A jester in time of crisis

By Artchil B. Fernandez

“Nero fiddled while Rome burned,” a legend says. In the Philippines, a jester raps while the nation burns. Another way of putting it, the leader waxes poetry while corona guts the country.

Filipinos are aghast and confused about what to make of Du30’s bizarre statements during the press conference to address the national emergency on the increasing number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in the country. Earlier, Du30 signed Proclamation 922 declaring a public health emergency. The declaration according to the proclamation “would facilitate the implementation of the relevant provisions of Republic Act 11332 to address the COVID-19 threat, including but not limited to mandatory reporting, intensify government response and measures and enforce quarantine and disease control prevention measures.” There are now 52 COVID-19 cases in the country with five confirmed deaths (as of this writing).

In times of crisis and national emergency, people look to their leaders for assurance or as a source of calm. Du30’s performance achieved either of these and it only fueled national anxiety and confusion, worsening the public’s nightmare. Consider Du30’s gibberish response when asked about the testing kits for the virus.

“The kit, is the kit, walangwalang lumalabas pa. I think that… Sabi ko nga eh… in every—not every generation but epoch, maybe meron nung una, Bubonic Plague, ’yung mga gago ang tao no’n, tamang-tama lang. Tapos ’yung Spanish Flu, right before, o after the war, Second World War.  Kawawa ’yung mga tao. Pero mas kawawa ’yung sa Middle East. The so-called Roman Empire. You have read the Inquisition, kung may birth mark ka, you are a witch and you are burned at stake.”

Aside from spewing a mishmash of nonsense, Du30 further embarrassed himself by displaying his ignorance of history. He is really Exhibit A for the admonition “it is better to shut up than expose one’s empty head.” A jester with blank a mind is the last thing this nation on the teeters and on the brink of disaster needs.

Worst, not only Du30 exhibited his “talent” or lack of it in free verse poetry he used the F word to describe the Philippines. The public is stunned and horrified to hear the leader of the land describing the country he leads with a dirty and derogatory word. Attacking rich people in the press conference, Du30 revealed how he truly regards the country. “And to think that the richest people in this country, in this fucking country, were the ones who are milking the most out of our resources,” Du30 exclaimed. Many analysts slammed Du30 for making such irresponsible and unpresidential remarks.

“It’s like he has something against the country. It’s the ‘F’ word. He has always said that he’s patriotic, but there’s no best time to say it to your country. You don’t expect it from the leader of the land,” said Jean Encinas-Franco, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines.

Maria Ela Atienza, also a political science professor called the “fucking country” remark “unfair to government workers who have been doing their best to deal with the health crisis”… “If he cannot say anything specific, he should have allowed the health, economic and local government secretaries to deal with specifics. Instead, he went back to his usual ramblings,” Atienza said.

This is not a normal time for Filipinos and the Philippines.  COVID 19 is upon the nation.  Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID 19 a pandemic.  Merriam-Webster defines a pandemic as “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.” WHO is forced to declare COVID 19 a pandemic after 118,000 people in 114 countries are now affected by the virus.

The entire Metro Manila is now under community quarantine or lockdown. By midnight of March 14 until April 14, 2020 land, sea and domestic air travel is banned from and to the capital from any part of the country. The virus is disrupting the way of life of the nation. Activities, from graduation, conferences/seminars to football matches are postponed. Classes are suspended and people are told to stay at home as much as possible and avoid crowded places.

Even personal and intimate interaction is affected. Social distance is encouraged and people are advised to main a three feet space between each other. No kissing and hugging. Family reunions and gatherings are deferred. Anyone coughing in public gets curious if not indignant stares.

The economic impact of COVID 19 is not to be underestimated. Hardest hit are tourism and the travel sectors. A severe slowdown of the tourism industry will seriously affect other service sectors like restaurants, hotels and related businesses. Thousands will lose their jobs. As countries close and seal off their borders global trade slackens.

Complicating the situation is the psychological effect of the virus. Anxiety and uncertainty infect the jittery and nervous public. Panic buying and hoarding of goods particularly sanitary items and food are now common sights.

In the face of serious social, economic and psychological disruptions and breakdowns brought about by COVID 19, a firm, decisive and clear-headed leadership is badly needed by the country. What Filipinos got instead is a jester who neither entertains nor provides comic relief to a nation on the edge but who exacerbates the fear of the people. A substantial portion of the electorate elected Du30 thinking he is a crisis leader who can effectively deal with national emergencies. Faced with a real national crisis – COVID 19, Du30 turned out to be a wimp, a simpleton whose solution to complex problems is force and violence. Sadly, it takes more than tokhang to deal with COVD-19.