[OPINION] We are not going back to normal

In the middle of a crisis once unimaginable, going back to normal may be the only thing we ask for. Only this time, normal is not where we are headed, nor where we should be.

As the COVID-19 pandemic put the world on halt, people stuck at home are beginning to feel the strains of isolation. With long days merely stretching into even longer weeks, plans for ‘when this is all over’ are already picking up steam. Many are gripping with anticipation to the day we finally return to our everyday routine. 

Experts all over the world have turned to history, science and statistics in an attempt to foresee the end of the pandemic. However, all answers point to a long-haul battle against the disease until a vaccine or a cure is found, which could be months or even years away.

‘Normal’ is a comforting thought when you’re living through a historical event, but it would be wrong to assume we could easily slip back to the way things were. 

If there is any consolation, the crisis will not last forever. The pandemic will end, but it will be marking its place in history, exposing the faults of the system that has been wrecking the world for so long.

We have to ask ourselves: what normal are we trying to go back to? It certainly should not be the one where our nurses have to wait 17 years just to get proper compensation. Nor should it be the one where we have sitting senators undermining the importance of research,  nor where the daily-wage workers we deem essential in these trying times are bereft of laws to protect them

If this pandemic allows us some merit, it is that even in the face of the world’s greatest crisis, our government’s prevailing faults managed to be even more prevalent. 

Systemic faults

During the month-long lockdown, people were quick to flock the internet and build communities online. Whether to join in collective rage for a senator breaching protocol or calling out influencers on their privilege, it became apparent the interruption in normalcy has forced many of us to face the ugly truths that have long been entrenched in our social system. 

The Philippine government managed to raise more questions than answers, and expose more of its flaws than offer urgent solutions. 

When the issue of VIP testing surfaced online, it painted a clear picture of how far politicians and people with power are willing to exploit their privilege. 

Senators getting expedited testing while a number of ordinary citizens died without even knowing their results revealed the faults of a system that has coddled the powerful with luxurious lives.

Holding a position in public service has made them feel entitled to special treatment even at the expense of the constituents they have sworn to protect. 

For an administration fixated on harsh military intervention to punish rulebreakers, the delayed charges against COVID-positive senator Koko Pimentel for violating quarantine protocol reminds us impunity is alive and thriving in the country. 

While ordinary citizens are getting arrested daily for violating the guidelines of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), Pimentel gets the benefit of ‘compassion.’ It sent a clear message that due process in this country is only for those who can afford it.

When the ECQ was set into motion, the government paid little attention to its social repercussions, resulting in its early failure. 

The government demanded people simply follow despite the lack of social safety nets for daily wage earners, informal sectors and even frontline workers. 

Policies like the abrupt suspension of mass transportation for essential workers, the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for health workers and the painstakingly long red tapes between the local and national government exposed how sorely detached our government is from the reality of the very people they are mandated to lead. 

Motorists contended earlier on with an abrupt enforcement of the Luzon-wide lockdown that had left many unable to go home. / Photo by Atom Araullo (@atomaraullo)

Their lack of foresight in dealing with the situation has made people even more vulnerable to the disease, defeating the purpose of  ECQ in the first place. 

If anything, this tells us when policies are made without consideration to the marginalized and most vulnerable, everyone loses.

The ‘new’ normal

While marginalized sectors take the hardest blow during this crisis, we, as collective witnesses to history, carry the responsibility to remember. We must seek accountability for all the unnecessary deaths an incompetent government and a faulty system have caused.

Should we ever celebrate normal again, we must remember the many people who would not. There should be no forgetting that lives were cut short —not only by the virus —but by poor governance that has prospered even before this pandemic. 

The way the pandemic plays out in the country affirms the importance of social clamor and participatory politics if we are to demand the best from our government in the direst of times. 

After all, recent events have shown that the government still values public opinion, like when Health Secretary Francisco Duque retracted a publicized order to replace the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) director after the VIP testing issue was exposed online. The Department of Health (DOH) was also compelled to apologize after facing backlash for offering P500 to volunteer health professionals.

This crisis also serves as a call to practice educated voting and engage in voter education. The actions, or lack thereof, of our elected officials in this time of crisis must serve as an indicator of their capability and commitment to the positions they are vying for. 

Security guard Nicko Gloriana, offers to spray alcohol to passersby along Shaw Boulevard. / Photo by Bernice Beltran, ABS-CBN News

If there is one thing this crisis must leave with us, it is the importance of empathy. We must not let ourselves be desensitized from the plights of our countrymen. 

Should there be a new normal, it should be one that champions and protects our laborers and the ordinary Filipino. 

Lest we forget, in dire times when everyone is at their most vulnerable, it is the ordinary Filipino who stepped in to fill the gaps left by the government.

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Taho vendor, Mang Boyong gives free taho for front liners. / Photo by Hannibal Talete, ONE News

And so there should be nothing normal after this crisis. To simply go back to the ‘normal’ we are accustomed to would be a deliberate ignorance to the very problems that led us here in the first place, especially when the sickening faults of our corrupt system have already been unmasked. 

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