In times of crisis like the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic that has already claimed the lives of 335 Filipinos, infected 5,223 (as of Apr. 14, 4:00 PM) and put most parts of the country with a population of over 100 million in extreme enhanced community quarantine (EECQ), what we need is inspiration not desperation. Hope not despair. Light not darkness. Specifics not generalities, and calm not panic.
Sadly, President Rodrigo R. Duterte, the highest official of the land, does not seem to grasp the enormity and gravity of the country’s situation every time he faces the nation with his erratically scheduled press briefings, characterized mostly by incoherent narratives on the government’s overall program on how to control the virus from spreading. Instead of focusing his statements on the problems at hand and their possible solutions, he finds time to spew diatribes against his perceived enemies and well-meaning individuals who dare to question his policies.
He remains consistent in his inconsistencies by giving barangay officials the responsibility of feeding their fellow villagers only to threaten them a week after for not doing their jobs. He says the government has the money to see us through the crisis, only to say afterwards that the money is yet to be collected.
Instead of providing information on the programs to help the poor who are waiting for the government’s much-vaunted food and financial assistance during the entire duration of the EECQ, he engages in inane monologues in the wee hours of the morning on topics way off-mark what matters most to the country, that is what the government would do to flatten the curve so to speak of the rising cases and deaths brought about by the deadly virus.
In a time where the line between life and death is invisible, the people need inspiration not desperation. Inspiration to rise above personal interests, politics and beliefs, for this is the right time and opportunity to unite a nation divided by widespread acrimony fueled by the very person whose primordial duty is to lead the country in dangerous times.
John Kenneth Galbraith, a Canadian economist, believes that a leader should be a change agent, leading people through tough times. He says that “All of the great leaders have had one characteristics in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time.”
It is said that tough times define who a true leader is, for it is in crisis situations that he finds out what he is made of.
To serve and lead the people during this difficult times, what we need is a leader who will clearly and accurately define the reality that the country is facing, instead of yakking and blabbering nonsense on national television. It is his responsibility, because by not defining it, there is a tendency to deny it exists.
A classic example of denial of reality is the order of the President to the military, police and local officials to shoot-to-kill rallyists who caused trouble in the imposition of ECQ. In his usual bravado, in a televised speech, he said: “I will not hesitate. My orders are to the police and military, also the barangay, that if there is trouble or the situation arises that people fight and your lives are on the line, shoot them dead. Do you understand? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I’ll send you to the grave.”
Killing these protesters, just like the thousands of drug addicts who were slaughtered in the bloody campaign to eradicate the drug menace, is not the solution to the problem. The solution is feeding them not culling them like hogs infected by the African swine fever.
Aside from defining reality, a leader, first and foremost, should give the people hope not despair. He should keep the torch of hope alive and burning so that its glow will light the darkness of uncertainties and fear. He should serve as an inspiration that with hope and faith, and by working together, we can surmount and defeat the unseen enemy from further spreading, and find our way through this pandemic of colossal proportion, a better and stronger nation.