The pitfalls of social inequality
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - May 13, 2020 - 12:00am

One of the most poignant quotes I have read during these desperate times of the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 is that “we are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.” I don’t know who said it first, but whoever they are they hit the nail right on the head most succinctly and understandably. For all the talk about being united, everyone needs to understand that while we are all in this together, we aren’t all equally suffering.

Many people have said we are all in the same boat and that is why the quote is so meaningful. Unfortunately, we aren’t all in the same boat. Some are in luxury yachts waiting out the storm, while others are doing their best in a crude dinghy, and others still are hanging on for dear life on a piece of driftwood as they are battered by the waves. It’s incredibly hard to say we are experiencing the same hardships when everyone’s position is different.

If this quarantine and lockdown have taught us anything, it’s that social inequality is incredibly rampant in the Philippines and is one of the things that may very well kill us all one day. One of our biggest problems facing the coronavirus is that social distancing is such a challenge with our incredibly large population living in tight-knit clusters. With so many people stuck together like that with lack of access to food, water, and necessities, the country is a breeding ground for viruses to propagate and spread.

It’s been said once before and it remains true – the only way we can hope to find a sustainable way to beat the virus is if we do it together. If we deem it necessary to emerge from quarantine, and that day is coming, what would the point have been if we haven’t addressed all the potential ways the virus can spread. We’ll just be heading back out into our own doom and, as history has shown us, a second wave of infections is usually far deadlier than the first.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the need for people to be able to venture out and look for work and income. I am just saying we need to be able to do so safely. We have to find a way to live and work that is fair to all and provides everyone with equal opportunities. This requires planning. For example, so many of our countrymen rely on public transportation to get to and from their work and we can’t go back to the way it was before with commuters squished into trains and buses like sardines. How will social distancing be applied to commuting when it failed so miserably before?

This is just one of many questions that have to be looked at carefully as we transition to a modified quarantine, whenever that happens. Rules have to be made and the rules need to apply to everyone. Position and influence should not come into play during these times. I know it sounds like wishful thinking, but if we create rules and guidelines they should apply to both street vendors and senators alike.

That’s something that troubled so many Filipinos in the past few months. While we were much more willing to follow lockdown orders (unlike many Americans who would rather get sick to get haircuts), we also felt letdown that regular citizens would be carted off to jail or worse for making a mistake or accidentally being outside their homes during the quarantine to look for a way to feed their families, while those in positions of power blatantly broke the rules, put others lives at risk, and were let off without punishment.

It’s time to stop this social inequality and let the rules apply to everyone equally. After all, we are in this together, and that’s the only way we’ll get out too. It’s time we built a big enough boat for us all.

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Jack Ma recently shared a nugget of wisdom about the current state of businesses during COVID-19. At this point, he said that planning was relatively useless and that the main concern should just be to survive. In his own words – “if you can stay alive, you would have made a profit already.” And this is both sad and true for so many entrepreneurs and small business owners who are feeling the staggering effects of the current situation.

I empathize with so many striving to find the new normal for their business and being caught between a rock and hard place when it comes to keeping their people on board and trying to stay afloat. I can only hope that there are better days ahead for us all and that businesses can find a way to pivot into the “new normal”.

At the same time, I am also amazed by the ingenuity and determination of people struggling to find ways to earn in this crisis. In our subdivision, there is a very active marketplace of people selling everything from olive oil to eggs. Food and ingredients and basic necessities are fast-moving items and it seems as if people are trying their best to find ways to provide these to captive markets while they struggle workwise.

In this aspect, I hope everyone helps support local businesses trying to make a living during these unprecedented times. The only way we can hope to revive our economy is to invest in it and we have a rare opportunity to help each other right now.

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