Truth and justice in the time of COVID-19
FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - June 9, 2020 - 12:00am

Moral values are ingredients for an orderly and peaceful society as they are the basis of the laws and the legal system. The two most important of these ethical/moral tenets are truth and justice, since they establish equity and fairness in all relationships. In times of crisis, these values sometimes become casualties and are disregarded for reasons of political expediencies and ambitions; yet most of the time it is truth and justice that are most needed in resolving the crisis. The inherent and consequent social instability and disorder during disasters and pandemics, requires that the people are informed of the real situation and proposed solutions. They also have to be dealt and treated fairly and equitably, in other words, in and by truth and justice.

In the current COVID-19 pandemic, the reactions and solutions of most governments all over the world, including in the Philippines have been criticized by their people. The delayed and suppressed information about the virus by China, which also delayed the actions of the other countries, are blamed for the many fatalities that could have been prevented, if China had told the truth to the world earlier. That they even persecuted the doctor who sounded an early alarm, and the information lockdown in Wuhan and China was unforgivable. That the US, Brazil, Sweden, and other countries have made light of the pandemic were untruths that cost thousands of lives, even if later on these were corrected and admitted. In the Philippines, for fear of offending China, the DOH downplayed the initial infection rates, and delayed the travel restrictions and isolations.

Withholding the truth is already an injustice, but the implementation of the government’s COVID-19 response is more injustice. The quarantine restrictions were harsh and severe to the ordinary people but lenient on the authorities and the powerful politicians. A senator and military officer were lightly treated even if they violated lockdown rules, while the lower class were detained, harassed, and some even killed. In the distribution of financial assistance and relief goods, there were tremendous delays and misdistribution to unqualified beneficiaries of the billions that was appropriated by Congress. Given the distorted and skewed economic wealth distribution in the Philippines, these compound the perception of injustice by the middle class and the lower class.

At this time when we have become a digital world, when and where information is recorded, stored, and transmitted in seconds, lies and injustices are harder to hide and deny. It has been established that since Trump got elected president, he has told, twitted, posted, and officially spoke more than 6,000 lies/untruths/fake news as of end of May 2020. He had denied and backtracked in many of his previous lies but digital footage of his speeches and Tweets refute them. In the Philippines, the speaker and the presidential spokesman are hounded by speeches and pronouncements that they have made in earlier political campaigns, that they are now refuting, but are all in digital media. Smartphones with photo and video capabilities are also now recording injustices by authorities and transmitting them worldwide, so the killing by the US policeman of a black American elicited global outrage and demonstrations. So are the police and political abuses in the Philippines, and even the ones in Wuhan in the early days of the pandemic when the poorer patients weren’t accorded proper medical attention. The digital world and social media may lead to more truth and justice in the world.

The pillars of good governance in both the public and private sectors are the same. These are accountability, conflict of interest avoidance, and transparency, and all are grounded on truth and justice. Transparency means clear-eyed truth, and accountability and no conflict of interest means justice in dealings. These are a must for all leaders.

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