Opinion Opinion Feature

A critic amid crisis

I have been and still am a critic during this crisis.

Now, before anyone accuses me of deviance, dares question my contribution to society, or demands my “cooperation”, they must first understand that amid our country’s current troubles, to speak up is not only the practice of a right but also the fulfillment of a responsibility.

Foremost, let us recognize that criticizing is primarily a means of expression, by which one may convey their frustration toward, in this context, the handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. At the very least, no one can invalidate people’s disappointments. More than that, however, is the undeniable freedom of every person to speak their own mind—a liberty that one keeps even in spite of the ongoing extremity.

I must also reiterate here what many have already pointed out: criticizing perceived flaws does not necessarily convey an intent of disobedience, let alone an appeal for it. Hence, following orders while verbally protesting at the same time is possible and should actually be acceptable.

But reproach is more importantly a mechanism of holding the government responsible for its acts. In political theory, this is referred to as vertical accountability, where non-state actors—ordinary citizens such as your everyday critics on social media—hold power to account.

Fundamentally, what people must remember is that good governance, whose current relevance is practically indisputable, requires accountability. As citizens are entitled to expect and seek the best possible services from their government, there should be something that works to ensure that the actions of public offices do turn out fruitful. In this regard, effecting responsible leadership is exactly what our censures intend and hope to achieve.

This duty to seek accountability is one that falls upon every citizen as a stakeholder of the political process. Our democracy—prone as it is to abuse and corruption—needs to be protected for its own preservation. And for this task to be carried out well, it must fall not only upon public institutions but also on the members of civil society, that is, on the ordinary Filipino. This obligation is not minimized because the nation faces a crisis; rather, for this very reason, it is in fact magnified—by a lot.

The present calamity necessitates a holistic and comprehensive strategy that, on top of public health, also covers socioeconomic and political concerns such as social welfare, income, rule of law, and—with public attention rightfully fixated on the leaders that steer crisis response efforts—governance. As such, in the same way that we want effective outbreak mitigation and good health security, the current circumstances should also move us to not let the poor be further marginalized and not allow the powerful to abuse their authority. When these expectations are not met, particularly by those in public office, accountability actors must be free to call for the people in charge to pay attention to the necessary and critical factors implicated in the crisis. Fulfilling this role as a citizen is particularly important since it can prod public officials to abide by other good governance pillars such as inclusivity, effectiveness, and transparency.

But holding the powerful accountable does not occur spontaneously. It requires that people stay informed on the decisions and actions of government officials and, more importantly, vigilantly look out for discrepancies and critically think about their implications. In doing so, we become participants in the governance process—and such becomes our direct contribution to the national emergency efforts.

Note, however, that my priorities are not disordered. I want the nation to get through the pandemic as much as the next person, but as I should, I expect our government’s efforts to be carried out well and with everyone’s well-being in mind; otherwise, I must, collectively with others who think the same, hold it answerable and ask for remedies to half-baked solutions.

Still, others would make the point that the need for unity trumps any form of censure, even constructive ones. But it is exactly in the face of grave matters that social and political critique become more relevant, recognizing that critics are watchdogs of and for the people.

Thus, with such large stakes at hand, I appeal to readers to analytically evaluate how the nation is coping amid this crisis—as the tally of COVID-19-positive cases rises further into the thousands and as many others are plunged into hunger—and whether government action has been sufficient, effective, and immediate. If you find that you are disappointed, I encourage you to speak your mind. And if someone asks, “Ano bang ambag mo sa lipunan?” you can correctly respond, “I am part of a collective effort to make sure that the best pandemic response is taken and that the best public services appropriately meet the needs of every Filipino.”

(What have you contributed to society?)

By Jan Emmanuel Alonzo

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