Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: December 2020
Wednesday, 30 December 2020 06:21

2020 in review; 2021 — what it should look like

THIS is my last column this year. I’d use my allotted 1,200 words for a cursory review of 2020 and what 2021 should bring or, on a more personal level, what I want next year to look like. There is really not much to review. The trajectory for the metrics and optics were mixed — the economy, nonwar/nonpeace, climate change, environment, international diplomacy and politics — initially upward and positive, but derailed by one major occurrence, the pandemic. With millions of Covid-19 deaths, I am even ambivalent about a Merry Christmas.

I wish now that 2020 were but a dream — albeit a nightmare, in a long, long sleep — from whence the world can wake up unscathed. Better yet, 2020 should just go away, stricken off the calendar. This yuletide season where wishes traditionally would come true as the innocents wake up Christmas morn gathering around the tree to be amazed at the presents Santa brought them. Perhaps the collective wishes of the suffering humanity could likewise come true in the form of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s frozen gift boxes of vaccines. I wish these are the long-awaited cure. If only things were that simple.

1918 and 2020 pandemics

Currently we have 1.7 million Covid-19 deaths worldwide. Yet experts are predicting a third and fourth waves after the holidays, possibly killing another million or two before the efficacy of the vaccines kicks in. And more worrisome, the virus is mutating, now ravaging the United Kingdom. We have had ample warning over the millennia that when nature so decides to move in the direction it is now taking, man may find himself no match. Covid-19 deaths pale in comparison with the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu that killed 50 to 75 million in three waves. Despite the advances in technology sequencing the entire genome of the coronavirus, many questions are still unanswered about its intricacies and how the pandemic was caused. After a century of research, fundamentals of the contagion remain unknown (David M. Morens, Jeffery K. Taubenberger, et al., “Crit Care Med,” Sept. 27, 2011). But hopefully, unlike 1918, where vaccines were nonexistent, today’s virus has more than a dozen types of cure. On the other hand, the accelerated development of these vaccines in so short a time to respond to political pressure and market demands may have motivated Big Pharma to cut corners negating the vaccine’s effectiveness. After all, public health is still a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Eradication or suppression

A similar outbreak is the 1957-1958 Asian Flu (H2N2 virus). But a timely vaccine and the application of antibiotics to secondary bacterial infections limited morbidity rate to about 2 million worldwide. The bizarre expectation is that Covid-19 is approaching the Asian Flu figure. Experts hope this is the upper limit.

The same experts’ best estimate is that mass immunization programs could boost population immunity toward the end of 2021. This is the silver lining in a gloomy cloud that we wish will dissipate. At best, it will not eliminate the disease, but the world community can opt for suppression of the coronavirus to an acceptable degree — tolerating perhaps thousands in annual deaths equivalent to the current ordinary influenza that still claim 650,000 lives. Public health policymakers now consider it a triumph if scientists succeed in eradicating Covid 19 or simply reduce its virulence to the level of other viral diseases — polio, tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis B and A, measles, mumps, chickenpox, etc.

Economic recovery

My second wish is putting people back to work spurring economic recovery. This should start now, as “…the taming of Covid-19 is a ‘sine qua non’ and a seamless measured lifting of the quarantine and lockdowns to restart local economic activities” are imperatives. (The Manila Times, “Alternative aftermaths,” April 29, 2020.) The peddlers of fear have sown hysteria, ignorance and panic, leading us to believe lockdown is the ultimate response to prevent infections, enforcing a dichotomy between saving lives versus saving the economy, when in fact this is a false choice.

Further “It is not a zero-sum game between ‘saving lives to save the economy or saving the economy to save lives.’ The trade-off between the need for jobs and avoidance of contagion to save the economy must be calibrated with precision toward the decision to reopen the economy.” (ibid) But on this, we need political leaders with political will. Locally, is the Deegong up to it?

