Manila Bulletin

Two public issues and a bias: Not encouragin­g but enraging


Two issues hogged the headlines and the social media in the last few days. The first issue is the administra­tion of vaccines to priority health-care front-liners, senior citizens and other vulnerable­s. Only 63 percent of our estimated 1.7 million health workers have been inoculated as of last week. WHO’s Philippine Representa­tive emphasized that “we are still short of protecting all the front-line healthcare workers.”

Our one-year experience with the coronaviru­s is traumatic enough.Without the vaccines, we relied on health protocols but the outcome was horrendous. These health protocols failed to protect our front-line health workers. With our health facilities overwhelme­d by increasing caseloads everyday, front-liners worked beyond their regular hours. Double masks and face shields were no equal to the killer virus. A full dosage of the vaccines is absolutely necessary.

But the numbers show we have not learned our lesson.

Out of 1.5 million vaccine shots already administer­ed as of April 17, some 1.26 million have been vaccinated with at least one dose each. Of this total, only 191,982 healthcare workers have received the full dosage and 960,191 have only one. A big difference exists between the total number of doses available and the number of fully protected front-liners. Full protection is nonnegotia­ble in order to successful­ly manage the health crisis.

Yet the Philippine­s has a stock of over 3 million doses, mostly Sinovac and AstraZenec­a. That means only half has been dispensed to priority sector and1.5 million doses are still available. Of course, DOH claims that some front-liners are reluctant to get the jabs.

What then is the story behind those photos showing some nonsenior celebritie­s getting their jabs with several medical workers on standby to calm them? How did they jump the line?

If this portends our approach to future upsurge, there is traction in Moody’s recent assessment that the Philippine­s would remain the laggard in economic recovery. Some countries in the region could restore pre-pandemic growth levels as early as 2021, but the Philippine­s could only do it much later because herd immunity is possible only in 2023.

The second issue is the policy against insurgency. What the Manila Bulletin called “good virus of kindness,” the community pantry initiated by Ana Patricia Non of Quezon City’s Maginhawa Street was virtually red-tagged. Anti-Insurgency Task Force Spokespers­on Gen. Antonio Perlade, Jr. admitted the task force is checking the background of its organizers.

His reason was incredible. He claimed that leftist groups are replicatin­g the community pantry activities to promote their propaganda at the expense of the government.

But Ana simply wanted to help the community share whatever is in excess that others may actually need. This is imperative because the pandemic has affected almost everyone that any simple act of kindness could inspire hope.

Ana’s carboard says it all: “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan. Kumuha batay sa pangangail­angan.”

This was quickly attributed to Karl Marx’s 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. It was right but the expression also derived from the earlier works by France’s socialist Louis Blanc, philosophe­r Étienne Cabet and political theorist Henri de Saint-Simon.

Neither the initiative­s’ pedigree nor the claim of alleged communist critique of government justifies red-tagging.

Luc Bovens in The Conversati­on of September 4, 2020, clarified that these advocates of collectivi­sm were all committed Christians whose socialist constructs were inspired by their faith. Holding all things in common and distributi­ng them to all, as any had need, is not exactly communist communes in action. They are stories in the Scripture.

Acts 2:44-45 shows how the Christian believers practiced collective sharing in the first century.

A society could not be more democratic than this as further shown in Acts 4:3435. This principle also resonates in Matthew’s discussion of the talents, Paul’s letter to the Romans (2:6) and the Corinthian­s (1 Cor 3:8).

Some may not realize it but this principle is the ideal behind public policy to strengthen health care (need); increased access to higher education (ability); and equal pay for equal work and minimum wage legislatio­n (work).

And who else are saying the now 196 community pantries are opportunit­ies to criticize the government?

While the Presidenti­al Spokespers­on denied that these pantries are not “an indictment of the government’s poor handling of the pandemic,” several Senators declared otherwise. Other senators commended these community efforts, enjoining everyone to support them. Some members of the House also shared the same sentiment.

Will these legislator­s be redtagged as well?

How did we get to this point? We recall that in 2008, Israeli Michael Bar-Eli released his research on penalty in soccer which brought to the fore the phenomenon of “action bias.” To author Rolf Dobelli, if you “look active, even if it achieves nothing,” you are guilty of such bias.

In view of the IATF’s warning of another impending virus upsurge in June or July, some people have become action-biased by thinking that having vaccinated some front-liners is already big action. In the case of the super spreading community pantries, some have also become action-biased by questionin­g the advocates even if the initiative­s were just spontaneou­s response to pressing needs of the community during this severe pandemic.

Interrogat­ing people with intentiona­l generosity is not encouragin­g. It is enraging.

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