I remember a friend once messaged me in the middle of a hot ECQ afternoon. She said that all of us should consider going back to our respective home provinces so as to avoid the terrifying aftermath of Covid-19. Her fears are mainly based on two things; the government will not have the sustaining capacity to provide food for the poor in NCR, and the virus will stay longer than expected due to population density in the metropolis. This fear is not without sensible basis. It is what is expected of cities in poor countries.
The current pandemic does not just give us a sense of the present; it also presents us the possibilities in the future. The future is always unpredictable, but some projections are approaching a portion of certainties. History is one good basis for what are possible in the next months at the least, and years at the most. George Santayana, a philosopher, said that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Indeed, history is replete with forgetfulness, thus there is always repetition of a failure.
This is not the first time that pandemics have put humankind on its knees, and yet fear and failure keep dominating the human race. How could an apolitical virus, without a mind of its own, have outwitted every intelligent human being to the point of embracing policies and decisions that have disastrous political consequences? There are various answers to this and all could be right.
Humans tend to forget history. Sometimes, we deliberately ignore it because of our obsession with the visible. Viruses are not seen by the naked eye that we dismiss their power. It is the nature of men to ignore the small, the seeming powerless, and the voiceless. We only recognize them when they are at the brink of annihilating our human race. Even among scientists and doctors, virology is not given equal attention as other scientific disciplines. We like to see and expose physical beauty, for which reason, we shun covering our faces and bodies even in the thickness of pollution. But face-masks adhering on the face, small bottles of alcohol gripped by the hand, and soaps as essentials in our bags will be the new normal even past Covid-19 era. Post-Covid will create a massive alcohol business interest. Face-masks will be the new fashion. Soaps will be the new hand accessory. There will be a new concept of beauty in the real world although in the virtual world everything can be exposed or even altered.
With the skyrocketing demand for alcohol and the uncertainty of the nature of viruses to come, there will be innovations in our goods and services that will be alcohol-ready or virus-repellent. Our communities will be alcohol conscious and disinfectants will be everywhere. Our fear of another pandemic from another virus will create investment re-routing. Some investors will relocate their business locus to countries they can entrust their lifeblood with because even money is scared of the virus. When people get infected, businesses come as the ailing counterparts.
In history, there were many plagues that slashed a great part of the global population. One example is the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history. Virus travelled the world despite lack of better transport system then. Compared to the past pandemics, we have better transportation now, yet Covid-19 has claimed lesser number of lives even if the virus could have travelled at its fastest speed due to globalization. This is not to say that we are happy for the fewer deaths compared to the millions of deaths in past pandemics. The number of deaths brought by the current plague, though fewer than the past pandemics, is still high, for it is no longer the numerical figure that matters today, it is the ratio of death alongside our discoveries and scientific achievements. How could there be so many deaths in Covid-19 when humans have started conquering the outer space?
This is only to emphasize that we have not yet learned from the lessons that history wants to teach us. Viruses are powerless only if we give equal attention to their existence and their potential attack as much as other causes of diseases. They lose power only if people are interested in their demise. But the invisibility of the virus has not gained out attention as shown by its recurrence every now and then. Viruses are helpless without us. We give life to them by our indifference to Mother Nature. Our greed resurrects them. Only when there are massive deaths witnessed around us that a virus catches our inclination to solve it. Countries, including ours, are ill-prepared and defenceless in combating the unseen enemy. At least now, a new kind of focus is clear, from military supremacy to health care accessibility. Sensible governments will enhance their war chest on health, research and development, instead of their military capability because the unseen enemy is more ferocious and dangerous than the seen one.
With all our desire to end diseases, there is one thing that we have chosen to forget. It is honesty in its generic sense and transparency in its specific sense. A virus will be insignificant if only countries are transparent. China has given the world a disaster because of truth suppression. Honesty is a rare occurrence. If misinformation and disinformation continue to dominate the political environment, this is because we have thrown away honesty as a foundation of civilized societies. If this becomes the norm, then this will not be the last pandemic in our lifetime.
Mankind is keen at becoming the master of the world by dominating and subjugating perceived enemies of their nation-states or economies, but we are weak or defenceless in slaying a very tiny enemy, whose size could only be measured through a microscope. The enemy is not a race, a country, a group, or an individual. The enemy is a virus, which is not just the enemy of a single race, country, group, or an individual. It is the common enemy of all which could only be defeated through collaboration, not competition or merit grabbing.
