Christmas confusion

LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales (The Freeman) - November 29, 2020 - 12:00am

Confusion in the midst of confusing times. What a recipe for disaster.

I was one of those who received that text message on my mobile, purportedly from the National Telecommunications Commission and the Department of Information and Communication Technology. The NTC and the DICT are the two government agencies that enjoy the enviable ability to command our mobile phone carriers to instantly message pretty much anything they want to convey to the public, and probably even at absolutely no cost.

Friday, the last weekend of November, here comes this important missive from our communications agencies. Nope, it’s not about a forthcoming typhoon or some other natural disaster. It’s not a warning of an imminent attack from China. Instead, it’s a well-meaning advisory on the holding of Christmas parties this pandemic season.

As they say, the road to hell...

Briefly, the text blast is some cheerily-couched advice on holiday season parties: “make sure to open windows and electric fans! And it’s even safer if the venue chosen is outdoors!” The message ends with a Christmas greeting, and an exhortation that “we can do it!” We can manage it! We can prevail! (Or whatever the right translation of “kaya natin to” is.)

Hold on though. What are you communicating to us, departments of communications? Are you saying that Christmas parties are allowed during the slightly-eased lockdown? Whatever the status of the lockdown is? Whether enhanced quarantine or modified? We can make merry? We can dance and booze? We can gorge and feast? For real?

And to whom are you communicating this to? Are you broadcasting this to everyone and anyone? Even companies? Workplaces? Or are you just trying to reach single households? Small family units?

And by letting people know that it’s safer to have open windows - are you telling them that it’s their choice? That they can, if they want to, continue partying even with closed windows while indoors? Because it’s not mandatory to open their windows, you’re implicitly communicating that it’s permissible to keep those closed? (Surely, I don’t need to tell the communications departments these signaling cues, as this is supposed to be their forte?)

True enough, that same day, the Department of Health starts making noises. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire is reported as negating her department’s approval of this advisory. Because, as we all know, the official government line thus far is, Christmas gatherings are frowned upon. As far as she was concerned, her department wasn’t involved with these messages, and text advisories were still in the process of being reviewed.

What to do. Where government branches are supposed to be working in synch, and trying to save as many of the countrymen as they can, here we are coping with cross-signals that will, for sure, undermine the efforts of our health officials to manage our health facilities and the patient population.

After health authorities pounded the “stay at home” and “physical distancing” messaging in our brains for the past nine months, here comes another agency encouraging the opposite. And worse, from the official and none other than communications departments themselves!

Ordinary folks will wonder, well, if we can gather around each other for Christmas, why can’t we do it for birthdays? Debuts? Mañanitas? (Oh right, police commanders are the only ones who can hold private mañanitas. Scratch that last). Or what about graduations? Or funerals? Heck, why don’t we open schools and let children mingle, so long as we open the windows and provide electric fans?

Not to be a grinch, but perhaps, let’s not plan Christmas celebrations yet. At least, not until our hard-working government departments are able to huddle and agree on the guidelines. Meanwhile, let’s grab some popcorn and watch another episode of blame-shifting and face-saving that’s sure to air very soon via our entertaining government networks.

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