I haven’t liked the word “resilience” for years as it is often used in a patronizing way by the rich and powerful and the government: “Oh, look at the Filipinos who always smile in the worst of situations.” , especially foreign groups, have also played this tune, complete with photos, the favorites being the smiling Filipinos standing deep in the waters.
Undoubtedly, Filipinos have a resilience that we had to develop as we are one of the most disaster prone countries in the world, with earthquakes, typhoons and floods, volcanic eruptions, not to mention mass violence and disease outbreaks, the COVID-19 pandemic is the latest.
But the mantra “We Filipinos are so resilient” eventually obscures the harsh reality that people suffer badly from those smiles, people break down and are haunted by depression and anxiety. I see it in all age groups, from the very young to the elderly, in the country and in the city, and in all genders.
If I agree to give lectures on resilience – I had four such invitations in the last month – I use this angle: Resilience is not innate, and resilience must be constantly developed and strengthened. I am referring to Br. Horacio de la Costa’s article on Filipinos dealing with the destruction left by World War II: Music and Faith, but explaining that there is much more. Our arsenal for resilience includes humor and food and socializing. I suggest expanding the strategies to include more exercise and walking. I am also referring to positive psychology and its emphasis on reflecting on our blessings and other various mindfulness programs.
There is no shortage of tools to help mitigate the negative effects of trauma and tragedy, but I also know that there are so many obstacles. There is crunching poverty: Sure, I tell my mindfulness friends, but let’s not forget that yoga is not a very practical option for people with 14 square meters of living space who share with several people.
Another tough reality check last week on resilience to the rampant pandemic: an article entitled “Why the Philippines Became the Worst Place for Covid,” based on the Philippines’ results in a Bloomberg COVID resilience ranking in which we came into play last among 53 countries.
Bloomberg succinctly describes it as the country facing a “perfect storm” grappling with Delta despite “operating with an inadequate testing regime and seeing disruption to its economy and people’s livelihoods.”
Filipinos are only doing too well with the never-ending lockdowns, poorly camouflaged by new abbreviations and names (most recently: alert levels). The government blames the reluctance to vaccinate, but in many parts of the country where people want the vaccines, supplies just don’t arrive.
As for testing, the “test, test, test” calls (borrowed from the World Health Organization calls) fall on deaf ears. We just can’t pull ourselves together. The tests are still inadequate and still focus on those who are already sick.
Responding to one of my columns on testing issues, Filipino nurse Michael Lagunzad noted that in the UAE, where it is currently used, RT-PCR swab tests cost the equivalent of P690 each. Why, he asks, are the tests so expensive in the Philippines?
Overseas Filipino workers have cause for complaint, have to pay our exorbitant trial prices when they get home, and go through prolonged quarantine, vaccinated or not. All of that is also wasted because our contact tracing system is so weak. As soon as the quarantine is over, we lose track of people.
Bloomberg also points out the problems with our decentralized system leading to a “fragmented response to Covid”. I fear this is likely to get worse when there are elections and local politicians each doing their own thing. Our COVID tour comes as a choir without grades, without a conductor and especially when all members are deaf.
In addition to being deaf, our guides are stubborn (sorry to the pigs) who refuse to discard useless and unscientific guidelines and take the actions that work. Remember all that talk about flattening the curve for COVID incidence? It seems all that was flattened was the learning curve.
The government must be able to listen, hear and observe in the Filipino sense of Pinapakinggan, smell (because of corruption) and feel the fears and depression of the people under the smile.
If we are indeed a resilient people, wouldn’t it be even better if we also had a resilient government?
Subscribe to something INQUIRY PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer and other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4 a.m. and share articles on social media. Call 896 6000