Opinion

Champion Bayanihan in the Time of Coronavirus

May we pass this test of humanity.
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As the measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 become more draconian, we’re finally realizing that this pandemic will test every factor of our society, from the healthcare system to transportation, and the very humanity of our people.

There is no doubt in my mind who the real victims will be. Not the middle class watching Netflix during home quarantine, or the one percent spending thousands of pesos to hoard goods at S&R (to whom I say check your damn privilege). No, it will not be the privileged or the fortunate. It will be the poor, the marginalized, and the informal settlers. It will be the jeepney driver and the construction worker who need daily wages to support their families. It will be the taho vendor with a sick child and the street barker with elderly parents. It will be the single mother who won’t get paid if she can’t get to work.

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The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) just announced that it is suspending cash grants to its poverty-stricken substituents until further notice, something that many families rely on to keep food in their bellies. While the government assured the public that there is enough food, how will these people pay for it? The government said that employers are “highly encouraged” to give employees their 13th month pay, but what if you’re a tricycle driver? The government said move to Metro Manila temporarily, but what if rent is three times your salary? The government said that LGUs are responsible for keeping the people fed, but what if they don’t? To many ears, community quarantine means “stay home—and starve.”

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While measures must be taken to stop COVID-19—and lockdown has proven to be successful—it’s astonishing how it’s so easy to forget that we live in a third-world country where the poor outnumber the rich. And not everyone can afford to stay at home without government and community assistance.

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So what do we do when the country is barely pulling itself together? We do what we’ve always done. We figure it out ourselves. When Taal Volcano erupted, almost everyone in Cavite and Batangas and even Metro Manila mobilized to provide assistance, from inviting displaced families into their homes to sending so many donations that there was always traffic on SLEX (the only traffic we approve). Everyone became a volunteer because the people of Batangas needed it, and now, so do the poor of Luzon.

For the sake of bayanihan, it’s time to step up. Because when push comes to shove, we can only rely on each other. This is a test of our humanity. And the test of the Filipino to see if we are still worth fighting for.

You Can Still Help

Already, groups are organizing and mobilizing on the Internet (and abiding by social distancing) to do what they can to alleviate the situation. People are organizing car shuttles for nurses and doctors after public transportation was suspended. Someone is making homemade disinfecting alcohol and giving them away for free. A dentist is giving out extra face masks to the checkpoint personnel who need it. Hospital interns are volunteering to stay on board to fight COVID-19 despite a hospital memo telling them they were being pulled out. Students are sharing sanitation tent designs with LGUs for free.

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And in a hilarious twist of events, kids are now the ones grounding their parents and grandparents and demanding they stay at home.

Hope isn’t lost, and bayanihan has only just begun. But there’s still so much work to do, and everyone can help. Demand your LGUs to prioritize the poor, especially the informal sector and daily wage earners. Demand that they live up to their oaths when they took office, and then demand that the people deserve nothing less.

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If you have a maid or a yaya or a driver, ask them how their family is doing and if they need help. If you’re at the grocery, leave enough food for others so you don’t become a hoarder. Organize your own donation drive to look after the most vulnerable people in your community. Offer carpooling services to healthcare workers who rely on public transportation. Support your hospitals, support your neighbors, and support the poor.

But a simple request: Donate the medical essentials to the hospitals and give the food to the needy. They are ones who really need it.

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Don’t Forget the Real Heroes

In all of this chaos, don’t forget the people who will save us from this pandemic. No, it will certainly not be “hardworking” senators applauded for flipping a page.

It will be the frontliners—the doctors, nurses, medical interns, and volunteers working, quite literally, around the clock to fight COVID-19. These are the men and women who’ve had to isolate themselves from their families, live in hospitals, and make great sacrifices to serve the country. They’re the only soldiers we need at this point, and the only ones with the knowledge to keep us safe.

And just behind them are the people manning the grocery stores, restaurants, food factories, sanitation facilities, and more. These are the people that will keep society moving, shouldering the struggles of walking to work and meeting everyone’s basic needs, so don’t forget about them too.

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To say that shit has hit the fan is an understatement, and things will probably get worse before they get better. But at this point in time, bayanihan is the only weapon we have—against selfishness, ignorance, and COVID-19. Defy fear and panic by inspiring hope and courage in each other. Thank your doctors, help your neighbors, and feed the poor. Remember that life is fragile, and society even more so.

So take care of each other and don’t let the world be any crueler than it needs to be.

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About The Author
Anri Ichimura
Staff Writer, Esquire Philippines
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