People are now lamenting the sad social divide supposedly laid bare as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages Philippine society. This comes across as mere quaint virtue signalling within the current context — one that provides fertile environment for that sort of behaviour.
The fact is, the social divide has always been there for all to behold even in the best of times. Even in the midst of a festive Christmas season in Manila, for example, street children eat, sleep, and work amidst the bustle of chi chi shoppers taking selfies with their haul. While truly progressive countries boast rich and poor alike taking the same public transport facilities in their daily commutes, Filipino motorists take to the roads they feel their SUVs are entitled to while the peasants scrunch themselves into dilapidated buses, jeepneys and trains. Indeed, more than a Century after the Spanish empire let go of its biggest far eastern colony, its people continue to latch onto the very same emergent social divide that was an outcome of the island natives’ response to colonial rule.
Calling this a “social divide” is putting it mildly in the Philippine context. No other reminder of just how quaintly glib this euphemism is stands as starkly as the fortified residential enclaves that the Philippines’ upper middle class and above circles inhabit. Within it, the chi chi classes have long permanently social-distanced themselves from the majority population and its permanent pandemic of social diseases — lack of discipline, unsanitary practices, and superstitious victim mentality.
The emotional public laments and the collective sighs of frustration noisily broadcast over social media nowadays are just begging to be given the obvious response — told ya so.
The reality is that people have time to go cluckity cluck about the ins and outs of the COVID-19 crisis because it happens to be one that is unfolding in slow motion compared to the flash disasters more familiar to Filipinos — the routine typhoons that visit the Philippines that kill thousands of Filipinos every year, for example. The only difference the COVID-19 pandemic presents is that it is unprecedented in its scale and the behaviour of the pathogen itself and, as such, has taken much of the world up a steep learning curve. However, in the context of the overall way Filipinos “prepare” for known risks — such as the typhoons that cross their islands every year — it is easy to see why Philippine society is dismally failing its most vulnerable members.
The fact is, the Philippines remains woefully prepared to deal with known — even routine — risks, so expecting a world-class response to an unprecedented event like the COVID-19 outbreak is a stretch. Much of the community risk mitigation measures and emergency response capabilities available are managed at local levels — which is why we see a lot of grandstanding local government officials like Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto each with their own little fans clubs backing them with social media cheer rallies nowadays. More importantly, the best of these measures and facilities are maintained within the richest residential enclaves many of which are enjoy private armies and emergency services.
The class divide has always been there and is an outcome of an equally stark thinking divide. At the upper end is a class with much to lose and a commensurate capability put in place strong measures to secure all those assets at risk. At the lowest end is the overwhelming majority of Filipinos with nothing to lose and this is mirrored by a commensurate lack of foresight and resolve to prepare for rainy days.
As usual, times of disaster are occassions for the all-too-familiar victim mentality of the underclasses and the commensurate virtue signalling of the “woke” products of chi chi private schools to complement that. Ultimately nothing of any lasting consequence comes out of any of these — nothing learned from the experience that could be applied to the next crisis. The only thing going for victims of what could be preventable catastrophes is an enormous supply of noisy “for the people rhetoric” that serves not much more than providing a temporary opiate for both people impacted by disaster and the chi chi communities of latte-sipping wokes who find comfort in self-inflicted emotional blackmail.
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