The new normal

Which brings me to my third wish, and I quote excerpts from my column of May 2020: “The new normal — where are we at? The world today is undergoing cataclysmic changes, whose ramifications we may not comprehend fully well into the next generations. What we glimpse now of our future are simply vignettes seen through the prism of current realities, already distorted these past (twelve) months by the contagion. We reach out to the past for comparative clarity yet see only instances of similar horrific plagues. The world has been ravaged from time to time and…our collective consciousness refusing to accept the inevitability of analogous results — nevertheless, the sword of Damocles hangs over our heads. Perhaps this is part of the new normal, impelled by intermittent visits of a contagion that forces a global reset.”

And our new normal is simply adopting the abnormal. Cases in point: even with mass vaccination, our social lives will be altered forever; wearing of masks may be de rigueur while in public. There are those right wingers and white supremacists, particularly in the US, that will consider the same as an infringement of their right to free speech. It would be maliciously delicious were these deniers to be in the forefront of those that will eventually be purged from the responsibly healthy living ones. They are perhaps the reason why America to date leads the world in infected cases and morbidity rate — 18 percent of global deaths despite a population that is 4.26 percent of the world’s.

Social distancing is another new normal and will impact radically into dating habits and sexual mores not unlike what HIV-AIDS did four decades ago to the gay community.

Intimacy in relationships and communications will be diluted, substituting cold impersonal interchange through social media which could consequently breed other complications.

Since the introduction of the internet and social media architecture, 2020 has become the high point for fearmongers who use terror-based tactics to influence the public for a desired outcome. For whatever their motivations, they have succeeded in spawning fake news, bombarding the airwaves with trash.

Peace on earth and goodwill to all men

It may seem naive, but this fourth and final wish should be a collective one. We live on a small planet with a population bursting at the seams. And we continue to misuse and abuse its resources with our petty internecine conflicts propelled by our trivial wants and needs.

Perhaps we — Christians, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, people of all colors and political ideologies, and the rich and the powerful — have something to share. Ourselves. And we should. Because if we don’t, Mother Nature has a peculiar method of chastisement. Believe me. She can do it again!


Published in LML Polettiques

ONLY a true Bisdak (Bisayang Daku) can appreciate the nuance of this greeting — both a curse and a benediction. The year 2020 was one of contrast, not unlike the contrapuntal opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

To juxtapose, 2020 was a year of deprivation, fear and solicitude. Yet, it was also a time for renewal, introspection and intimacy. We were never as forcibly occupied with our families than at any time in our lives; in my case — my third generation; being acquainted with their growth, hopes, dreams and particularly their unarticulated fear of that which is unseen — the specter of death. This virus pervaded our lives, distorting our narratives such that the stories old men tell their descendants are twisted by the veracities of today. We are not even guaranteed Santa Claus appearing this Christmas. It could be the Grim Reaper knocking on the door!

And the worst is yet to come. A Harvard classmate, a retired Pan-American Health Organization director, Dr. Primo Arambulo 3rd, advanced the idea that our proclivity for disinfecting everything, “washing our hands while singing Happy Birthday…ends up killing protective bacteria on ones skin.” Worse, this kills the weak microorganisms, leaving the strong coronavirus to mutate and be more virulent. This is now happening in Europe!

2020 annus horribilis
The new year in a real sense is not a profound milestone. Midnight of December 31 to the dawn of January 1 is no different from any other day to the next. The ancients regarded other dates as portentous. The Egyptians consider August 15 more significant. It signals the flooding of the Nile, the birth of new life, coinciding with the rising of the star Sirius toward the East.

During the winter solstice, the earth is tilted away from the sun resulting in the shortest day and the longest and darkest night. In the Northern Hemisphere it takes place between December 20 and 23. It’s the opposite in the Southern Hemisphere where it occurs in June. The Druids, the Incas and the Japanese, among others, celebrate these dates as the start of a new year with bonfires to encourage the sun’s return.

Filipinos and the Christian world impute symbolism on January 1. Traditionally, we go through the pains of reflection hammering out a “to do or not to do” list, primarily based on a cursory assessment of our behavior, failures and successes, crafting out corrective measures with 10 or 20 New Year’s resolutions (NYRs) one promises to faithfully adhere to.

