Rumor-mongering will only worsen our situation

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

The Philippine rumor mill went on overdrive last week when stories started circulating in private chat groups and social media that President Duterte was flown to Singapore in a medical aircraft, with a screenshot showing a flight tracker complete with the serial number and call sign of the aircraft.

The rumor was so widespread that even international media picked up the fake news. Some foreign tabloids went so far as to claim an “exclusive” story with embellishments that include the President getting infected with COVID-19 or being admitted to the ICU of an unnamed hospital in Singapore.

Even when Senator Bong Go released a photo of the president and his family having dinner in Davao – with a newspaper headline shown to prove the date – to dispel the fake news, rumormongers persisted in making preposterous claims that the photo was manipulated.

There is no doubt that the individuals who were propagating these rumors are people who have an axe to grind against the President  or, based on unconfirmed intelligence reports, from people salivating to take power – either from the extreme right or far left. The usual suspects have been desperately wishing for regime change to happen, and thus see the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to push for another EDSA people power type of situation.

President Duterte has been very clear from the start that he will not lie about his health condition and in fairness, he did that at the very beginning of his term. He had repeatedly admitted that he was old and tired. Clearly, the Constitution assures us the continuity of leadership following the presidential line of succession – which is why deliberately spreading rumors that aim to undermine the country’s stability is totally irresponsible.

Our current situation is already volatile as it is with this pandemic, and surely, having a strong stable government is what we need today more than ever. Let’s not add misery to those who are already suffering with jobs losses, hunger and poverty. We all know the economy is at its worst ever, with unemployment surging to a record high of 45 percent in July according to a recent Social Weather Stations survey.

The unemployment numbers raise a red flag teetering on danger as it could build up the frustration among people due to increasing hunger and poverty – a combustible formula for social unrest. Those who have a lot to lose should worry about this, instead of engaging in spreading rumors. Remember the old saying, “desperation knows no boundaries.” Many people who have nothing to lose can potentially turn to criminality to survive. That is why instead of indulging in useless rumormongering, we should seriously look into finding ways to help those who are suffering.

The fact is, governments worldwide are all finding it difficult to contain and control this pandemic as wave after wave of infections continue to hit them. Not even wealthy and powerful countries have been spared from the virulence of COVID-19. What’s happening is even worse in countries that are now going through political unrest and violence such as Mali where a military mutiny has turned into a coup, exacerbating the impact of the pandemic as destruction, displacement and death continue to escalate. The situation is also serious in war-torn Yemen where acute food insecurity is on the rise. Haiti, meanwhile, is also facing a “perfect storm” due to political instability and a fragile economy that is compounded by a limited health infrastructure.

Even here in the United States, the surge of infections has been so high because of insensitive and irresponsible people who continue to flout safety protocols like mask wearing and social distancing. Schools are having difficulty in deciding whether to open or not due to the many students diagnosed positive with the coronavirus.

Thirty million Americans have already lost their jobs. But because the US is a wealthy country, the government can still afford to provide funding relief to the people through measures such as enhanced unemployment benefits. There are also many civic groups that are helping others by buying food from struggling restaurants and donating food items and groceries, while wealthy companies and individuals have donated millions in aid to the unemployed and for pandemic response initiatives including COVID-19 research.

All Filipinos must pull together because this pandemic is far more damaging than many realize. Our very survival as a nation depends on us. It will take time to rebuild the economy and get back to “normal,” and so we must accept the fact that this deadly virus will be around for some time.

Meanwhile, we continue to do our job here in the United States – being in constant communication with pharmaceutical companies developing the vaccine. I know our government is also working tirelessly with other countries to make sure we will have enough vaccine supply for at least 60 percent of our people to achieve herd immunity.

We are grateful knowing there are businessmen like Manny Pangilinan, Ramon Ang, Ricky Razon and many others who are doing their part in helping. Certainly, we can use a lot more people like them who choose to use their resources for the greater good and for the greater number of Filipinos. There is no place in this world for selfish people taking advantage of the situation.

At no other time in our history has it ever been more critical and expedient for everyone to work together and help our one and only country survive this pandemic. More than ever, we should practice our Christian faith and help those who are in need.

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