"This lockdown has made me realize a number of things."
Last week I grieved the passing of Nida Paqueo, the second local virus fatality, wife of my fraternity brother and FEF colleague Dr. Vic Paqueo who himself is still struggling to recover—my wife’s and my friends over the decades from UP and from postings around the world.
She was quickly followed by Dr. Aileen Baviera, a China expert and former UP dean whose late husband used to do international work for the NDF.
This week was the turn of another FEF colleague to merit my prayers—Dr Alan Ortiz, who passed away yesterday in Paris after contracting the disease during a business trip through China and Russia. A former Napocor president, he had just finished co-writing a comprehensive water sector reform bill similar to the EPIRA law he drafted as a principal author two decades ago to reform the power sector. I knew this Ateneo product less well than Vic, but the two shared the same intellectual curiosity and passion for reforms.
There are other friends who are in their sickbeds, some of them in critical shape. I’m sure all of us by now have similar stories to tell about being touched this way by the epidemic. They’re touching reminders of the fragility, as well as the interconnectedness, of our human condition.
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As we enter the second week of the lockdown, a number of perhaps hitherto unfelt realities seem to be taking shape at least before my eyes.
One is the resilience of our people—often remarked, often insulted, but now so essential to our common survival. So far there has been no looting or rioting in the streets—though it may still be too early, after just one week, to rejoice over that. The streets are empty, the skies are clearer, the self-deprecatory humor that keeps the Filipino spirit afloat can be found everywhere online.
A second is everybody’s generosity. It isn’t just the big-time generosity of the tycoons who’ve collectively donated a billion and a half pesos to date. It’s also the open-handedness of ordinary folks who organize food runs or medical donations. Most of all, it’s the heroism of our health workers who’ve become our heroes of the day. Then again, we’ve always known that what makes our healthcare system so special isn’t advanced technology or bottomless resources—forget those!—but the kind of people who make it work.
A third is the eye-opener that government—at least this one now in power—does listen. We’ve seen responses to substantive online suggestions: government hospitals dedicated to COVID patients; special traffic lanes for unrestricted cargo truck entry; shuttles and temporary accommodations near hospitals for health workers. Tireless mayors like Manila’s Isko Moreno and Pasig’s Vico Sotto remind us that it’s in local government where you’ll find—not gasbags and windbags, but—real talent and dedication.
Admittedly, sometimes even the trapos can surprise. At this writing, Congress has reportedly already agreed to grant special powers to the President to deal with the emergency. I haven’t seen how much funds are being made available, but I hope they followed the lead of the likes of Senator Lacson in prudently looking for the additional money from unspent funds going as far back as two budgets ago.
For my part, what’s been a real eye-opener for me, after binge-watching Netflix for the entire week, is just how much fun local soap operas can be. I’m coming up right now to the midpoint of a 2017 series teleserye called “A Love to Last.” So far I’m impressed by: how readily our actresses can shed tears at the drop of a line; how spectacularly beautiful Filipinas are (attention: Bea, Iza, Julia); how sappily entertaining our script writers can be (this crop is obviously from UP); and how truly, really important the family is to us.
As we endure a couple more weeks of lockdown, what’s good that will come out of it—apart from squelching the virus bug—is having to spend all that enforced family time together. I know of cultures where the family members would be climbing up the walls after a few days of that. Somehow I think that the outcome of that for us will be very different, and a lot better.
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Healing, and by water, is the common theme of today’s Mass readings.
In the book of Ezekiel (Ez 47: 1-9), after the prophet has spoken in earlier chapters about the uncompromising wrath of God against His wayward people, Ezekiel then describes his vision of a spring within the temple from which endless water flows, out into a river that “teems with every kind of living creature…Where these waters flow, they refresh; everything lives where the river goes.”
And in the Gospel (Jn 5: 1-16), Jesus encounters a cripple lying beside Bethesda, a healing pool inside the temple, whom no one has helped to bathe in the pool whenever its healing springs are stirred up. So Jesus commands him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” And the man is healed—not by the pool itself, but by Jesus’ admonition to rise and walk.
The spring in Ezekiel’s vision was only a precursor of the real source of Divine healing in this world, according to John—of One who is of the water, but above it. It’s something worth remembering as we join next week in a national week of prayer against the virus—declared, ironically enough, by our frequently blasphemous president.
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