First 4 NYRs
Not immune to this quaint tradition, I have my own list. First, I continue to lose weight, a resolution enacted since September, not as altruism on my part, but upon my wife’s nagging and doctor’s orders. If I continue along the path of obesity — I die! And I have already accepted my granddaughters Sylvie’s and Claudia’s invitations to their weddings. Both are six and five years old, respectively. (Sabine has not yet decided to marry or enter the convent. She turned one year old two weeks ago.)

My second resolution is a character overhaul, again upon the direction of my spouse, Sylvia, spurred perhaps by an unfortunate but correct observation by a favorite sister-in-law. It seems that as one advances through antiquity, the values and virtues of humility, humor and warm personal interactions acquired through a moral though poverty-stricken upbringing enhanced by an excellent Jesuit education erode and in their stead, a patina of arrogance and a sense of invincibility grows. I agree this is deplorable.

The Donald’s nonelection
The third resolution pertains to my advocacy — writing a newspaper column. I intend to diversify and depersonalize issues. Of the 52 weekly articles published, the pandemic obviously was dominant (13 op-ed) followed by President Donald Trump and the United States elections (nine articles). The Donald, as America’s worst president ever, is a fascinating caricature. Why a bigot, an inveterate prevaricator and a psychopath was chosen by the Republican Party to run in 2016, losing the plurality of the votes but winning the electoral college boggle the mind. Trump’s subsequent behavior, after both the universal and electoral votes losses last November 3, 2020, is simply incomprehensible. But the fact that 74 million Americans voted him a second term subsequently fanning his delusions that this election was stolen from under him by an unsubstantiated massive fraud in five “critical swing states” (and not in the others where he won) is simply preposterous and downright irrational.

The contagion
On the other hand, my pandemic articles simply reflected global concerns on public health and collapsing economies with the initial column written in February even before the spread of the contagion; going on to inflict to date some 77 million cases and 1.7 million deaths. The US comprises 4.26 percent of the world’s population yet 18 percent of the totals are American deaths. Currently US coronavirus deaths are running an equivalent to one daily New York’s Twin Towers attack. Many Americans themselves lay this tragedy at Trump’s feet — on his non-leadership, criminal incompetence and continued denial.

But I leave these conundrums to the American people to resolve. It is their country, after all. I may have lost friends and perhaps family members on my penchant for dichotomizing Trump. I look forward though to one more op-ed this January 20, when the Donald is physically evicted from the White House.

The Deegong
My fourth resolution has to do with my critique of the alpha-male, misogynist, gutter-mouth Rodrigo Duterte in deference to my family’s wishes, particularly my son who wrote an article extolling candidate Duterte’s virtues. This essay went viral on social media establishing Carlo’s credentials as an original Dutertista, consequently fomenting an internal filial feud. I have been a strong critic of the Deegong’s malfunctions but equally complimentary and exultant on his accomplishments — though I confess there are more of the former than the latter. But I accede to my family’s demands.

The rest of the NYRs
The fifth to 10th items are commonplace yet as eclectic as a politician’s ideological colors. These are about one’s health, lifestyle and financials.

5. Drink less alcohol — perhaps after the holidays.

6. Eat less meat and more veggies. Cows eat grass converting this to steak. Steak is therefore intrinsically veggies.

7. Find a girlfriend — my wife objects.

8. Find a boyfriend — my wife objects even more.

9. Earn more money — my wife does.

10. Get out of debt — my wife did.

Thus, I approach the yearend, tongue-in-cheek, but determined to produce positive changes. Items 1to 4 are well thought out and will probably be achieved. Items 5 to 10, have been an annual “feel-good” ritual intended to be kept by Jan. 1, 2021.

And promptly forgotten by Jan. 2, 2021.

Maligayang pasko sa inyong tanan!

Published in LML Polettiques

Reasons to amend the 1987 Constitution were raised anew in the House of Representatives, this time by a ranking official who insisted that ridding the Charter of restrictive economic provisions is necessary in addressing the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a privilege speech, Quezon Rep. David “Jay-jay” Suarez said constitutional reform could significantly improve the country’s chances of regaining huge economic losses not only triggered by the current pandemic but also by recent and future natural calamities.

