I used to hate the term “bahala na”. This single two-word term encapsulates the whole trouble with the Philippines — a society of people who habitually hope for the best without doing their best. On the other hand, bahala na as a national philosophy makes some sort of perverse sense in a time when everything we had come to know to be sensible had gone out the window. The idea of a “new normal” to describe the period “post-COVID19” itself does not make sense for now for two reasons.
Firstly, nobody has any idea when the “post-COVID19” period will begin. Pretty much the only thing that will herald that hypothetical era will be a vaccine. Forecasts around when these will become available vary widely which only highlights the uncertainty ahead. But, even then, vaccines against coronaviral diseases which include the common cold and flus are elusive. The most recent reported breakthroughs are measures that are “aimed at enhancing the immune response and stimulating high levels of neutralising antibodies” which is fundamentally different from ones that induce immune responses specific to a pathogen (such as vaccines against smallpox and polio). This means that the likelihood of a COVID-19 re-infection may be reduced but not to a level comparable to vaccines against the latter diseases.
The idea that there is a “new normal post-COVID19” is therefore prayerful wishing at best for now. The fact is, coming to my second point, there really is no substitute for sensible living in whatever world we face whether it was the “old” “pre-COVID” or the “new” “post-COVID” world. Healthy living and building strong personal constitutions are the foundations of a robust immune system. If the best “vaccine” in development to combat COVID-19 is essentially just some sort of vitamin that delivers a general boost to the immune system fundamentally the same as those “cold and flu tablets” anyone can buy off the shelf, then there are lessons that can be taken from stuff we all presumably learned in kindergarten — get enough sleep, maintain a balanced diet, wash your hands frequently, and don’t be poor.
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One general lesson from all this is that more affluent societies will always be in a better position to deal with crises most of which are natural and unpredictable just like those all-too-familiar typhoons and, yes, just like pandemics such as these. You therefore need stockpiles of resources to be prepared — lots of cash in the bank, an ability to produce in your own backyard what you consume, and commitments that you can service.
Many “activists” decry how the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic “hit the poor the hardest”. Well, no shit, right? The same can be said of just about any sort of aversity that comes around the corner. But, see, the whole definition of poverty becomes even more relevant in times like these.
Poverty is a habitual entering into commitments one is inherently unable to honour.
The fact is, the Philippines is not in a position to effectively deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in an equitable manner in much the same way it never actually ever had the capability to deal with any general disaster to begin with. When Haiyan hit the Philippines back in 2013, the country depended on massive amounts of foreign assistance to deal with its aftermath. That option is no longer available as even its old Papa Bear former colonial master, erstwhile the world’s mightiest nation, has its hands full dealing with its own internal COVID-19 challenges.
What keeps the Philippines multi-dimensionally impoverished and its politics hopelessly paralysed is its untenable commitment to the massive emotional blackmail that is its enormous population of sub-productive citizens. When we recognise this to be the fundamental problem with the Philippines, the “solution” to any disaster is really one that only hindsight can offer — that we should not have committed to breeding such an enormous number of mouths to feed and — when said disasters strike — care for. An enormous population requires lots of technology and infrastructure to sustain. Anyone equipped with even just elementary school level history and economics “expert” knowledge can see that those are two endeavours that Philippine society has exhibited practically zero track record of excellence in.
What then given this reality about the Philippines? Well, bahala na. As usual “hope” in a “new normal” for the Philippines “post-COVID19” lies in stuff only foreign resources can provide — a vaccine being developed in a laboratory in a country Filipinos only see on TV and money they can only access by pandhandling across vast oceans. Within its own islands, there is only emotional blackmail which, at best, induces the quaint poetic appeals to “social justice” the usual “activists” and “thought leaders” of a discredited partisan community and religious oligarchy wax over Zoom “webinars”.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.