Back to where we started, but still in the game

Today is the first day in Metro Manila and nearby areas that are placed back on hard lockdown or enhanced community quarantine. If this was a road trip, we are practically back to where we started, with all the time and effort of the past year all gone for naught. It is tiresome and frustrating and, even worse, heartbreaking as we see the virus hitting closer to home with people we personally know falling ill or losing in this battle. And humans as we are, we cannot be blamed for doing the blame game. Blame the government; blame the institutions; blame ourselves and everyone else who relaxed and thought we had our lives back in our control. Let that sink in, but not for long. Let us move forward and be thankful to have reached this far. Let us also bring back that needed cautiousness and fear and learn from our mistakes. We may be back to square one, so to speak, but we are still in the game. Let us make sure we stay the course and win this time around.

One thing evident from this experience is that we are responsible for our actions. We cannot continue to just depend on government to carry us through to the safety line. For some that I know, it has become convenient for them to let their guard down for the simple reason that government has relaxed the restrictions. Allowing restaurants to open doesn’t mean going on a drinking binge or having gatherings. Allowing people back to work does not mean we could eat our lunches together in the office. This is the one incident most recalled by people who got infected by their co-workers. We let our guard down and abused the little gains we had. That was what happened.

On a bigger scale, another realization is that we cannot depend on others for our survival. And I talk here about us, the Philippines in a global setting. With the vaccine, we are practically at the mercy of the rich countries. We had our orders done sometime late last year. Both the government and the private sector made payments. But the committed dates of arrival of these lifeline vaccines kept on being pushed. This is not entirely the government’s fault. It is a fact that nations will prioritize their populations. We then need to realize that in this new world order, we need to take care of ourselves. Other countries have or are developing their own jabs. Indonesia is developing one in collaboration with China. Vietnam has its own. Even a smaller country like Cuba is making its own vaccine. We need to have our own too, because we need to accept that this pandemic environment will not end with this round of vaccines. There will be more viruses that will endanger us, our way of life and our future. One good thing is that we have good Filipino scientists. It is time to believe in them and support them.

On another note, yet equally important is to bring our attention to the plight of cancer patients in our country. This for me hits close to home with my wife, brother, and father-in-law as cancer survivors. I can attest to the life-changing impact this disease has not just on the patients but also on all family members. The physical, emotional and financial effect of this disease lingers long after the remission with the danger of recurrence always there for the rest of your life. And it is more difficult now. Cancer patients are more vulnerable in this pandemic. Thankfully, we have a law—Republic Act 1125 or the National Integrated Control Act, signed in 2019, that can provide the needed care attention to our cancer patients especially in these times.  The budget necessary to fund such attention is in place as well. What is just needed is to set up and convene the council, as provided for in the law, to oversee and implement this. What a tragedy, if the barrier to the needed assistance to our cancer patients in the face of this global health crisis is just this one bureaucratic step that should have been done earlier. Our plea, then, to the authorities is not to waste any time longer to see this through.

Thomas “Tim” Orbos is currently a transport policy advisor for an international organization and worked in government on transport and urban development matters. He is an alumnus of Georgetown University and the MIT Sloan School of Management. He can be reached via e-mail—tmo45@georgetown.edu /thomas_orbos@sloan.mit.edu

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