“There is no better time to discuss Constitutional Reform than now,” declared Suarez in a privilege speech delivered on Monday, Dec. 14.
The former Quezon governor underscored the need to ensure that the Constitution reflects the current needs of Filipinos, most of whom are suffering from the devastation brought by multiple calamities on top of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If this is an extraordinarily difficult time, then it is also the high time to explore and pursue extraordinary solutions,” said Suarez, assistant majority leader in the Lower House.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco has also batted for amendments to the 1987 Constitution that would relax the country’s investment regulations in order to attract more foreign investments, especially in agriculture and manufacturing sectors.

While admitting that there may not be enough time to pursue the amendments, Velasco told leaders and members of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce of the Philippines (JFC) and local business groups that the House of Representatives will have to continue tackling the constitutional proposals.

“Notwithstanding, this overdue constitutional amendment should be tackled and addressed with finality in the next Congress,” Velasco told the JFC during a virtual meeting the other week.

Suarez, who is also vice chairman of the House Committee on Appropriaitons and on Good government and Public Accountability noted that in July 2020, 1,400 mayors in the country supported the call for Charter Change.

He also disagreed with the stand of certain senators that Charter change is “dead before it even starts.”

Suarez rejected this observation, saying that the timing is a chicken-and-egg conversation that cannot be resolved without having a conversation to begin with.

“Our responsibility as lawmakers and representatives of the Filipino people is to build trust, initiate a sober and people-inclusive discussion, and exhaust all means to enlighten our people about the issue,” he argued.

The administration lawmaker acknowledged the apprehension of Filipinos, but reminded that “the lack of trust does not prove the lack of need.”

“Even if we do not realize it in this Congress, our debates and deliberations will be a stronger foundation in the future. To me, that is a more meaningful legacy than shooting the topic dead before it even lived,” he said.

Suarez cited the country’s declining Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) as clear proof of the inability of the 1987 Constitution to provide the best framework to cushion the effects of the pandemic.

“According to the World Investment Report 2020 of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, our net FDI declined to 5 billion dollars in 2019, from 2018’s 6.6 billion dollars. That’s a 24 percent decline in investments, Mr. Speaker,” lamented the lawmaker.

He said the Philippines is experiencing ballooning unemployment as a drastic effect of the pandemic. Currently, there are around two million Filipinos whose unemployment was a result of businesses and workplaces being forced to close down.

The FDIs from 2019 alone could have greatly cushioned the pandemic and helped vulnerable stakeholders like poor families, teachers and students, and farmers among others.

Suarez also stressed that in comparison to other ASEAN countries, the Philippines is lagging behind in foreign investments.

“Opening our economy guarantees not only more funds to be used for people’s agenda, it also ensures that foreign partners have a direct and strong stake in our fast recovery and economic stability,” the lawmaker stated.

Published in News

THE title is a paraphrased from the 1985 book of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (GGM), El Amor en los Tiempos del Colera, perhaps one of the most compelling love stories of all time. The title reflects partly the seeming incongruence of love within the grip of a pandemic. In a parallel context this yuletide season, the Christian world commemorates the birth of Christ, traditionally a time for love, merriment and gift-giving. The deadly irony is that the intimacy of exchanging gifts is perverted by the protocols of the contagion — wearing of masks, maintaining social distance and minimal contacts while awaiting a vaccine that may thwart Covid-19. This article and the book’s similarities ends at the title, Love in the Time of Cholera. (But Florentino biding his time for Fermina for 53 years, seven months and 11 days is a poignantly riveting love story).

But a year since the coronavirus burst into the scene, we are aberrantly condemned to the confines of our abodes. Many families are in dire straits. I can sympathize how government has been on its wit’s end providing for these poor souls. Millions of Filipinos have been deprived of jobs and means of livelihood, unable to put food on the table during this lockdown period. But the alternative is a possible contraction of the disease — or just an egregious attempt at instilling fear and panic by those whose interests are served and for reasons opaque to us all; thus, we are all caught between a rock and a hard place.

