“Humanity” and all the goodness around empathy and charity sound nice on paper but, eventually, people and the rest of the world with clear pathways to the future move on. Those that are at risk of being left behind — the chronic poor, the sick and dying, and the not-so-smart — while entitled to some extent to the support of the “more fortunate” are faced with grim options. Grim as these options may be, the “well off” also have their limits. Empathy is not an infinite resource. At some point one needs to look out for Number One.
That the Philippines is in the situation that it is in today is not surprising. Even back in mid-April, the prognosis was clearly stark for the country and its enormous population of more than 100 million.
The haves with many options to draw from will continue to encourage compliance to the measures in place to stop the spread of the disease. The have-nots with few options — and even fewer things to lose — will, at some point, decide that getting back to the daily grind outdoors is worth the risk of catching the disease. It’s simple, really. Ultimately, complying to the lockdown will be a cost-benefit analysis.
It’s not much different from the decision making the average jeepney driver makes everyday. For the typical jeepney driver, it is a daily choice between driving a barely-roadworthy vehicle with faulty brakes while breathing in Manila’s toxic atmosphere or seeing himself and his family starve to death. It’s a no-brainer. When the novelty of the novel coronavirus wears out and the Philippines’ teeming masses decide that, between social distancing and making a living, choosing the latter is a no-brainer, the threat of acquiring COVID-19 becomes the equivalent of just another day risking life and limb driving a jeepney.
Is it the government’s fault that the Philippines now exhibits the worst track record of handling this pandemic? It is easy to argue that and the Opposition, thanks to their habitual lazy thinking and no-platform situation, works within that easy space. The fact is, the Philippines had long been ill-equipped to manage even normal public health concerns. Just the fact of its unreliable water supply and a waste management system that routinely dumps refuse into the Philippines’ waterways and coastal areas already makes the country a massive ticking health bomb.
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The biggest issue of all is population. We are talking here an enormous population when measured against economic capacity. More importantly, the value of life in the Philippines is a confronting function of the inescapable law of supply-and-demand. More supply crushes commodity prices. The medieval attitudes towards health and safety proving this can be seen everywhere — a fact called that out too in mid-April.
Open manholes, sewage bubbling up at their front doors, hanging by the fingers off jeepneys and buses on their commutes to and from work, dining on pagpag, and even pimping their own kids to paedophiles — where does COVID-19 rank against those dangers working Filipinos eat for breakfast everyday? Very likely very much the same way a paper cut stacks up against a broken arm. In the long run COVID-19 will be just another one of those things that form par for the course in Filipinos’ lives.
People don’t care? That’s because care, like empathy, is a finite resource spread across 100 million warm bodies. This is why the field of statistics was invented — because only a practical — a clinical — way is essential when regarding enormous numbers. Indeed, as I said back then…
In fact [rich people have] never seen life the way poor people do — which is why the Philippines’ elite cocoon themselves in their chi chi gated subdivisions and chauffeur their kids to schools rather than encourage them to take public transport. COVID-19 will just be another wedge that insulates the rich from the poor. To the already high perimeter walls of the rich’s gated communities will be added more measures to socially-distance themselves from the rest of the Philippines.
The average Filipino shouldn’t take it personally when they are regarded as a statistic. Because most Filipinos are poor, live in dense “informal” settlements, and have few options, how’d they fare and behave in a pandemic such as this is quite predictable. Back-of-the-envelope elementary school statistics back in April painted the picture we are now seeing today. It’s not rocket science.
So here’s the bottom line folks: Told ya so.
The Opposition are, quite simply, being dishonest in the way they sustain their shrill “activism” but offer no solution. That’s because there is no solution. COVID-19 will ravage through the Philippines just as typhoons that hit the islands year in and year out do the same job — because Filipinos, left to their devices, lack the means to save themselves.
There’s a silver lining to all this, of course. We can take some interesting lessons from English history where at one time English labour was so valuable following the decimation of her majesty’s population by the plague, that her feudal administrators at the time actually had to implement a maximum wage law to curb skyrocketing labour costs. This, from The History of England – Foundation by Peter Ackroyd…
Yet the pestilence had slow but permanent effects on English society. The shortage of labour [as a result of the population decline] had the immediate result of increasing both the level of wages and the chances of employment. The phenomenon of the landless or impoverished peasant wholly disappeared. But the rising demands of the working people who had survived, their worth now doubled by the epidemic, provoked a reaction from the landowners and magnates. The knights of the shires, in particular, perceived a threat to good order.
An Ordinance of Labourers was passed by a parliament in 1349, forbidding employers to pay more for labour than they had before the pestilence. The same Act deemed that it was illegal for an unemployed man to refuse work. The measures were not realistic. Many workers and their families could simply move to another district and to a more generous employer who was willing to ignore the law. Some migrated to towns, for example, where there was great demand for manual labourers such as masons and carpenters. A ploughman might become a tiler. More than enough work was available.
Many younger people now possessed their own holdings of land. And the best land did not remain vacant for long. There had once been too many farmers and labourers working too little soil, but now they were dispersed over the countryside.
The real lesson here is this: Never waste a good crisis. There will always be winners just as we are now seeing the millions of losers in this latest “natural” disaster hitting the Philippines. The solution may not be the solution wokedom was looking for but, one way or another, a new world will emerge out of this blip in history we are currently living through. History celebrates winners. Losers, on the other hand, will occupy a bit of token space in the small print of the world’s history books. The Philippines needs to decide which part of those books she wants to see the story of her people told.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.