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Fires in a submarine

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - February 17, 2021 - 12:00am

As unprepared as we appear to have been for 2021, the weeks are going by pretty quickly and we have yet to see real concrete improvements and solid plans for navigating economic recovery, vaccine rollout, and plans of getting lives back to some form of normalcy. It’s quite alarming to think that in just a couple of weeks it will already be March and one year into the quarantine (in all of its variations) and we still don’t know what the next few months will look like.

It’s only in that way that 2021 is probably not as heartbreaking as 2020 (yet... I don’t want to jinx anything). In 2020 people made big plans. As New Year celebrations were in full swing last Jan. 1, 2020, people had all these ideas and plans for how the year was going to be. Trips, big shows, monumental career plans, expansion, growth, and so much more. That made it so much more heartbreaking when the global pandemic hit and everything was thrown out the window, canceled, and then when rescheduling within the year became impossible, put on hold indefinitely.

With what we’ve been through, we all moved into 2021 with a bit more caution. I think to soften the blow of more the same (which we knew was coming), not a lot of people made plans. Survival and getting through each day became the focus and while COVID fatigue began to set in, we all did our best to remind each other to remain vigilant or we’d be stuck in this perpetual COVID loop forever.

This brings us to today and to – as predicted – more of the same. While we have somewhat found a way to exist in this “for-the-moment-normal,” it still feels like we are putting out fires in a submarine with no real permanent relief in sight. Last week I wrote about the readiness of the vaccine rollout program, and in a week there doesn’t seem to have been any change or progress in that area. I wonder when vaccinations will actually start happening. As is, we are already so far behind other countries.

And it’s not just that. While vaccines, COVID, and quarantine remain top of mind – other areas of life need attention too. As predicted, putting a price cap on the escalating price of pork has done nothing but make pork even harder to come by. Wet market vendors in the metro have decided to go on a “pork holiday” instead of selling meat at a loss or risking fines and apprehension if they ignore the price cap.

How long this can go on is anyone’s guess, but again a bandaid solution to a real problem isn’t getting us anywhere. Vendors understandably feel that either way they are going to be operating at a near-loss or loss and at least this way, they don’t have to work to “lose.” Once more, it’s everyone that suffers.

This is how we have faced problems for so many years. Instead of finding ways to appease people and create a positively slanted “news cycle,” our government and those in charge need to address the real issues and the real root of the problem if they want to fix things. In this case, the African Swine Fever that hit last year all over Luzon and is still spreading in parts of Visayas. This is the problem that needs fixing and a price cap isn’t going to do that. There is also talk of the government importing pork to stabilize supply. Again, this is a short-term solution that won’t achieve desired results – pork will still be expensive, and importing pork could kill the local industry, which won’t bode well for economic recovery in the long run.

In this case, the government has to help ensure the long-term sustainability and viability of local hog producers and find out how they can help battle this growing problem. The same is true for vegetables. Due to typhoons that ravaged crops, we are seeing a price surge all around. It’s already hard enough to secure food for the table due to the pandemic, astronomical prices of food make that even harder. The problem is growing and is very real.

Another problem is the growing education issue. While virtual learning may be possible for some in the Philippines, the reality is the bigger portion of the population just can’t sustain this method. Older kids are already dropping out to work instead, and younger kids are zoning out during classes or skipping them altogether. This is not a sustainable model without intervention and it’s an escalating problem. Of course, with vaccine delays and new strains of COVID, in-person classes are also not safe.

Understandably, the government has its hands full trying to figure out how to bolster the economy, provide recovery, roll out the most massive vaccine program ever, juggle international relations, and ensure COVID safety guidelines are still being properly implemented and followed, alongside the price of pork and the crumbling sustainability of distance learning. It’s a lot and a Herculean task for sure, but there is nothing to do but trudge through it as best as possible. Other countries are proving that with slow, but deliberate steps, recovery and moving forward is possible. So why not us?

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