Following the colossal collapse of their first opening campaign salvo, the ill-fated “1Sambayan” initiative, Filipinos are still holding their breath waiting for the Philippine Opposition’s next major brainwave. So far all we get is the usual noise — the same shrill whining over how the Philippines is coping with the 12-month-old COVID-19 pandemic. That “crisis” is now last year’s news. It’s become baked into the big cake that is most ordinary Filipinos’ wretched daily lives.
Indeed, in case the Opposition’s foremost “thought leaders” haven’t noticed yet, the COVID-19 pandemic has long been banalised. It takes its place amongst all the other historically-unsolved big problems that aren’t as newsworthy or as potent fodders for political grandstanding and mudslinging. It is on its way to becoming just another one of the poor’s problems that rich people can desensitise themselves to — just another “issue” they can externalise as they remain hunkered down in their chi chi fortified communities and enclaves.
13,000 COVID deaths you say? To put that in perspective, more than 10,000 died over just a week or two of Typhoon Haiyan’s visit in 2013 alone. None of the risks that expose possibly hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to death by typhoons and other natural calamities have been mitigated since then. This is not to mention the bigger number of Filipinos who succumb to preventable deaths — health issues and injuries that could be otherwise resolved by fast and competent emergency response times and adequate medical and health care infrastructure. There’s also all those accidents waiting to happen thanks to Philippine society’s renowned lack of regard for safety and preventive maintenance. Taken together across land, sea, and air transport and infrastructure, these will likely account for another ten thousand-odd lives at risk of preventable death.
The country’s health and emergency services, its maturity as far as safety awareness, the quality of its systems and engineering, and the state of military preparedness are not up to scratch and those things have never been cornerstones of any election campaign platform. In short they’ve long been problems stretching back in history through multiple Philippine governments. What then makes this incompetent response to COVID-19 any different from all the other astounding displays of incompetence when faced with emergencies and adversities exhibited by the Philippines’ state services and collective community responses over much of its history since being granted independence by the United States in 1946?
The short of it is that taken in the context of the full landscape of preventable deaths that Filipinos are exposed to because of traditions of incompetence that go back decades, the COVID-19 crisis contributes a mere rounding-off error.
Given all of the above realities, here is the important question: Is the Opposition’s monomanic focus on COVID-19 as the lynchpin for their campaign against the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte — and a cornerstone of their campaign for 2022 — good political strategy? Put it another way, do Filipinos really care about the way the Opposition presume to whine about all this on their behalf? If not, then the Opposition are well advised to come up with something better than COVID-19 Crybabyism to use as fodder for their political campaigns. See, the investment of time, energy, and capital the Opposition plow into making COVID-19 an election “issue” will likely not yield the only really important returns here — converted voters.
On the other hand, if Filipinos do care about the COVID-19 government response and see it as a key factor in who and what they decide to vote for in 2022, are the Opposition playing the COVID-19 Card right? Is whining (in the shrill manner we see today) about how Duterte handled the crisis enough to convert voters? Or is there a smarter way for the Opposition to make COVID-19 an election issue that works in their favour? The Opposition need to put pen to paper and fire up their fancy spreadsheets to really analyse the numbers. Suffice to say, popularity surveys conducted by reputable polling firms over the last 12 months already show that COVID-19 has not put a dent on the formidable political capital the Duterte camp enjoys to this day. The message should have been clear to the Opposition even as far back as mid-2020 and, still, they seem to have not learned anything.
Look at it from the ordinary Filipino’s point of view and ask, for example, whether the risk of death of not wearing a mask or face shield is as big as eating pagpag (food made from ingredients collected from garbage bins). Or if raising kids to live and beg at street corners everyday and breath Manila’s corrosive air is any worse than not keeping one’s distance from another while riding a jeepney. Or if that mound of rubbish in front of one’s doorstep that hasn’t been collected for days exudes pathogens that aren’t as deadly as any you’d be exposed to under this COVID-19 “crisis”.
Ordinary Filipinos make those little life-and-death decisions everyday. To face COVID-19 is just another one of those little life choices they face with stoic faces while the chi chi “thought leaders” of the Opposition tapping away on their iPads while they sip their lattes at the local Starbucks incite outrage fads on social media and mount shrill “activist” campaigns over. What Filipinos need are ways forward and pathways around these problems. Is the Opposition up to the challenge of getting their rhetoric up to that intellectual level? That remains to be seen — that is, if they can get over their traditional ways of using the old empty “pro-democracy”, “pro-people”, and “unity” as collateral for their dishonest platforms and do their part in contributing real substance to Philippine democracy.
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