Coping and making do
But there are still countless others who can at least afford to cope, uncertain when this will all end — this contest of perishables, our resources versus our resilience. And some of us may be the lucky ones in a country where the disparity between the haves and the have-nots is a deep chasm, where the 10 percent owns 50 percent of the wealth. Many of us are embedded in the resilient fraction of the upper 90 percent. And God help us if we have few more months of this pestilence.

So, we are left to our devices, enduring and making do. For what it’s worth, these past months provided me the time with which to use them with unsparing generosity compared to when I had so little of it. Thus, I poured time profusely with my grandchildren that child psychologists assured me prolongs my years on earth, in direct proportion to the daily hours spent based on a nebulous formula. I suspect however that these hours aggravated with cries, shouts and the general ruckus produced by the 5-, 6-, and 8-year-old dynamos are inversely proportional to my timeline of 75 years. A year less for each month may not be farfetched.

100 Years of Solitude
Consequently, for a little privacy I devised a schedule where daily I would repair to my man-cave and assume sole control of some space-time to review the books in my library accumulated over a lifetime, some of which have never been unsealed but displayed prominently, still enclosed in their original book jackets that I made sure did not clash with the furniture. Quite a few of these tomes are from impressive authors though only the titles and a page or two had been read by me, inclusive of the preface. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novels however came to the forefront, suggested in part by a co-sufferer, Flora Nimfa Santos vda de Leocadio y de Aguinaldo (’66 PWC). I never really appreciated this Columbian author until his 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature. Cien Años de Soledad was one that I tried to read in the original during my years of pretentious intellectual arrogance. It was such heavy reading that somewhere along the 417 pages I promptly abandoned it except for some unforgettable passages: “Many years later as he faced the firing squad, Coronel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

This is the first sentence of what I rediscovered to be a really fascinating book, but this time comfortably rereading it in English — complemented by a downloaded audio book and a movie format in Spanish with English subtitles. Reading GGM’s opus had me parsing over seven generations of the Buendia family characters growing old and dying, “only to return as ghosts or seemingly reincarnated in the next generation.”

This epic compendium of passionate romance, unrequited, dangerous, and sometimes incestuous love backgrounded by civil wars and political conspiracies propelled Latin American literature and GGM into global prominence. Also, the novel introduced a unique literary genre where supernatural phenomenon interspersed within the natural flow of the stories are depicted in a realistic and matter-of-fact cadence; known as “magical realism,” it has spawned several noteworthy novels worldwide and computer-generated images (CGI) in movies.

Another classic story
Despite this pandemic, the vaccine, if it can really defeat this contagion, is welcome and timely this Christmas season as the ultimate gift for humanity or at least those lucky enough to be vaccinated before the wretched ones are ravaged — and be part of the gruesome global statistics now approaching 70 million cases and 1.60 million deaths. Nearer yet is the Philippines where we have now almost 9,000 deaths out of almost 500,000 infections. We can still consider ourselves fortunate compared to our “kababayan” in the US where the delusional outgoing President Trump leaves a legacy of 16 million cases and 300,000 dead Americans. Comparatively, our own President Duterte who did not shirk from his responsibilities may have to be seen through a new prism of leadership. At this juncture, I would like to share with him and with my readers excerpts from an essay written by Fr. Horacio de la Costa, a Jesuit professor of Dinky Munda (Class ‘65 AdeM, Class ’60 high school AdeD).

“Christmas is when we celebrate the unexpected; it is the festival of surprise… when wise men go on a fool’s errand, bringing gifts to a prince they have not seen, in a country they do not know… This is the night when we are told to seek our king, not in a palace, but in a stable.

“…We were promised a savior, but we never dreamed God Himself would come and save us. We know that He loved us, but we never dared to think that He loved us so much as to become one of us.

“…But that is the way God gives. His gifts are never quite what we expect, but always something better than we hoped for. We can only dream of things too good to be true; God has a habit of giving things too true to be false.

“Now, more than ever, living in times so troubled, facing a future so uncertain, we need such faith. We need it for ourselves, and we need to give it to others.

“We must remind the world that if Christmas comes in the depths of winter, it is that there may be an Easter in the spring.”

Maligayang Pasko sa lahat! And be safe, everyone!

