By Jack T. Tanaleon
Considering our present situation caused by the threatening virus, I think we don’t need special powers to be victorious. Many of us go out of our way to organize as private individuals to contribute to feeding projects and the like but these actions are not enough because this is not about how many time we feed the hungry but how long we can sustain such generosity because, in time, we are all going to be exhausted. In short, our efforts may not lead to significant solutions because we are not addressing this serious problem strategically.
Many are asking why people seem to be difficult to discipline in this difficult time or why businesses are still operating or why people are still working, despite the serious threats posed by this infectious disease. I think this because household heads or breadwinners cannot stand seeing their beloved family members suffering of hunger. In the business sector, we have to protect our enterprises so we can continue to give salaries to our regular employees for them to be able to provide the needs of their families, and also for us to pay utilities, rental, mortgages, loan, dues to our suppliers, etc. If the government couldn’t address such issues then we are fighting blind folded and handcuffed and will never win in this battle.
To ensure that we will emerge victorious in this crisis, I think we need to focus on three core issues: food, health and economy.
Looking back when I was still a seminarian at Saint Vincent Ferrer seminary, every year we are sent to a parish for pastoral work. Usually we were about 200 or more and for sure a parish couldn’t afford to sustain the provision for our food for 3-5 days. To address the problem, the parish vicar would request a parishioner to temporarily adopt us to provide food and shelter for a number of days. (In the covid issue I don’t suggest that you accommodate people in your homes, of course.) We call the family as our foster parents who take care of the meals and other basic needs of the seminarians.
This experience comes to mind amidst this COVID-19 pandemic, when people are asked by the authorities to stay home as localities have been placed under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). The ECQ directive seems easy to follow for those who have the available resources, those who are not daily wage earners. But for the poor, this is a tall order. If the poor stay home and not work, where will they get their food?
To illustrate my point, let’s consider basic demographics. At this time the Philippines has a population of 110 Million. Based on statistics, around 30% of our population (or 33 Million) belong to the upper and middle class, and the rest (77 Million) average working class and lower class who really need help for their basic needs such food for at least 15 days for them to be obedient on this call for them to stay home under a lockdown. The basic expense for food per day per person on the minimum is only 50.00/meal or 150.00 for 3 meals in day. See the columns below for a simple illustration.
If we can only get this 30% of the population to commit to this good cause, the problem of food for the vulnerable groups is effectively and efficiently addressed. The government could start this at the sitio, barangay, municipal, city and provincial levels and that practice can be adopt by the regions, and eventually by the whole country. You could start this with your extended family members, employees, neighbors. This, I think, is worth considering, especially in this Lenten Season, when we are reminded of the value of sacrifice — of giving up something — for the good of all.
Second is Health, where we are not all experts. Let us leave this matter to our modern heroes — the doctors and other health care front-liners — to manage and to contain the spread of the infection. We need to cooperate with them to handle the situation. They are more exposed to health risks and threats if we don’t cooperate and not observe safety protocols. The negative effect would be this: we will find it harder to contain the virus. And since we as responsible citizens already take care of the food needs of our fellow citizens, the government can focus its resources on bigger national problems and issues such as preventing the rise in the number of deaths and mitigating the impact of the pandemic on the economy.
Third is economy, which is one of the most vital concerns, given that resources are getting scarce for most employees and businesses face the threats of losses and even bankruptcy if this crisis is not resolved sooner. The government should act quickly to bring back the economy to the road to recovery and normalcy and not wait for that point when we we have exhausted everything already. As a businessman, I know the risks that lie ahead; when we fail in this fight our nation will fall into financial crisis and chaos. I am suggesting to temporarily hold all the financial accountability of businesses and employees such as loans, mortgages, utility bills, and for financing institutions to offer to businesses flexible loan terms for us to recover the losses we have incurred in this situation until we have fully recovered. By doing this, the government can expect the entire Filipino nation to remain prudent and to cooperate with authorities in the fight against COVID-19.
Actually this is not a novel idea. After the Second World War, one of the factors that enabled Japan to recover economically was social mobilization. The Japanese believed that they should prioritize the welfare of society over their individual well-being. During difficult times, in Japan as well as in Korea, people would readily donate their jewelry and other valuables for the survival of their communities, and consequently of their nations. They knew, deep in their hearts, that when their communities fail, they would also fail and when their communities succeed, they would also succeed.
When this strategy is planned and executed well, either at the National, regional or local levels, this will yield multiple positive results. First, when the poor are assured that they have food to eat, they will certainly stay in their homes. Therefore, the ECQ would be truly effective and the spread of the virus would be contained very soon. Otherwise, when people have to confront daily the problem of what to eat and where to get what to eat, they would instinctively find a way to go out and look for food. The consequence would be chaos, even violence, because, as the English put it, “a hungry man is an angry man” and “even snakes go out of its burrow to look for food to eat.”
Second, the aid given to families would be more equitable, as assistance is based on the number of household members. To each household according to its needs, so to speak. Even the threats of imprisonment couldn’t move us and change our perspective if we a hungry stomach. Political patronage —that chain that imprisons us all and keeps us from moving forward— would have no place.
Third, because citizens help each other and work together to address community needs and take care of their most vulnerable members, government can focus its scarce resources on maintaining an effectively working health care system, including taking care of the front liners, equipping testing centers for mass testing, and paying for the treatment of those infected.
It has been said that the Chinese character for Crisis has two components: one represents danger, and the other one represents opportunity. Let this COVID-19 crisis not endanger our sense of humanity. Let this crisis be an opportunity for collaboration among all sectors, for solidarity with those who are most vulnerable, for sharing and compassion, for a collective response to the epidemic. Together, we shall overcome this crisis, and we will emerge stronger as a nation, and better as human beings.
Jack T. Tanaleon is the Founder of Guimhealth Pharmaceuticals and of Doctor Jack Pharmacy and Clinic, a franchise company that seeks to make competent and professional health care services and products accessible in communities beyond the metropolitan areas and highly urbanized cities.