On March 8, 2020, the Philippines braced for COVID-19—a then-looming threat—after President Rodrigo Duterte placed the country under a state of a public health emergency, an arguably delayed response to an already fast-spreading virus. In the days that followed, the country buckled in for widespread lockdowns, hoping that the pandemic would perhaps tide over in a matter of months.
Yet, over a year after the country first imposed an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the situation has only worsened. Daily confirmed cases have skyrocketed, the national government had reimposed ECQ on Metro Manila and surrounding provinces, and new variants—even one first identified in the Philippines—are being reported here and abroad. All of this while the country remains in the middle of the longest lockdown in the world and reels from the worst economic recession on record.
While other Southeast Asian nations are starting to see their number of active cases drop, the Philippines alone is seeing its infections spike, and while neighboring countries have also made progress in vaccine procurement and distribution, the Philippines continues to stagger. Since early March, batches of COVID-19 vaccines have already begun flying into the country after months of reported delays. But, as of writing, only a little over a million have received a shot.
One would think that after a year caught in the chokehold of the pandemic, there would be a sense of urgency to find a way out, but government officials themselves seem to either not care or care only about themselves.
The President, in his public address almost a year since the beginning of ECQ, described the COVID-19 crisis as “maliit na bagay.” This, despite the fact that cases were again on the rise, enough for hospitals to warn the public that they may reach their occupancy limits in weeks’ time.
(It’s not a big deal.)
Meanwhile, in an online briefing on the new special working holidays, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque jested, “Halos isang taon na tayong nagbakasyon dahil sa COVID-19.” Unsurprisingly, the statement drew flak for its insensitivity, especially since Roque had already been caught taking out-of-town leisure trips a number of times in the past.
(We have been on vacation for almost a year because of COVID-19.)
Other members of Duterte’s cabinet, on the other hand, have already received a dose of a smuggled vaccine, a fact that was revealed by his special envoy to China through an unapologetic opinion piece. Even local politicians have been caught cutting the priority line to get themselves vaccinated at the expense of their own constituents.
These incidents only illustrate how heartless the administration has been in their pandemic response. Indeed, over a year of quarantine has made it clear how officials would downplay the severity of COVID-19 through their words and actions and prioritize their personal safety over the nation’s.
Though conditions worsened, the uncertainty of when or how—or even if—the situation will actually improve has remained unchanged, a question that hangs over the heads of millions of Filipinos who have spent a better part of the past year staying inside their homes.
Given the government’s track record, we may have to wait longer to get our answer.