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Feeling like second-class citizens during this COVID-19 crisis

PAPER VIEW

By DEAN MEL STA. MARIA

Atty. Mel Sta. Maria

Dean Mel Sta. Maria

A number of times, President Duterte conveniently uses the “oligarch” card to show that in our society, some wealthy people are the reasons for the existing inequality and discrimination in the country. These oligarchs are supposed to be the traditional rich business people who take advane of their positions to get priority on everything. In an August 4, 2016 Davao environment summit, President Duterte even said: “Ang plano talaga is destroy the oligarchs that are embedded in government.”

This populist track, with its pros and cons, influences many people and, some say, is the reason for his high approval rating.Not a few politicians echo this populist approach.

But there are also criticisms bandied about that while President Duterte abhors these oligarchs, he is just simply replacing them with his own.

But a crisis always reveals people who, though not the so-called traditional oligarchs, never the less exploit their positions and desire, if not demand, so much entitlement and preference. During this covidcovid-19 crisis, some politicians and government people inconsiderately exhibited this attitude.

Despite the health protocol that only those with covid-19 symptoms are to be tested, many were appalled to learn that a number of politicians, high government officials and their families, not feeling anything at all, had themselves tested despite the scarcity in test kits that can be used for those truly showing symptoms.Excuses were made right and left but instead of alleviating the anger, theyfurther fueled public disgust.

This insensitivity became more pronounced when we saw leaders and public officials of other countries act differently. For example, Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau said: “It was explained to me that as long as I do not show any symptoms at all, there is no value to me being tested.” He was so consistent with this even if his wife later on tested positive with the covidcovidcovidcovid-19 virus. In Singapore, because of the enormous expenses to be incurred and the request for citizens to sacrifice a lot, Prime Minster Lee Sien Loong, his cabinet officials, and other public officers decided not to get their salaries for three months to show solidarity with their people. These are inspiring gestures instantly generating public admiration and confidence in the midst of the pandemic. In the meantime, most of our politicians will most likely not make this sacrifice at anytime, enjoying, some say, their sinecure.

And while many Filipinos were on home quarantine, observing the government mandated health protocols,

here comes the Senator Pimentel situation. Netizens in social media criticized him. What made it distasteful

was that, given his intelligence, his stature as a senator, and having already been subjected to covidcovidcovidcovid-19 testing and therefore, for all intents, a person under monitoring (PUM), he still went to the Makati Medical Center hospital. Though later informed that he was positive, Senator Pimentel exposed the health front-liners to possible infection. The hospital, in the strongest terms, denounced what it believed as “the irresponsible and reckless action of the senator.” He initially claimed that the public criticisms made him feel discriminated against. His sentiment, for himself, might be truebut many people ask: Did he not get the point of the revulsion of many? Was it not a matter of health concern and not discrimination?

Was that not obvious to him?

While many people clamored for accountability, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevara said: “The DOJ will temper the rigors of the law with human compassion.” That would have been commendable except that ordinary people who are not senators have not been treated with understanding. Take for example the siblings who were stopped by a traffic officer and, despite identifying themselves as hospital personnel, were given a ticket with a ₱5,000-fine as penalty. They were ordinary wage-earners working hard so that their hospitals will continue operating during this pandemic. They were just going home to rest. Where was the human compassion?

The different treatment smacks of undue privilege and preference. It is already bad enough that, prior to the pandemic, many perceive that the application of laws generally favor those in high positions and stature, politicians specially included. For government officials to exhibit and countenance, wittingly or unwittingly, the disparity during this crisis aggravates the feeling of disenfranchisement on the part of the affected citizens, and that, in the Philippines, there are second-class citizens. Our Constitution enshrines equal protection for everyone. That should not be an illusion, especially during this period of great anxiety.





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