Unity. It’s a word we’ve all come across almost non-stop since the year began. It’s the only platform President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. presented during his electoral campaign and the one that propelled him to victory. But given our country’s public health and safety landscape today, any hope for unity seems far-off.
After all, doesn’t unity mean we all get to have a slice of the blasé life that many significant personalities in our country have been living? For instance, Sen. Sonny Angara, along with his fellow senators and the president, enjoyed a lavish birthday bash last August 6—which they subsequently and unconvincingly defended for being a charity event for the Philippine General Hospital Foundation. These people might be entitled to their personal lives, but let’s face it: there were better ways to raise funds for charity. There are other ways to responsibly enjoy a special day without that celebration being a big slap in the face of a community struggling with inflation and a pandemic, to name but a few of our difficulties.
Early this month, the Department of Health (DOH) announced in a press conference that the whole country, with the exception of the Visayas region, continues to show an uptrend in the number of COVID-19 cases. Moreover, national intensive care units and severe and critical case admissions have once again shown an uptrend since the start of July. Four new Omicron subvariants have been detected in the country since May—cases of which have only been continually increasing despite the rollout of booster shots. The president may have promised that there will no longer be any lockdowns in the country during his State of the Nation Address last July 25, but our fight against COVID-19 is far from over. And yet, as of writing, the champion of unity still has not appointed a DOH Secretary.
To add to the issues posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, monkeypox—a disease whose spread has been declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a public health emergency of international concern—has already been detected in the Philippines. Perhaps this was inevitable, considering the country made no precautionary measures in response to WHO’s announcement. And much like the case for COVID-19, a multitude of fallacious assumptions have been made regarding monkeypox: from the disease being just another marketing ploy to it being a sexually transmitted disease (STD) exclusive to homosexuals. Left unclarified due to the lack of authority, these misconceptions have bred unnecessary, irrational fear in the country and have promoted a dangerous stigma against STDs and the LGBTQ+.
The crises don’t end there. At the end of July, Northern Philippines was struck by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that left more than 48,000 individuals in the Cordillera and Ilocos Regions displaced, and around USD687-million worth of infrastructure damages. After a visit to the earthquake’s epicenter—Abra—the president declared that “Everything that can be done has been done.” But the fact that he has not yet appointed a Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary during that time was difficult to overlook.
As bad as these may all sound, it is unfortunately only the tip of the iceberg; the devil is in the details. Long before the current absence of our DOST and DOH secretaries, the country has always suffered from natural disasters.
Perhaps one could argue that the occurrence of such are inevitable—with the Philippines’ vulnerable geographical location being immovable. However, the lack of discussion for risk and disaster management should not be set in stone. Science communication in the Philippines has never been grand; healthcare has never been accessible; and those at the bottom of the ladder have always been the ones to lose their homes.
When it comes to environmental and health disasters, we are left helpless—even more so with the glaring lack of proper authorities for the offices that are supposed to be leading us out of these crises, by the very people who have sworn to help alleviate our situations.
Without considering these appointments as matters of utmost priority, the message is clear: that we can and should wait. Our lives can wait. Our struggles can wait—up until Marcos Jr. and his minions are done with their grand parties and celebrations that benefit no one but them.
We should stand firm in the belief that we cannot remain second-class citizens in our country whose plights aren’t of prime concern. It is time that us, citizens, become critical of our government. After all, it is not just 15 million who will be affected by poor decisions and misplaced priorities. It is all of us.
More than calling for the immediate appointment of capable and competent leaders as DOH and DOST secretaries, it is imperative that the Filipinos’ cry for responsible and upright government officials be heard.
We have been neglected as a people before. And it seems that we will continue to be brushed aside by this new administration. Perhaps the only way we’re getting united is when we—God forbid—eventually fall.