A memorial day for frontliners

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag - The Freeman

Despite minor upticks in the number of new daily cases of COVID-19 and its many subvariants, it is clear even to the untrained eye that the pandemic is slowly letting go of its deadly stranglehold on mankind. Pretty soon, as all things go, humanity will put a close to this one hell of a chapter and move on to another. But we need to dog-ear it before we go, not just for the lessons learned, but for the memories left behind.

A few columns back I wrote something about the ridiculous frivolity with which this country dispenses with some holidays. I am particularly unsettled by the sheer and utter uselessness of declaring special working holidays. Special working holidays, regardless of in whose honor they are proclaimed, mean nothing in a practical sense. Classes go on. So does work. No knocking off enjoyed, no wage premiums availed.

This misdirected sense of whatever obligation there may be to convey follows the same erroneous trajectory calculated to land in the good graces of overseas Filipino workers. All the official adulation I have seen being incessantly heaped on OFWs never fail to make domestic workers feel bad. Never have I seen a country officially demean and devalue domestic workers than in its exclusive extolling of OFWs.

I know nothing much about economics, but I think I am not wrong when I say that because domestic workers, those who work within Philippine territorial boundaries, are far more numerous than OFWs, then it follows that they contribute more to the economic well-being of the nation than their foreign-employed compatriots. Their contribution is just not mesmerizing because they are not dollar-denominated.

But they contribute. No, let me correct that. It is the OFWs who merely contribute. Filipino workers who work domestically form the foundation and provide the backbone of the nation. A nation can stand on its own feet without overseas workers. But if all domestic workers suddenly disappear, there cannot be a nation to speak of, never mind if you double, triple, quadruple your overseas workers.

I can challenge every point raised in favor of OFWs but I am not going to do it here or now, not only for lack of space but, more importantly, because that is not exactly the main issue of this article. I digressed only to underscore just how misdirected many of our government policies are. My real point is that while we declare special working holidays and overly extol OFWs, we continue to overlook the truly deserving.

There is really a great national need to memorialize those who were in the frontlines of this country's battle against the pandemic. These frontliners exhibited extraordinary bravery, service, and patriotism. All of them, fighting an unseen enemy, knew in their hearts they could fall anytime, and many of them did. But they never flinched. There should, in this country, be a National Frontliners Day.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, the pandemic is starting to make its exit. Soon it will become just a hauntingly tragic memory which, if left unrecognized will fade into forgetfulness. But those who gave up their lives or risked them must never be forgotten. They were and continue to be the greatest soldiers who ever served their nation.

It does not matter what uniform they served in. They could be doctors, nurses, soldiers, priests, policemen, teachers, tanods, food clerks, gas station attendants, drivers, whatever. For whatever service rendered during the pandemic, knowing death was just a cough, a sneeze, a touch away, these frontliners were all heroes. A national holiday is in order for them. And please not the special working kind.


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