N.B.: For the complete essay, please access Dinky Munda Jr.’s FB.

Published in LML Polettiques
Friday, 11 December 2020 07:57

Darwin, Covid-19 and the Philippine setting

WITH the introduction of a vaccine at this time when Covid-19 is running out of control, speculation is rife as to who should be benefited first – with the rest of the global population queuing up.

Based on wealth, it is a no-brainer for the richer countries to have prior access with the surplus, if any, allocated to whoever offers the better deal, economically or politically. Historically, countries per se are never altruistic. Their own citizens come first, and within each society, segmentation exists between those privileged versus the disadvantaged. This is simply how it is; the world following the dictates of political economy highlighted by the imperatives of the Malthusian catastrophe (“Revisiting Covid and the Malthusian trap,” The Manila Times, Dec. 2, 2020). If there are no interventions in the exponential progressions towards overpopulation and the earth’s capacity to produce the equivalent resources, a disequilibrium will eventually be breached – a worldwide catastrophe.

Darwin and natural selection
Complementing Malthus’ postulates is one that may decide for society where all these will lead to. At some point, Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection will kick in. Darwin, the English naturalist, stated that all species on earth – even man – develop, over a great expanse of time minute, inherited variations, subsequently imprinted in its DNA that increase the species’ ability to compete, survive and reproduce or replicate itself. This is the basic concept of evolution. Darwin further suggested that the species or organism that best adjust to its environment survives.

Inevitably the fittest of these species/organisms survive and flourish, and those that don’t, perish. Thus, the dictum “survival of the fittest” coined by another scientist, Herbert Spencer, hews closely to Darwinism: “Survival of the form that will leave the most copies of itself in successive generations.” Only this time, the slow process of evolution will, in fact, be accelerated tremendously.

Nature’s triage
In battlefield hospitals where wounded soldiers are taken, they have a system of priorities, designed to maximize the number of survivors. A “triage officer” must sort out and decide which of the wounded has the best chance of surviving.

Over the millennia, man deliberately intervenes on what is perceived to imperil man’s immediate existence. On population control, national policies are encouraged as in family planning, late marriages and celibacy – the solutions of choice spearheaded by the Christian churches and evangelicals. A drastic approach is one imposed by totalitarian regimes. China’s one child policy distorted population patterns with preference for the male species, resulting in an unforeseen and unwanted consequence – mass abortion of female fetuses.

War and societal conflicts are offshoots of the disparity between the haves and the have-nots with the former having greater access and control of the earth’s resources – the negative effects of globalization – not to mention genocide and ethnic cleansing all over the globe; all for the survival of the few and fittest.

But in her own peculiar way, nature intervenes when things get out of hand and she or her creatures are imperiled. Man’s abuse of its environment over the recent 100 years on the untrammeled march towards industrialization has, for instance, increased average global temperature, causing melting of ice in the poles and glaciers, contributing to the sea-level rise, inundating low areas and cities and distorting weather patterns; causing hurricanes, floods and tide surges.

But the more deadly sanction nature visits on her dominion is the pandemic. The deadly ancient and Middle Ages diseases, known then as plagues and the “black death,” have decimated up to half the world’s known population. Man’s advances in technology has, thus far, mitigated these pestilences. But can man survive the lethal combination of the pandemic and the Malthusian catastrophe? Nature has the final word in terms of an accelerated Darwinism: the elimination of the unfit, resulting in the survival and flourishing of the remaining homo sapiens – a more healthy and fit population.

The Philippine setting
It has been touted lately that the Deegong has caused government to set aside P73.2 billion for the vaccination of 60 million Filipinos. Finance Secretary Dominguez has these amounts available. Well and good. But for 2021, only 20 percent of the population will be vaccinated, building up to 60 percent for the next years toward achieving “herd immunity” – a concept pushed by Secretary Duque that failed in Sweden.

But the availability of the vaccine is not only the critical question. The more fundamental consideration is who will benefit first while the rest of the Filipino population are continually being ravaged and the economy in shambles. The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has to come out with priorities. And this is key to the continued survival and well-being of the community and the continued legitimacy of this government.

