The saddest Christmas ever

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

I hate to sound like Scrooge but this Christmas will be the saddest Christmas I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’m sure it will also be to many.

COVID-19 has definitely disrupted our lives. Karma should work on whoever is the author or the host of this super deadly virus which has produced a great burden that has plagued the world. It has created such a crisis in our lives, destroying homes, work and the human spirit.

Christmas will never be the same for us this year. Our homes will be silent, our tables half empty to empty, but we must not let the darkness take over the light that should continue to shine in our hearts. We need to feel that hope and to fight the feeling we have in our hearts. We need to do this not only for ourselves but also for our children.

On the brighter side, we have family to support each other. The simple celebration around the table with prayer and reflection will cleanse our spirits and hopefully make us better. It is during a crisis when our “will,” or “might,” can be tested. The life that we have now should bring us closer to God. It should bring us back to the fold of His flock.

As of Dec. 19, 2020, Worldometer statistics show a total of 75,987,545 cases and 1,680,262 deaths recorded worldwide. USA still tops the list with 17,885,299 cases and 320,825 deaths recorded; followed by India with 10,004,825 cases and 145,171 deaths; Brazil, 7,163,912 cases and 185,687 deaths; Russia, 2,791,220 cases and 49,762 deaths; and France, with 2,442,990 cases and 60,229 deaths recorded. The Philippines, on the other hand, has 456,562 cases and 8,875 deaths recorded as of last week.

For year 2020, the global rate of unemployment amounted to 5.42 percent. The Philippines’ $370-billion economy fell deeper into recession in the third quarter.

Ho! Ho! Ho! Is this the season to be jolly? Maybe not this year. As we try to maintain a sound mind and body from the attack of the virus, we are also struggling to sustain our work. With the many closures of business establishments, people are just but happy to be with family. But what if a family member is taken away by the pandemic?

This will be the first Christmas for millions of families around the world to spend without their loved ones who were taken by the virus. Let us light a candle or two for all those who have gone this year.

The sad part is that some people don’t even feel the hardship of the times. They continue to go out and party like there’s no tomorrow. These past days have shown us how many of our countrymen continue to ignore social distancing. They have forgotten about COVID-19. Surely after the holidays our COVID-19 cases will spike again. Don’t forget we haven’t even gotten the vaccines yet.

Last week, reports say that the Philippines hopes to finalize negotiations with Sinovac Biotech to acquire 25 million doses of the Chinese company’s COVID-19 vaccine for delivery by March. Sinovac’s plan to conduct Phase 3 clinical trials in the Philippines is being evaluated by the country’s drugs agency. We have also signed a deal for 2.6 million shots of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, the nation’s first supply deal for a coronavirus vaccine, for delivery in May or June.

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In its Dec. 10 publication entitled Duterte gov’t fails to meet its human rights obligations amid the pandemic, Ibon Media and Communication wrote: The country’s poorest and most marginalized are being left behind by the COVID-19 response of the Duterte administration. On the other hand, wealthy creditors are protected and large corporations, including foreign investors, are getting their profits boosted.

The Duterte administration’s inability to contain COVID-19 is the clearest sign of its failure to address the pandemic. In Southeast Asia, Vietnam and Thailand show that an effective government response is possible. Yet the Philippines, adjusting for population size, has the second most number of COVID cases next to small city-state Singapore and the most number of deaths.

The government’s refusal to give meaningful aid is causing unparalleled suffering. The latest labor force survey reported 3.8 million unemployed Filipinos and an unemployment rate of 8.7 percent in October. IBON, however, estimates the real number to be at least 5.8 million, with an unemployment rate of 12.7 percent, if those who were forced out of the labor force by the pandemic or discouraged by the obvious lack of work are also counted. Earlier, private opinion surveys already reported 7.6 million families going hungry.

At least 12-13 million Filipino families, or the poorest half of the population, are facing economic distress because of the pandemic and the worst economic collapse in the country’s history. The administration’s Bayanihan 2, however, gives emergency aid to at most around 3.3 million families, who are even getting just half as much cash subsidies as supposedly given under Bayanihan 1.

This is because the economic managers refuse to spend on emergency aid for poor and vulnerable families and only allowed a token P22.8 billion under Bayanihan 2. This is a far cry from the P238 billion in aid under Bayanihan 1 which has already been used up by beneficiary households. It is even worse in the proposed 2021 national government budget where pandemic-related aid falls to just P9.9 billion.

The proposed 2021 budget also violates human rights. The state has an obligation to devote the maximum available resources to combat COVID-19 and the economic crisis in the most equitable manner.

However, the 2021 budget fails to allocate resources in a way that prioritizes the public health crisis and the economic burdens the poor are facing. The proposed 2021 budget spends less on health and on emergency aid than in 2020. On the other hand, the budgets for infrastructure, military and police and debt servicing all increase. Next year’s budget does not protect poor and vulnerable groups nor mitigate the impact of the pandemic on them.

So this is Christmas. As we await the birthday of Jesus Christ, let us continue to have hope, faith and charity in our hearts and show the love we have for one another. Love is the strongest weapon we have in order to survive this pandemic. As we celebrate Christmas it is but fitting to sing this modern song sung by Maroon 5, a song I’ve been humming all throughout this pandemic to bring me back to reality. It goes this way:

Here’s to the ones that we got/Cheers to the wish you were here, but you’re not/Cause the drinks bring back all the memories/Of everything we’ve been through/Toast to the ones here today/Toast to the ones that we lost on the way/Cause the drinks bring back all the memories/And the memories bring back, memories bring back you.

Merry Christmas!

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