Success in our head
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - July 4, 2020 - 12:00am

Coming out from the dark period of the dictatorial regime, Cebu, after the EDSA People Power revolt in 1986, advertised itself as the paradise "Island in the Pacific". It was apparent attempt to dissociate Cebu from the rest of the Philippines which was then slowly recovering from the deep economic slump of the Marcos years.

Cebu economic boom or “Ceboom” then happened post-EDSA. Remember the San Miguel beer commercial “Si boom” in 1988? The mardi gras beat and beach setting made many people associate the ad with Ceboom.

In 1996, international magazine Asiaweek named Cebu City the “eighth most livable city in Asia” in a survey of the cities of Asia. We were the only Philippine city in the survey’s top 10. On the "Queen City of the South" tag, it has stuck with Cebu since the post-war period after the erstwhile queen city, Iloilo, suffered an economic slump with the decline of the sugar industry. Cebu, meanwhile, continued to enjoy economic success.

But then, was this the success that went to our head?

Today, Iloilo City is touted as the ‘Wakanda’ of the Philippines because of its successful coronavirus response. (Wakanda is a fictional country depicted as utopian and technologically-developed in Marvel Comics’ Black Panther.) Cebu City, on the other hand, is in the international news as the epicenter of COVID-19 in the Philippines with the world's longest lockdown.

“Has the Philippines contained COVID-19? Cebu City suggests otherwise” says the headline in the Hong Kong English-language newspaper South China Morning Post. “Philippines Extends Lockdown in Central City” writes the New York Times, referring to Cebu City as the new coronavirus hotspot. The “street parade and dance” last week in barangay Basak San Nicolas likewise made it to the Washington Post.

This is not to disparage my own city, the city where I was born and grew up. We just have to face the fact of where we are right now and how we got here. I know we have a deeply rooted culture of face-saving and avoiding embarrassment especially in front of friends, family, and authority figures. We frown on fault-finding and hate to unqualifiedly apologize for our mistakes.

But the current contagion knows no culture, status, or bribe. It only responds to evidence-based actions that follows the science of epidemiology. If we must solve this crisis and get rid of our “epicenter” tag soon, we must learn to call a spade a spade.

In the words of my friend Dr. Bryan Albert Lim: “LGU leaders should learn to apologize for mistakes. It's alright. No one is perfect. No one is a master in pandemic response. Key is to tell the truth and provide measures to improve. Ask help if needed. We are all in this together.”

And from Norman Vincent Peale: “The trouble with most of us is that we'd rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

Today may be a dark period of Cebu’s history, but we have been through similar dark periods in the past. To name a few there was the dictatorial regime in the 1970s and 80s. In 1989, in a coup d’etat that almost toppled the country’s fledgling democracy, rebel soldiers and government soldiers squared off at the opposite sides of the Mactan Bridge with tanks and APCs. In 1990, super typhoon Ruping flattened Cebu, yet the engine that was Ceboom went back roaring again in just a couple of months.

When we emerge from this pandemic crisis, we must rethink Cebu’s model for urban development in the new normal. The old normal saw Cebu with mushrooming condominiums and office buildings, gaping inequality, unabated tourism, corruption down to the sitio level, illegal drugs under the nose of corrupt law enforcers, extrajudicial killings in broad daylight, illegal arrests and abductions of civilians, political hooliganism, sycophants in power; and professionals and educated middle class who frequent Cebu’s plush cafes, malls and sparkling hotel lobbies, cursing its traffic in the comfort of their brand-new cars, yet afraid to cause a stir amid the wrong things happening in society.

In the words of Roy T. Bennett in “The Light in the Heart”: “Do not let arrogance go to your head and despair to your heart; do not let compliments go to your head and criticisms to your heart; do not let success go to your head and failure to your heart.”

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