Alternative scenario
It is obvious that the frontline workers have top priority. These are the people in direct or indirect contact with the Covid-stricken patients that are at risk and in a very real danger to contract the disease themselves. There are also the people, who assure the populace of continued production and delivery of the basic necessities for communities to thrive food, medicine and sundries and, more importantly, those that maintain peace and order and enforce the law.

After these people are those that must be weighed in against their contribution to society. This involves confronting ethical conundrums. Logically, the question of the needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few. But for scarce resources, whose needs are preponderant? Over the ages, utilitarian judgments for the greater good in moral dilemmas have always confronted individuals. But one of the raisons d’etre for the existence of governments and its leadership is the burden of decision-making.

What are the basic principles prioritizing scarce vaccines to beneficiaries while advancing societal and cultural imperatives? Aren’t we obligated to ask a series of collective questions that Philippine society and our political leadership must ask for the greater common good?

Are we going to allocate vaccines for the pasaway (irresponsible), who put other people at risk by not wearing masks and not practicing physical distancing? How about those suffering terminal illnesses?

Do our political leadership and their families have precedence? Do we need to allocate vaccines to the hardened criminals now imprisoned in our congested prisons? What level of priority must society assign to the deprived, the disabled and those that could not contribute to society, but instead be a burden at large? Will we allocate some to the New People’s Army? The Abu Sayyaf? Will our political and civic leadership even face these questions dispassionately and create public awareness to at least confront these questions and shape the debate?

On a universal level, among the one percent that holds half of the world’s wealth, this is a foregone conclusion. It is to its interest that the pandemic runs its course and wreaks havoc among the world population. It still has the one-third and whoever survives among the two-thirds with whom to work.

Perhaps, as in every country, the Philippines not excepted, these questions are now timely and may be mirrored. Mother Nature is neutral and will not make choices. Man will have to.

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 02 December 2020 08:52

Revisiting Covid and the Malthusian trap

FIVE years ago, in August of 2014, I first wrote about an epidemic, “Ebola virus: Is this the end of the world?” It was prescient as today’s coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) has the same infectious footprint as the Ebola, the 1918 Spanish flu, 1957 to 1958 Asian flu, 1968 to 1969 Hong Kong flu and the 1981 HIV/AIDS. These five pandemics claimed 126 million lives. Prior to these were the Black Death of the bubonic plagues of the Middle Ages, which wiped out one-third of the earth’s population.

From the first known case in China, in less than a year, 63 million cases claimed 1.4 million lives, a 2.3-percent morbidity rate — a far cry from the European Black Death. Looking back, the world should have learned better, but it did not. Its institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) failed, leaving member countries fending for themselves. Countries that traditionally assumed global leadership in similar crises such as America did not measure up. Smaller countries with far better systems of governance — Vietnam, South Korea and New Zealand, among others — fared better protecting their citizens and economies.

A vaccine against this virus has been dangled to the world since September. Big Pharma are all over themselves in a mad rush to be first in the market — no doubt cutting corners along the way as the prize would spell billions in revenues. The race has become highly political; Russia and China boastful of their own vaccines; as well as outlandish — a clinic in Zambales, Fabunan Antiviral Injection claiming a cure.

Vaccine’s promise
Leading scientists maintain that even with United States President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed (OWS), that kept on promising a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine before the November 3 elections, these may not come out this year. Trump has been moving the goal posts since September, tantalizing voters driven by his own personal political dynamics. With Trump still in denial as to his election loss, the supply chain that needed to be set up awaiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s and the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine approval may be in jeopardy. It is imperative for the incoming Biden administration to have a handle on the situation, grab the bull by the horns and land on its feet running by January 20 next year before Trump’s negligence causes another 50,000 to 100,000 deaths. With just 4 percent of the globe’s population, America’s Covid deaths disproportionately comprise 19 percent.

There are currently 150 coronavirus vaccines under development across the globe, but only a few are players. The vaccine could cost Big Pharma billions and the market is too huge for one company.

