlement and exceptionalism, and its abuse of power.
Previously mostly unremarked, for example, is the significance of the online news site Rappler’s finding that even in the administrative headquarters of a number of government agencies, the health protocols every citizen has to observe on pain of being fined and even arrested are not being followed by their bosses, some of whom have even held parties in their offices to celebrate such occasions as birthdays.
As a result of those infractions, a large percentage of the surge of infections in the capital is from some of the NCR offices of the very same government charged with containing the COVID-19 contagion. Perhaps as unaware of it as he sometimes is of even the contents of some of the documents he has signed (such as the Indemnity Fund Bill), or because he thinks his overpaid bureaucrats are entitled to do what they please, Mr. Duterte addressed this issue in the same way that he did his current police chief’s partying last year: he ignored it. Erring officials resign and are punished, and even kill themselves out of shame in other countries; in the Philippine regime of impunity, they’re promoted.
Not only during the pandemic has Mr. Duterte’s distressing watch been weighed, measured and found wanting. More than any of its predecessors, the regime has demonstrated how ineffectual and how far less capable of good governance is the Philippine power elite compared to those of other countries of Asia such as Singapore and Malaysia.
But while he might very well be amongst the worst if not the worst head of State this country has ever had, solely replacing him with someone else will not end the troubles Filipino flesh has been heir to for decades.
Dynastic rule is the cross the people of this country have long had to bear. Come 2022, together with the question of who will replace Mr. Duterte and his ilk, whether that someone will just be another member of the same political class responsible for the suffering and the terror-filled lives of the teeming millions or not will matter even more in ending, or at the very least, in mitigating, the Filipino Calvary.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro).