The lockdown, enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or similar appropriate euphemisms is a correct attempt to contain a deadly pandemic. Other countries are implementing this with varying degrees of success. My medium-sized family with three grandkids (aged 8, 6 and 4), two parents, two grandparents, nannies and kasambahay (househelps) — sequestered in a fairly large house with a modest garden — are enjoying the novelty of it all, at least in the provinces (five others are quarantined in Manila). Forced interaction within a confined space is akin to a prison without bars, armed guards and a bartolina (isolation chamber) and absent corporal punishment although the intermittent shouting and cries and the general ruckus that erupt between unique, dynamic and highly independent siblings are, at least to the lolo (grandfather), analogous to Holy Week penance.

Our home ECQ has unstructured amusements, leisure, entertainment and recreation privileges as contrasted to the proverbial “doing time” or incarceration. At least for a month, the inmates make their own rules, although in the hierarchy of authority — the rankings are confused as to who are the wardens; the adults or the little ones. Discipline is loose and bedtime curfew is unenforceable as the kids, with no school, consider every night a “movie night.”

Social media data overload
But Facebook, Messenger, Viber and You Tube have inundated social media with all sorts of news articles, opinions and warnings against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). But what catch my eyes are the insights of bloggers, pundits, intellectual charlatans and wannabe opinion makers.

The contributions are a witches’ brew of facts, fiction, questionable science and fake news. All these thrown into the cauldron suffused with the overarching fear of the pandemic with daily real time statistics on the spread, survival and morbidity rates. Throw in a healthy measure of a blend of epidemic movies — i.e., the “Outbreak” (1995), “Contagion” (2011), my special favorite “Andromeda Strain” (1969), the recent Netflix film “Pandemic” (2020) and “World War Z” (2013) — and, voila, conspiracy theories are regurgitated which, in some way, alleviate anxieties in the primordial quest for simple answers during times of peril.

One that has gained traction was an account of a paper written by four researcher-scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology based on their study from 2018, anticipating an outbreak. The document was received by the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing for peer review on Jan. 29, 2019. On March 2, 2019, it was published in an open access journal titled “Bat Coronaviruses in China,”10 months before the outbreak. Apparently these new deadly pathogens had similar genomes with other coronaviruses. The suspected cover-up by Chinese authorities was unraveled in December 2019, when the spread could no longer be contained and the lockdown of Wuhan was enforced. By then, 4,000 citizens have already fled the city for other parts in China and abroad.

To deflect these denunciations of the virus origins, Chinese authorities hinted that the United States biochemical weapons agency spread the virus through US soldiers who visited Hubei Province where Wuhan city is situated. US President Donald Trump promptly retaliated by officially tweeting Covid-19 not by its name, but as “the China virus.”

Depopulate the earth
But a compelling conspiracy theory is one expanded from the hypothesis of an 18th century philosopher, Thomas Malthus, whose writings centered on world population and its capacity to consume the earth’s resources: “The power of population is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for man that premature death must, in some shape or other, visit the human race.”

I wrote in my column “Malthus and the global peril” (The Manila Times, Feb.12, 2019): “…The world’s resources are finite and technology can no longer mitigate the effects of a disastrous population bursting at the seams. By 2050, at current growth rates, the United Nations predicts the world population could reach 9.6 billion. Demographic experts argue 10 billion is Earth’s maximum population carrying capacity; predicated too on another projection that earth can afford to feed only this much.”

Depopulation not genocide
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 reengineered to eliminate the elderly with preexisting health vulnerabilities. In Italy, 99.99 percent of the infected elderly died. (Another rich source of conspiracy theory “Why Italy?”

The next round of pandemics may target the 1 billion souls worldwide living in the slums, shantytowns and favelas under squalid conditions.

The theory further postulates that over the past decades, the two remaining competing superpowers have allowed or even caused the introduction of deadly viruses from their arsenals or from “natural causes.” The coronavirus family — the severe acute respiratory syndrome, Middle East respiratory syndrome and now the more lethal Covid-19 have decimated the targeted segment in each other’s population — and at their allies, too. Supposedly vaccines for these various plagues have already been discovered from the blood of human survivors then processed and stored for safekeeping by multinationals, and allocated from time to time in line with the plan for depopulation

Bill Gates, in his TED speech in 2015 declared that the next world war would not be nuclear. It will be virus- and technology-based. Left unsaid is the desired result: eradication of poverty, the healing of the environment, and mitigating the violence to the earth’s climate toward striking a balance between the desired numbers of a depopulated human race and the earth’s capacity to produce; perforce maintain the desired quality of life.

Who survives
The blame game over whether the pandemic is a result of China’s profligate exotic culinary palate or America’s weaponizing biotechnology simply deflects the conversation away from the real issue — that man has long been irresponsible for his ascendency over nature.

I wrote in 2014 an appropriate conclusion: “Human extinction is unthinkable…but this might not be Mother Nature’s intention to wipe out the entire human race. We are [her] best creation, the predator on top of the food chain. She will not destroy her ‘obra maestra,’ but perhaps just intermittently warn us, humans, that we are responsible for ourselves — for each other and our environment. Over the millennia…Mother Nature was there to ride herd on us, letting us be until we go outside the limits of our discretion. Then she steps in to discipline us. More than a hundred plagues…in human history…curtailing millions from the earth’s population.”

We are taxing her resources and her patience. Mother Nature or God or Allah has simply intervened, but is neutral on who are to be eliminated. But man or more particularly the world’s oligarchy and the elite are now playing God, choosing who may or may not survive. Those who are no longer useful and a burden to society will not pull through. This is happening now!
The Senate President crowed yesterday that the party he nominally coheads, PDP-Laban, has a “pleasant problem” — too many potential senatorial candidates. Koko Pimentel’s estimate is they have up to 20 possible choices for the 12-person slate for the 2019 senatorial race. But his list includes the five administration-affiliated senatorial incumbents up for reelection next year. This is a group that has made noises that, much as it prefers to remain in the administration camp, it is unhappy with the way PDP-Laban has been designating its local leaders and candidates, and therefore prefers to strike out on its own, perhaps in alliance with the other administration (regional) party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by the President’s daughter and current Davao City mayor, Sara Duterte.

Setting aside, then, the five-person “Force,” the administration-oriented but not PDP-friendly reelectionists (Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito), what Koko’s crowing over is a mixed bag. Some of them have been floated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (with whom Mayor Duterte clashed in recent months): six representatives (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is in her last term in the House of Representatives; Albee Benitez, Karlo Nograles, Rey Umali, Geraldine Roman, and Zajid Mangudadatu), three Cabinet members (Bong Go, Harry Roque, and Francis Tolentino), and two other officials (Mocha Uson and Ronald dela Rosa), which still only adds up to 11 possible candidates (who are the missing three?).

Of all of these, the “Force” reelectionists are only fair-weather allies of the present dispensation; their setting themselves apart is about much more than the mess PDP-Laban made in, say, San Juan where support for the Zamoras makes it extremely unattractive for JV Ejercito to consider being in the same slate. Their cohesion is about thinking ahead: Creating the nucleus for the main coalition to beat in the 2022 presidential election. The contingent of congressmen and congresswomen who could become candidates for the Senate, however, seems more a means to kick the Speaker’s rivals upstairs (at least in the case of Benitez and Arroyo) and pad the candidates’ list with token but sacrificial candidates, a similar situation to the executive officials being mentioned as possible candidates (of the executive officials, only Go seems viable, but making him run would deprive the President of the man who actually runs the executive department, and would be a clear signal that the administration is shifting to a post-term protection attitude instead of the more ambitious system-change mode it’s been on, so far).

Vice President Leni Robredo has been more circumspect, saying she’s not sure the Liberal Party can even muster a full slate. The party chair, Kiko Pangilinan, denied that a list circulating online (incumbent Bam Aquino, former senators Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, TG Guingona, current and former representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte, Kaka Bag-ao, Edcel Lagman, Raul Daza, Gary Alejano and Erin Tañada, former governor Eddie Panlilio and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña) had any basis in fact.

What both lists have in common is they could be surveys-on-the-cheap, trial balloons to get the public pulse. Until the 17th Congress reconvenes briefly from May 14 to June 1 for the tail end of its second regular session (only to adjourn sine die until the third regular session begins on July 23), it has nothing much to do. Except, that is, for the barangay elections in May, after a last-ditch effort by the House to postpone them yet again to October failed.

Names can be floated but the real signal will come in July, when the President mounts the rostrum and calls for the big push for a new constitution—or not. Connected to this would be whether the Supreme Court disposes of its own chief, which would spare the Senate—and thus, free up the legislative calendar—to consider Charter change instead of an impeachment trial. In the meantime, what congressmen do seem abuzz over is an unrefusable invitation to the Palace tomorrow — to mark Arroyo’s birthday. An event possibly pregnant with meaning.
“Then I fall to my knees, shake a rattle at the skies and I’m afraid that I’ll be taken, abandoned, forsaken in her cold coffee eyes.” – A quote from the song, “She moves on” by Paul Simon, singer/songwriter

THE recent tremors affecting the central provinces of Mindanao caused by a series of seismic waves radiating to the northern and southern parts of the island, were like nature shaking a rattle, emitting sharp sounds and unnerving motions from the underground, both frightening and bewildering as to the intensity and confusion they generated.

The successive earthquakes and aftershocks were rattling the nerves not only of residents close to the epicenter but also those living along the active fault planes who were not used to strong earth movements. Some reported dizziness, anxiety, depression and other post-traumatic stress symptoms after experiencing continuous shaking and periodic vibrations.

As this article was written, less frequent but perceptible tremors were felt on the affected areas although everyone is reportedly bracing for aftershocks which many hope and pray, would not turn out to be the dreaded “big one,” as some irresponsible persons are falsely posting on social media. Shake a rattle drum to this latter blokes.

According to Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), since the 1900s, Mindanao has been rocked by at least 35 earthquakes, three of which, felt at “Intensity 7” or worse, were deemed destructive: the 1976 Moro Gulf earthquake which caused a tsunami reaching up to nine meters that killed about 8,000 people including the unaccounted ones; the 1999 series of earthquakes in Agusan del Sur damaging roads, and poorly constructed schools and infrastructure; and the Sultan Kudarat earthquake in 2002, killing eight people with 41 others injured and affecting over seven thousand families in the provinces of Sarangani, North and South Cotabato (Rappler 2019). Shake a rattle of prayers for all who perished in these tragedies.

The series of earthquakes in October of this year, just weeks apart, with magnitudes of over 6 hitting many provinces, again, in Cotabato and southern parts of Davao accounted for the death toll of 22, damaging homes, school buildings and many infrastructure, shaking and sending chills to many residents who have to deal with continuing albeit smaller tremors which can be felt as far up the city of Cagayan de Oro and down the southern province of Sarangani.

Some local officials reported residents having developed “earthquake phobia” keeping watch on their clock hanging inside their tents in evacuation sites, losing sleep with anxiety awaiting when the next tremor would be coming. With frayed nerves, some would panic over even slight ground shakings.

But this is not about the temblor as much as the response of people and the country’s leaders and responsible officials. Except for the government of China which donated P22 million in aid and support for relief efforts in Mindanao, hurray for China, other foreign countries just expressed condolences and messages of sympathy to families of victims. No pledges, no assistance. Perhaps, they can’t trust our government agencies to do the job for them anymore. To them, a shake of the baby rattle.

To the initial bunch of donors who immediately come with their financial assistance such as Yorme Isko Moreno of Manila with his P5 million personal money, Mayor Vico Sotto with relief goods and P14 million coming from the people of Pasig City, Mayor Marcy Teodoro of Marikina with 100 modular tents, movie star Angel Locsin who moved about sans fanfare for her charity work offering food and other assistance to victims in Davao and North Cotabato, to Mayor Inday Duterte for relief distribution, Cebu provincial government for disaster relief campaign and to the many nameless others who came with their relief aids, shake a rattle of joy and thankfulness for their kindness and generosity.

To our government officials and politicians goes our appeal to set aside politics, distribute the relief items according to the wishes of their donors and not allow goods to rot because of political colors as was shown in the previous administration’s handling of donated goods. To them, shake a rattle of enlightenment and peace.

In whatever disaster or crisis that befalls the country, trust Filipinos’ resiliency and coping mechanisms such as resorting to prayers and humor to come to their succor.

Social media become a natural venue for memes, practical jokes and bantering such as the ones which came after Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy reportedly claimed that he caused to stop the earthquakes so they can no longer create damage. To everyone, shake a rattle of laughter and fun while we help provide for the needs of our less fortunate brethren in Cotabato and Davao provinces.