Focus group discussion
LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales (The Freeman) - July 5, 2020 - 12:00am

I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that, while there is a pandemic out there, our government has been busy distracting itself (and by default, we the people) with less urgent matters. All this noise and babble is befuddling, strains credulity, and ultimately, is severely damaging. Perhaps irreversibly.

There is a virus out there. We need to combat it. We need to protect the citizens, and yet provide a way for them to safely earn a livelihood and obtain sustenance. Those are the goals, and our government should not take its eyes off these goals. But throughout this epidemic, I am not sure if all the crucial components have linked hands to support these common goals, and are looking at the same direction.

Methinks that meanwhile, opportunistic individuals have sought to strike while there is confusion and chaos, and capitalize on the pandemic.

No, I am not speaking of China (although China is the most egregious example of opportunism, whether it be in the West Philippine Sea, the Indian borders, or Hong Kong). I speak of our rulers, the political elite that hold the fate of their country in their erstwhile-clumsy hands.

The shutdown of a media company, ABS-CBN, is a glaring example. Sober analysts have pronounced that if, indeed, ABS-CBN committed violations or evaded tax, there are plenty of remedies that can be deployed. File criminal cases or damage suits, for example.

The remedy du jour that we are being treated to, however, broadcasted in the current spectacle of the Congressional hearings, is not the usual kind. What is offered to us as the medicinal syrup is non-renewal of ABS-CBN’s Congressional franchise. But that is not medicine. That is a poison. That is the extreme solution, not even equal to the level of cutting off a nose to spite the face. More like stabbing the heart to spite a face.

But, my dear legislators. Should we perhaps focus on the virus rather than crucifying a media company?

Another example are the unseen hands working to demolish the news outfit Rappler, and by extension, its face that is Maria Ressa. Multiple criminal cases are pending, guaranteed to bring Rappler to its knees once they are successfully concluded. In the midst of a health crisis, a judge decides to issue her conviction of Maria Ressa for libel, utilizing novel arguments that have caused legal scholars to swear.

But really, do we want to foment dissent and unrest while people are trying to survive this virus? Don’t we want a citizenry focused on surviving, complying with health guidelines, and contributing to a healthier populace, rather than up in arms about press freedom and the Constitutional liberty of speech?

Same goes for the Anti-Terror Bill, newly signed into law. Fresh off the legislators’ hands, and into the in-desks of our police force. But, should terrorism be high up on the list of priorities of government? Should we expend finite resources now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, to fight terrorists? Or should those limited resources be devoted to exploring how well the Department of Health is doing, whether it needs more support, more experts, more test kits, or more personnel?

Should we build more hospitals instead? Purchase thermal scanners? Make our seaports and airports safer? Create safety zones for senior citizens? Train more nurses and medical support staff?

Or do we send policemen out to collar social media posters and armchair critics, incarcerate them, and rough them up? I mean, there’s not much more they can do, seeing as ports are closed to tourists, and international terrorists would be hard-pressed to enter the country. (This makes me actually prefer giving cash to barangays so they can buy instant coffee, instant noodles, and detergent soap for distribution to high-rise condos in upper-class Bonifacio Global City.)

“Revenge is a dish best served cold”, says the adage. Now is not exactly a cool time for it.

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