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EDITORIAL: Politics in Times of Crisis

Last week banner story of this paper entitled “Bicolano group urges gov’t officials to unite” is a cry in a wilderness, a lone voice so to speak amidst the cacophony of voices over the crisis brought about by Covid-19 in our country in general and in the land of the “oragons” in particular.

That lone voice came from the Tabang Bikol Movement (TBM), a non-government organization (NGO) composed of professionals, health and environment advocates, academics, and people’s organizations in the region. The group called on appointive and elective government officials to unite in enforcing the directives of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Law that gave the President more powers to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

The TBM said that in order to win the war against Covid-19, government officials must unite and avoid disunity and confusion, which only cause people to lose trust on government’s promised services and assistance.

We absolutely agree with the TBM’s call. Now is the time to set aside political differences and personal interests, however, hoping against hope that it will happen is utopian, the height of naivety, knowing fully well that many of our local and national officials see this crisis as an opportunity to advance their interests, political or otherwise.

A classic example of this assertion is the selection and distribution of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) financial assistance amounting to a total of P10,000 per beneficiary for the months of April and May 2020. This program, funded by P200 billion, was instituted by the national government through the Bayanihan to Heal as One law. The DSWD was tasked to administer the distribution of the emergency subsidies to indigent families affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

While majority of the recipients deserved and enjoyed the cash aid, many poor families, much deserving of the financial assistance have been left out and deprived of the same. This is so because the DSWD, for lack of the latest validated list of truly indigent families, delegated the selection of beneficiaries to barangay officials, many of whom, chose their supporters, friends and relatives who are not qualified to receive the benefit over others who should receive it in the first place.

Aside from this flaw on the selection process, the distribution scheme, not only of SAP but also of other government cash assistance, like those from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Department of Agriculture (DA) have been tainted with political colors, like what happened in Ragay where personnel of the provincial government of Camarines Sur were barred by the town mayor and ex-congressman and defeated gubernatorial candidate Rolando Andaya and his wife, Rep. Marissa Andaya, from facilitating the distribution of the financial assistance for farmers in the town.

Even the distribution of relief goods, rice and other food items, is replete of political grandstanding as if the local officials handing them over spent their own money for that purpose.

The TBM has an apt adage for this: “Mas malapit sa corona, mas malapit sa grasya.” So aside from the coronavirus, which is wrecking havoc all over the world, its malevolent twin -- the political virus that existed long before Covid-19 -- is equally damaging in terms of alleviating the economic difficulties of millions of poor Filipinos.

We unequivocally join TBM in its call that “no politicians and public officials must be allowed to take advantage of the critical situation by laying personal claim to any relief good and cash aid. This virus called “epal” should not be allowed to thrive during this national crisis.”

In short, we call on our so-called political leaders to set aside politics for the time being and work together for the greater good of our people during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Let us unite “bayanihan” style so that we as a nation will and can heal as one.

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