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The virus is the enemy, not the government

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales - Columnist/CDN Digital | April 09,2020 - 07:00 AM

 

Today is the 78th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan while tomorrow is the 78th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Cebu. Two hugely significant events in the life of the country and of Cebuanos which we ought to have marked even in the midst of the Holy Week if not for the COVID-19 pandemic.

But there are lessons to be learned from these two events that those who are now nitpicking on the government and its response to the pandemic should actually take to heart.

Foremost of these is that, despite war clouds clearly on the horizon years before, the United States dilly-dallied on preparing its only Asian colony for its inevitability. In fact, the United States itself did not expand its naval strength, much less its infantry, due largely to a citizenry already averse to war. It took the Japanese sneak attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 (December 8, Philippine Time) for Americans to finally grasp the reality that their country had was now entering the Second World War which had festered in Europe for two years already.

Worse, even if General Douglas MacArthur was already informed that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, the original plan of attacking Japanese air bases on Formosa (or Taiwan today), failed to materialize. American war planes had earlier headed there but for some reason returned to their bases in Luzon. Thus, did Japanese bombers from air bases in Formosa smash to smithereens our precious warplanes being refueled at Clark. The same goes for Nichols Field in Manila. 

In the case of Cebu four months later, everyone already saw it coming. And yet the telegraph operator, who was supposed to report sightings of the small fleet of Japanese transport and battle ships heading for Talisay early that morning, abandoned his post, despite exercises about what to do days and months before. The same can be said of the soldiers who failed to detonate the bombs of one or two bridges between Toledo and Talisay intended to delay the Japanese overland march from the former.

In short, they had all the time prepared for what was to happen. And yet when it did come, no one really knew how things would turn out. Everyone had this idea that America was invincible and that these “tiny, bow-legged, slit-eyed pests” as they disparagingly referred to the Japanese, would be defeated in no time at all. 

Consider therefore COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) which clearly caught the world off guard, with the World Health Organization assuring everyone in mid-January that the situation did not yet call for declaring a global pandemic. And when it did, most countries in Asia did respond radically even as those in Europe and the United States still held on to their cherished traditions of ensuring personal freedoms so that the government did not as yet demand strict social and physical distancing. 

Funny how some people belittle government efforts. When President Rodrigo Duterte requested for special powers to address the pandemic, days after declaring an enhanced community quarantine over all of Luzon, his intentions were immediately doubted, questioned and even lambasted. And when the Congress did grant him such powers, the same people then questioned why the amelioration funds for the poorest of the poor, which would have taken months to get approved were it not for the emergency powers, are taking longer to be distributed or why the food promised to them have only started to trickle down. There seems to be no end in finding ways to attack the government, even simple mistakes conflated. 

Worse, some people compare this country’s response to the pandemic with those of, say, South Korea or Singapore, two countries that have very different systems when it comes to handling emergencies. Some even demanded massive testing early on without realizing how poor our health system is, with very few laboratories equipped to carry out such a gargantuan task.

Singapore experienced the worst of COVID-19’s earlier sibling, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), in 2002-04, and had been preparing for just this kind of outbreak. We obviously did not or at least the previous Philippine presidents did not prepare our country and its health system for this. Singapore and South Korea require their male youths to undergo military training for up to two years, which we do not have. Both countries are always preparing for the inevitability of war (against North Korea, for South Korea, and against their non-Chinese neighbors for Singapore). 

Because of this seeming war footing, both countries have long prepared their citizenry for collective action, to follow the government when emergencies happen. Singapore, still a quasi-authoritarian state does not have the kind of loud noise you see on social media in this country. No law has been passed there to protect the right to privacy which in our case severely hampers contact tracing. Despite all of these two countries’ preparations, they still have cases and deaths and have now started rolling out billions of dollars to respond to the economic impact of the virus. 

We are at war with an invisible enemy and, as with World War II then, this is a time to unite and face the enemy together or else it will win. The time of reckoning for this government will happen in the next elections, where, as netizens have suggested, all of those clamoring to destroy and oust it, should run for office so that they can then prepare us with all their suggestions and recommendations for the next pandemic. 

History has shown that it took three years to end the misery brought about by the Japanese occupation of this country because the Philippines was poorly armed by its colonial master and that Filipinos were then divided between those who collaborated with the enemy and those who resisted. Let us learn from that mistake. The government is not the enemy. The virus is. /dbs

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