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As the country commemorates Jose Rizal’s day of execution, December 30 at Bagumbayan, Manila, I wish to connect the day of his martyrdom “symbolizing his great love for the country” to the urgent call for unity against the “tyranny of a few.” This message resonates loud and clear today. Since the Philippine revolution of 1896, a big disconnect between the few wealthy and the majority poor Filipinos has persisted. The tyranny of elite politics continues to govern the lives of the poor and divide the citizenry. Rizal’s famous political writings Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo should continue to be a connecting thread among all Filipinos – rich and poor -- to fight for democratic governance that will truly reign in our country.

The word disconnection has never been as popularly used than today, in the time of the pandemic. Before COVID-19, the state of being disconnected simply meant, “naputulan.” For poor farmers like Virginia Blasa who lost their homes in 2016 during Typhoon Niña in Canaman, Camarines Sur, the local word, diskoneksyon meant “naputulan ng kuryente” or “naputulan ng tubig” – a usual disruption of electricity or water supply if one fails to pay the Casureco bill on time. Most of Bicol’s population are into farming as it has been so in the past century, and those in the urban barangays of Naga City and Legazpi City live below poverty line and are unable to meet the most basic need – food.

With the challenges of the pandemic beginning 2020, the word – “disconnection” -- has taken on a myriad of meanings for different people in the grips of COVID-19. The great disconnect between the poor and the rich is all the more heightened. More so, a disconnect between government response and needs on the ground. Teachers and mothers mentoring their children in modular learning, liken disconnection to their constant struggle of having “No internet” or “No Wifi.” There is a disconnect between students who can afford pricey gadgets for online learning from those who cannot and opt for the modular or blended learning. Add to this is the heavy toll on income of families given the forced termination of millions of workers and employees from their jobs all over the world. Are the workers experiencing pandemic as a form of alienation from the loss of work, hence, daily income? Being disconnected from their companies and workplaces at this critical time is like losing one’s only lifeline. Factories are shut and production equipment switched off, leaving thousands of SMEs inoperable indefinitely. Feeling abandoned, families gone jobless complain of missed SAP or ayuda apparently because of “lack of connection” in the higher ups or simply due to gross inefficiency. Fortunate are those with LGUs which showed care and acted responsively on the welfare and rights of their constituency.

For most people, being disconnected from the world is literally being holed up at homes in various levels of quarantine (ECQ, MCQ, MECQ), with the minimum health protocols of social distancing, facemasks and face shields and “no face to face” social interaction in place. Everyone is aware of the need to follow these protocols to reduce the spread of the virus. But many people say that this new form of behaviour makes them feel isolated, socially disconnected and lonely especially with conflicting messages and fake news that can increase their level of stress and anxiety. If not well addressed, this results in chronic loneliness that may lead to depression. A 34-year-old private school teacher, Ms. Dinah of Legazpi City, said she wanted always to be informed and updated on COVID-19. But constantly hearing about the dying and the sick because of the pandemic, can be upsetting and stressful. Her way of coping with stress, she says, is to limit her news intake by disconnecting her access to the radio, TV, laptop and her cellphone. Only when she began reconnecting with like-minded friends and volunteers at TBM did she realize that disconnection is never a solution.

The Department of Education (DepEd) meanwhile will defend the modular mode of learning as the most relevant for students today but learning disruptions occur when the teachers’ connection to their students is impeded by the problem of internet connectivity everywhere. Next year, however, more schools are preparing for face-to-face learning. Staying at home may be beneficial for some, but the story of millennials Jobey of Iriga City and Ayin in Parañaque City who live with their families with their own rooms serving as their workplace struggle everyday to achieve a work-life balance to avoid disconnection among family members. Even if they all stay in one house, they still feel disconnected from each other as they face varied work times and modes of work. This problem causes disconnection from meaningful relationships, where each one withdraws into each one’s private room and own world.

Being de-linked from human relationships can be hard enough. But losing beloved relatives who have left this world due to COVID-19 or other causes, worse, unable to join the wake or be physically present to offer solace to the grieving is the ultimate form of disconnection. While everybody around her were getting sick or in dire need because they went jobless, ‘Nay Virgie, the president of the People’s Organization of Disaster Survivors or PODIS experienced the worse yet when her younger son died of cardiac arrest last month. At one point, the 67-year-old community leader said she almost wanted to give up, engulfed with anxiety, grief and worry at the turn of stressful events in her family’s life. A same tragedy – the death of a dear brother Dante – occurred to my own family in January, the second year of the Pandemic. But our meaningful relationships with family, friends, the organizations we work with, aside from our faith in the Ultimate Creator, that form our social connections give us the same strength and sustenance.

Scientific evidence from researches show that this sense of belonging – of being loved, valued and cared for – is a core psychological need that is essential to one’s continued purpose of living and survival. What the victims and survivors of Super Typhoon Odette are now going through is a tough state of disconnectedness. Hundreds of thousands of families in Bohol, Cebu, Siargao, Palawan and Dinagat Islands are holed up in temporary makeshift evacuation shelters. The challenges in disaster response are critical considering the threat of a new covid variant – the Omicron. Meaningful intervention includes creating conditions of social connectedness – relief giving, counselling and providing group solace – among survivors.

A psychologist, Abraham Maslow, found that social connections and belonging may in fact be a basic need, “as powerful as our need for food or water.” The feeling that one belongs to a group with shared goals in life and feels needed is the essence of social connectivity. Going beyond the individual and connecting ourselves to a larger community has profound impact on both the people and society. This explains the resilience for Virgie and others like her who found social connectivity as a solution to the problem. Disconnection therefore is a form of contradiction, a state of conflict that needs resolution in its opposite. We can add a lot of other disconnections in life, like the disconnection between nature and man; or about war and peace; disconnection among members of society, and disconnection between government and its citizens. Like Rizal, the goal is to maintain a social connection that will provide a source of collective strength and a sense of safety, meaningful life and security for all.


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