“I solemnly urge everyone to pray to the Almighty God, who has the power to defeat every enemy, visible or invisible,” President Rodrigo Duterte said on March 17, 2020 during an Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) meeting on COVID-19.
This, coming from a man who has called God stupid, blasted the Catholic Church’s belief of the Holy Trinity as “silly,” and questioned the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
When the pandemic started, TV and radio stations, as well as Catholic schools, recited the Oratio Imperata to pray for protection and healing from the COVID-19 virus.
The Philippines, a nation of Catholics, has heeded the heretic president’s call for prayers. But despite efforts to ask God for a divine intervention, the situation has gone worse.
While neighboring countries like Vietnam, Taiwan, and Singapore have been successful in curbing the pandemic, the Philippines is suffering from yet another surge. Since March 19, the country has been logging more than 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 daily.
Social media news feeds have turned into obituaries for the late COVID-19 patients. Families have ended up waiting for open slots in hospital wards or travelling hundreds of kilometers just to hospitalize their ailing relatives.Seventy to 80 percent of beds for COVID-19 patients are currently occupied, with most intensive care unit beds already full.
Three of my relatives contracted the virus, and just like other patients, we experienced the hospital bottleneck scenario. This caused panic to my family and other relatives. My grandmother, a catechist, urged us to pray the Holy Rosary every 6:00 in the evening, clinging to the hopes that prayers alone can outbattle this crisis.
We are privileged to afford oxygen tanks for home quarantine, and to have a space in a barangay isolation area for one of my relatives.
But what about the thousands of people who die from lack of hospital rooms and government aid? How about the 4 million Filipinos who lost their jobs because of the government’s lockdown strategy, and the 7.6 million Filipinos who experienced involuntary hunger due to lack of financial resources and government aid? Could prayers have saved them too?
In this material world, all the intercessions and holy offerings could not deliver us from the pestilence brought upon by government incompetence and inconsistent policies. Reality check: We are all being preyed upon.
Back in February 2020, Duterte downplayed the then epidemic, saying there is no need to fear the “coronavirus thing”. Duterte then foolishly insisted on leaving the country open as he ignored the calls of experts for a travel ban on China during the early onset of the pandemic.
Instead of prioritizing scientific and logical solutions like mass testing, improvement of healthcare facilities and equipment, and increase in hazard pay for medical frontliners, Duterte pursued militaristic and police-centric measures to curb community transmission of the virus.
The war-like narrative translated into a draconian menace when Duterte ordered a ‘shoot to kill’ to anyone except the likes of Mocha Uson, Koko Pimentel, and PNP Chief Debold Sinas, who were unpunished for breaching quarantine protocols. Citizens who “violated protocols” were subjected to harassment, extrajudicial killings, and mass arrests. Take note, mass arrests, not mass testing.
Rather than focusing on flattening the COVID-19 curve, Duterte’s government was too busy vilifying its dissenters and critics. Its misplaced priorities drove the Philippines to be the country with the longest lockdown in the world—yet no progress at all.
What is similar between the immunity-impunity culture prevailing under the Duterte government amid pandemic is the same agony it brings in between.
The administration’s effort to bring food and financial aid to its citizens through the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) failed. Not all families have received it, and the cash assistance was not enough to sustain people for two months of lockdowns. Local governments also scrambled to implement it due to the confusing orders and memorandums from the national government.
And now, we’re back to square one. A strict quarantine has been placed once again. The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is painstakingly slow, and the government missed out securing a million doses of the Pfizer vaccine because Health Secretary Francisco Duque acted too late.
In an attempt to lift the nation’s morale, he did the opposite by calling the COVID-19 pandemic “maliit na bagay sa buhay natin.” Well, that small thing has already killed thousands, robbed people of jobs, and threatened to collapse our weakening healthcare system.
Ever since the pandemic rattled the country, Duterte has been urging and enjoining the Filipino people to seek God’s guidance and help amidst the threat of the virus.
While prayers are powerful, we cannot solely depend on our fate in praying amidst a crisis like this. To save the lives of my relatives and all the other COVID-19 patients, we need actions, initiatives, and holistic efforts from our leaders.
Isn’t it shameful, though, that the leader of this Catholic nation tells people to pray, but does sinister and unchristian acts of violence and indifference to his fellowmen?
Praying and preying has a one-letter difference, but without competency and accountability, it will result in the same agony—we are like preys waiting to be killed by the virus.
And we all know who the real virus is.