Joel Pablo Salud: Between Covid-19 and the jaws of tyranny: Where do we go from here?


We can start, slowly but surely, by pushing back the jaws of tyranny wherever we are.

By Joel Pablo Salud

Manila – Days ago, 14 people died and scores injured after two bombs rocked the province of Jolo located at the southernmost part of the Philippines. 

Both explosions were reportedly carried out by female suicide bombers. The first explosive device was said to have been stacked on a motorcycle and was detonated near the office of the Red Cross. 

Al Jazeera reported that in total, “eight members of the security forces, six civilians and the bomber were killed in the two blasts, while 27 security personnel and 48 civilians were wounded.”

Quick to the draw, Army chief Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana proposed that martial law be imposed in the province of Sulu in light of the recent terror attacks. Proponents of the Anti-Terror law like former police chief and now Sen. Bato dela Rosa saw it as proof for the justification of the draconian law. 

However, critics were quick to remind government that the two female terrorists were the subject of a manhunt involving four military operatives who were murdered in cold blood by police officers in the said province.

Had the police followed rules of engagement (the military intelligence operatives were unarmed), the recent bombing would have been prevented. 

In an attempt to skirt responsibility for the massacre of four military operatives, the Philippine National Police (PNP) claimed that one of the military operatives was linked somehow to terrorist activities. 

Murder of human rights activists

The bombing came in the heels of the murder of two esteemed human rights activists—Randall “Randy” Echanis, a peace consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, and Zara Alvarez, a Bacolod-based human rights activist. 

Alvarez was secretary general (2002-2004). She also sat as chairwoman of the youth organization Anak Bayan-Negros, coordinator of the student organization College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), deputy secretary general of the umbrella organization Bayan Negros, and campaign and education officer for the human rights organization Karapatan-Negros.

The former died of multiple stab wounds inside his home in Quezon City while the latter was shot by a still unknown assailant in Negros province. 

5,000 positive cases daily

Even as the country faces the severest Covid-19 crisis in the region, pegging an average infection rate of 5,000 positive cases daily, Duterte’s drug war continues to wreak havoc in the cities. 

Not a single night passes without a body splayed on the streets, so much so that even media bureaus are hard pressed at keeping tabs of the murders. 

Let’s not even go to where a stark increase in suicides and rapes has been logged during the pandemic. Data from the PNP showed that an average of eight (8) women falling victim to rape all across the country, with 602 women reporting cases from March 17 to May 23.

Adding fuel to the fire is the controversy involving the Department of Health (DOH) were 309 of supposedly recovered Covid-19 patients have been found dead. Early August, the DOH made a “mass adjustment” in their tally by considering mild and asymptomatic patients as “recovered”. 

Recent cases of corruption involving PhilHealth, a government-run insurer, to the tune of hundreds of billions earmarked for healthcare are forcing many of Duterte’s diehard followers to rethink their political loyalty. 

Health Secretary Francisco Duque and Philhealth chief Ricardo Morales were tagged by whistleblowers as the “godfathers” of the “mafia-style” syndicate, allegedly raking in billions of money supposedly earmarked for public healthcare. 

Morales announced that he was set to resign on Aug. 26. Duque, on the other hand, gave calls for him to resign the cold shoulder.

Economy in ruins

The economy is practically in ruins, reeling from a 45% adult unemployment figure and 4.2 million families (that’s roughly 21 million individuals) suffering involuntary hunger since the pandemic started. The Philippines is officially in recession as early as April.

Since early July, 26% of Philippine companies have ceased operations, retrenching scores of workers based on the Department of Trade and Industry survey. One of the hardest hit were media companies, suffering retrenchments and budget cuts even as they continue to cover the pandemic.

With ABS-CBN off the air, it has become doubly hard to get the news of the pandemic to the countryside. 

And now comes the even bigger problem of having Columbia University-trained Chinese ambassador to Hungary, Duan Jielong, as elected member of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. 

This, among other things, could put the country’s claim along the West Philippine Sea Special Economic Zone at further risk of incursion from the People’s Republic of China.

And as if things aren’t crashing left and right, here’s Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) undersecretary Epimaco Densing protecting fellow undersecretary Martin Diño, saying that the latter’s support for the proposed revolutionary government (RevGov) was done during his “free time,” thus implying that Usec. Diño was free from defending the Constitution since it was a weekend. 

Veteran journalist Ed Lingao, in the show “The Chiefs,” pushed hard against Usec. Densing’s justification and rightly so. I mean, if you have government officials like this, who thinks one’s responsibility to the Constitution is a Monday-to-Friday stint and nothing more, who needs enemies?

So, where am I going with this litany of catastrophes? (Speaking of catastrophes, the Masbate earthquake on the morning of Aug. 19, registering 6.6 on the scale, left two people dead and close to 200 injured).

Stage One cancer

Rumour has it that Pres. Rodrigo Duterte is not in the pink of health. Speculation is rife for reasons that have been quite obvious in recent days. For several weeks, Duterte has been in the middle of “disappearing acts” whose “proof of life” are grounded solely on photographic “selfies” provided for by his sidekick, Sen. Bong Go, shortly after inquiries about where he is go viral on social media.

According to some netizens, these same photographs are pockmarked by alterations, leaving the public to doubt furthermore whether Duterte is really in his hometown resting or lying comatose somewhere in a hospital in Singapore.

And while there are plenty of reasons to believe that the rumours may be true, still the clamp on any proof seems impossible to break. How and why remains to be seen. 

Duterte himself admitted just recently that his Barrett’s esophagus ailment is “nearing Stage One cancer”. 

Barret’s esophagus is a medical condition marked by damage of the lining of the esophagus because of severe acid reflux. There is no cure to the ailment, which has an incubation period—between Barret’s esophagus to invasive cancer—of 30 years, according to studies.

Thing is, Duterte has lied continually to the public that even something as an open admission is presumed a lie, a smokescreen for something bigger, maybe even more fatal. We’ve come so far down the political abyss that nothing he says carry anymore weight save for his paid trolls. 

Where do we go from here? Truth to tell, I wish I knew. It’s too easy and quite insensitive to say that we can simply rise to the challenge and put this all behind us soon after we’ve flattened the Covid-19 curve.

But the reality staring us in the face is all too grim, what with untold pressure coming from all sides. The incompetence this administration has shown has damaged much of what the country has accomplished all across decades of reforms. It would take another decade or so to redo what had been undone. 

I know this will sound cliché, but in order for us to redo all this, we must all come together—Filipinos abroad and Filipinos back in the old country—in true bayanihan spirit.

We can start, slowly but surely, by pushing back the jaws of tyranny wherever we are.

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