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A pandemic of fear and uncertainty

By: Joel Ruiz Butuyan - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Inquirer.net | August 10,2020 - 07:00 AM

A series of very distressing news came out last week that showed the severity of the health and economic crisis that we face in this pandemic.

One of the most successful Philippine companies, Jollibee Foods Corp., reported that it incurred P12 billion in net losses during the first half of this year, and that it’s closing 255 stores because of the crisis. Ownership of a Jollibee franchise store was a sure path to great wealth before the pandemic. For a guaranteed cash cow to be brought down to its knees, it foretells a much worse fate for tens of thousands of other businesses that have collapsed. Jollibee is the mere tip of a gigantic iceberg representing enterprises that have gone under.

True enough, news came out next that the Philippine economy shrank 16.5 percent in the second quarter of this year. Since a large chunk of our economy consists of the informal sector — unregistered small businesses that thrive in our communities — the fall in our economy is surely even much bigger compared to what official numbers show.

Then came news that we breached the 100,000 mark in the number of our countrymen who have contracted COVID-19. The daily increase in reported infection was mostly ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 for so many weeks, and then it jumped suddenly to the 3,000 to 5,000 daily range.

Next came news that the Philippines has become the country with the biggest number of people infected with coronavirus in the entire Southeast Asian region. On the world stage, we’ve surpassed the number of infections in countries with bigger populations like Indonesia, Japan, and even China.

Our government tries to lessen our anguish by claiming that we have the most number of confirmed infections because we are No. 1 “in terms of testing capacity in the entire Southeast Asian region.” But that does little to soothe our despair. It’s like saying that we have the most number of poor people because we have the most number of surveyors who go house to house.

In the midst of this atmosphere of gloom and doom, our lives are dictated by two overpowering factors: fear and uncertainty. Everything that we do in our daily lives, every plan that we have for the future, is now shaped and swayed by these two forceful influences.

We’ve learned that we can live and even thrive in the midst of extreme uncertainty. We’ve realized that meager resources can be stretched. We’ve found out that we can do without indulgent luxuries. We’ve rediscovered the priceless rewards of simple joys. How we maneuver our lives around all the uncertainty and the uncharted future that lies ahead will greatly impact our chances of survival.

It is in how we handle fear that will define our humanity, however. We have seen or read incidents of those among us who threaten to bring violence to the houses of people who have the virus in their neighborhood. These people represent our propensity to become subhuman when we’re gripped with fear and danger. But we have also read and heard of people who, despite the bleak financial future, have been sharing their resources by extending help to their employees, neighbors, and strangers. We must emerge from this crisis transformed into the kind of persons that these Good Samaritans are, because so much of what’s wrong in our country is due to our disappeared sense of community.

How is our government dealing with the pandemic of fear and uncertainty? President Duterte projects the quintessential macho image and he revels in the plentiful number of military men in his Cabinet. But for all the braggadocio, we have a government gripped with so much fear that it fears students who engage in rallies, artists who sing protest songs, health workers who voice out a contrary view, social media critics who agitate with their dissent. Above all, it fears China.

And how does the government deal with a public agonizing with uncertainty? By peddling senseless jokes and brandishing an iron hand on a people already overwhelmed with fear.

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