Not many have an interest in virology because it does not produce wealth as much as beauty industry, like plastic surgery. But when a virus attacks humanity, not even the most beautiful is spared. And as viruses mutate, there will now be a new kind of race. The arms race will be replaced by vaccine race. This is something commendable, except only that the poor countries who do not participate will pay another high price unless they give a good portion of their budget to the support of their scientists and researchers, which of course should start from kindergarten. Governments will cooperate with each other. No government is left with an option to protectionism. Geopolitics will take a new dimension. A government that pursues independent or isolationist foreign policy will need to rethink its position.
The new threat to humanity is no longer nuclear war. If one country considers bio-warfare, this will no longer be hidden from the rest of us as has been made obvious by what is happening now. Even an allegation of bio-warfare has become a new narrative. Fictions are more attractive than truths, and narratives are more powerful than facts. There are two narratives conveyed to the world, and they come in strict disjunctive proposition. Either the virus was manufactured in China or in the US. But this proposition is false because other alternatives are ignored – that it came from bats and we murdered natural habitats. No one wants to tell the truth, because the truth is silenced for now. Only rational people have arrived at a true conclusion. The world is not listening to scientists because majority of us hail brutish politicians and slander the principled ones.
Whichever narrative we have come to embrace as the believed cause of the devastating effect, distrust has become the new pandemic and it is more contagious than imagined. Xenophobia will no longer be a wrong value for some, but a justification for public health, self-preservation, and nationalism. But distrust is not the solution, it is a barrier. The ideal is for humanity to have a common cause of action for a common goal. Whereas before, we were acting and living individually according to our individual purposes, the future should be lived in pursuit of virus defeat and the triumph of compassion and generosity, not self-interest.
After Covid-19, we will be forced, both as individuals and as nations, to look after the health of others because that is the only way to look after our own. There will be cooperation among nations to contribute their knowledge and expertise in finding the cure to this present virus and the viruses to come although there will still be many among us who will live by their belligerence. Dishonesty does not bear good fruits and it shall be exposed right away naturally when they become the disease epicentre of origin. Learning from this will prompt nations to march forward in cadence. The United Nations members will have to craft both hard and soft laws to hold any country accountable for its negligence or deliberate intention to hide any virus transmission. History is shouting at us. Honesty will save humanity.
With the vaccine-race set to go, other concerns will be put on hold, or forgotten altogether as is our human nature. We only address the present danger, we forget other impending ones. The physical distancing that was once a measure to contribute to slow transmission will be the new cause of another disease, the loss of one sense – the sense of touch. Socialization will be out, while distancing will be in. There will be more measures from our lawmakers. Proposing laws to enforce social distancing will not be far-fetched, as in fact one Philippine senator has filed a bill for social distancing after the ECQ, a bill that is unnecessary. It does not just insult Filipino civility and courtesy, it also wastes peoples’ time and money.
The longer the ECQ takes, the longer that people have time to check who the true leaders are. New standards have been exposed, although unwittingly. Indeed, only calamities have the capability to squeeze the essence of a person, and of a nation. Those who did not act with vision, plan and dispatch were shown in broad daylight. Both the young and the old share a common standard, with the exception of the fanatics.
The next elections will have a new standard for what makes a true leader. And the voters already know the basis. In the Philippines, one young mayor has been processed as the new model, a paragon of leadership qualities, not a betrayer of trust and confidence. Campaign entertainment, charisma, lineage, fame, dynasty, or the traditional politicians in encapsulation, will be slowly relegated to the backstage, until they re-appear because of our forgetfulness. But with social media, history will remind us in a flash. We do not need to remind ourselves as we will be reminded by the click of a hand. So every aspiring politician will be very wary not to aspire to heights that measure to the scrutiny of the new kind of intelligence – artificial intelligence and algorithm.
With artificial intelligence and big data occupying our universe, algorithm is the new invader. With massive connectivity today, there is a new invasion with our full consent and a shift of imperial territories. Those who have the data will be the new emperors. Even virus containment in the future is only possible with the help of artificial intelligence. Unless we elect leaders of vision and integrity that prepare our kids for the future, a future wrought by big data invasion, then the ECQ scenario will become all-too familiar. The working class once produced by the industrial revolution will become a useless class. The human doctors of today will be archaic as we will be embracing AI doctors and robot nurses. Brick and wall universities and colleges will only live in our collective memory as they will be replaced by online classrooms. Factory workers will likewise disappear from the drivers of supply chain as they will be overtaken by machines. The list goes on to change the concept of work. With this as the new scenario, a new imbalance is created, a more dangerous one. Are we prepared for it?
Atty. PURAMARYVER F. SAQUING is a media lawyer and an Assistant Professor at the Media and Communication Dpeartment of Trinity University of Asia. She is teaching Media Laws Media Ethics, Knowledge Management, and Ethics.