Multinationals may have to band together to segment the market – for after all, dispensing global health is still big business. By the end of the year, vaccines from different companies with differing degrees of potency are slated to be introduced into the global market. Among the leading ones are AstraZeneca (United Kingdom-Sweden), Pfizer-BioNTech (US-Germany), Sinovac (China), Moderna Therapeutics (US), Sputnik V (Russia), Bharat Biotech (India), Novavax (US), etc.

With huge global profits propelling cut-throat competition, the efficacy of the vaccine may not take precedence and therefore they are highly dubious. The normal number of years to develop vaccines for distribution and safe use was 10 to15 years. Reportedly, the fastest was the vaccine for mumps (paramyxovirus) that required four years in the 1960s. Through Trump’s OWS initiatives, at best 300 million doses of vaccine will be available early next year at a final cost to the consumer of between $4 to $20 per dose. “The World Health Organization is also coordinating global efforts to develop a vaccine, with an eye toward delivering two billion doses by end of 2021.” (Amy Mckeever, National Geographic, Nov. 23, 2020.) But does the world have the resources to thwart the pandemic?

Global wealth and poverty
The latest World Bank data on wealth and poverty thresholds are dismal. The richest 1 percent now owns half of the world’s wealth. Of the 7.655 billion inhabitants, two-thirds (5.10 billion) live on $10 a day. But below these are still the 10 percent (765 million) living on $1 a day, “the poorest in the world (who) are often hungry, have much less access to education, regularly have no light at night, and suffer from much poorer health.” (Global Poverty, World Bank Data.) These two-thirds can ill-afford the vaccine.

It is quite obvious then that with America’s wealth, the 300 million doses may solely be for its citizens; likewise, other wealthy countries that can afford the vaccines — Russia’s 150 million, China’s 1.4 billion, the European Union’s 446 million and Japan’s 126 million. But India may have a problem covering its 1.3 billion population. And this goes for the rest of the world’s destitute.

The WHO’s 2 billion doses by end of 2021 is nowhere enough to cover the 7.655 billion souls in the planet. Meantime a few more millions will be infected and die. At this point, an enigma: Who gets to benefit from this vaccine first? Who gets to play God?

A contrarian view
There is a bold contrarian view proposed to help shape the global debate. I introduced in one of my articles a hypothesis of an 18th century philosopher, Thomas Malthus, whose writings centered on world population and its capacity to consume the earth’s resources. Malthus postulates that population grows geometrically while world food production only arithmetically — eventually, more mouths will need more of earth’s resources, so that population growth at some point will outstrip food supply and famine and deprivation reigns.

Along with overpopulation, was the world’s industrialization that has gone berserk causing deep disparity in wealth accumulation and resource utilization. The use of fossil fuels became the main impetus for the industrial revolution of 1760 to 1820. Majority of scientists now declare this as causing air, water and environmental pollution and global warming — pushing inexorably towards the planet’s death. Thus, this deadly permutation of overpopulation, unmitigated poverty and the Covid-19 scourge have merged to take center stage.

Mother nature has a way to correct imbalances– thus perhaps the series of pandemics intermittently visiting planet earth over the millennia. Human extinction is unthinkable. So true, but this might not be Mother Nature’s intention to wipe out the entire human race. We are his best creation, the predator on top of the food chain. She will not destroy her “obra maestra” but perhaps just occasionally warn us, humans, that we are responsible for ourselves – for each other and our environment. She may just tolerate sanctions towards the planet’s continued existence. Depopulation!

A case for depopulation
I rephrase what I wrote: “There are two ways to reduce the earth’s population. One by nuclear holocaust with the ensuing collapse of the world’s economy with the resultant possible annihilation of the human species. War is too messy, and nobody wins. The efficient method is by attrition, depopulation spaced over time so as not to inflict too much trauma to the world’s economy. Covid-19 is presumably re-engineered to eliminate the elderly with pre-existing health vulnerabilities.” (“Covid-19 conspiracy theories,” The Manila Times, April 1, 2020.) And other age groups too.

To the conundrum: “Who gets to benefit from the vaccine first? Who gets to play God?”

Why, the 1 percent of course and whomever they decide to help of the remaining one-third of the world’s population!

Published in LML Polettiques