Heroes or revolutionaries | Investigator’s opinion

Just a week and I feel terribly weak and depressed and frustrated. Just a week and it’s been worse than the last five months of community quarantine and movement restrictions for seniors like me. Losing the freedom to move around like before, irritating it can be when you feel responsible and strong enough to be productive in society, is not depressive for me. Clearly that – irritating.

But feeling the exhaustion and desperation of primary care physicians, immediately followed by continued scandalous drama in PhilHealth as the disgraced institution is ravaged by greed, I suddenly gave in. For several years, given my own understanding of governance in the context of Philippine history and culture, and my deep desire to contribute my part or more in alleviating the pain and misery of the poor and hungry, I pledged to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. I must have hit a tipping point because I’m so tempted to curse the darkness.

I had predicted that five continuous months of intense and dangerous work for primary care physicians would naturally end in a weakened state – them as workers and health systems in different regions. We can no longer track the number of frontline people who have been and still are infected with Covid-19. In a war zone, as we are told over and over again that we are at war with Covid-19, that would mean the number of wounded warriors. I’m afraid to ask how many died in the line of duty because I fear more AFP soldiers sacrificed their lives during the siege of Marawi.

Heroes arise in times of war and we do not feel sorry for them. On the contrary, they inspire us and strengthen our own determination to fight and win. However, while I don’t pity those who are heroes to me and to society, I do feel their pain and their fears. Most of all, I feel their need for support from the leaders of the government and the citizens they serve. They don’t need to be accused of treason for openly expressing their opinions and feelings when only survival and victory have motivated them. Fomenting revolution during war is betrayal, and our health warriors are not traitors.

I tried to put myself in the shoes of the Commander-in-Chief and imagine how I would react if my warriors made public an open letter, a desperate appeal to me. I can understand that I would have liked a more private release, knowing that I have an entire nation whose morale is also low and in need of a lift. At the same time, I can see the wounded, I can remember the dead, and I see the battle raging with no definite end in sight. And my warriors are on their knees, literally in exhaustion, begging for my understanding and specific executive support.

Would my disappointment with the way they delivered the message lead me to suspect them of betrayal and revolution? Would I ignore the truth of their suffering and instead give weight to their opposition to my governance and threaten me with a walkout or, worse, a revolution? Personally, it would be extremely unlikely that I miss the gist of the post, miss the emotional appeal, no matter what I suspect. I don’t believe the president either – unless he’s been made to believe a lie. Unfortunately, a cordon sanitaire may exist, but it is supposed to sanitize, not pollute.

Fortunately, I’m not the one up there. I am only an elderly person, limited in my movements, and I accept this quarantine, if only to not overload the primary care physicians with another patient presenting certain morbidities. Today is how I can immediately show my sympathy – by staying home and staying healthy. Then I have to campaign for others to do the same, as much as I can reach. We will all contribute to the time out – self-imposed ECQ.

Even beyond that, I wonder how citizens can help our medical warriors. The president had made it clear that money was a problem, that it will not be so easy to help the kind of massive numbers in the “Ayuda” program. And I know he was looking at material support for frontline health workers. Maybe citizens can take over, but would need enough information and a mechanism to do so. Would it be possible for associations representing primary care physicians to identify their needs in which the private sector, even individual citizens, can get involved?

With all of this worry about people asking for help, the stench of PhilHealth scandals has once again hit airwaves and social media. As if the state of a raging pandemic that defies all DOH strategies weren’t enough, as if confusing data and statistics that spark more fear than hope weren’t enough, another (yes, a other and another) PhilHealth scandal is unloaded on a population. It’s one thing to hear that PhilHealth’s reserve funds will be gone by 2021, but it’s worse to note that corruption in PhilHealth has reached “cultural” proportions. Against the greed of the corrupt, there will never be enough funds.

PhilHealth is, to me, the greatest blessing the government has ever given to less fortunate Filipinos. Hundreds of billions in less than ten years have been poured into funding PhilHealth’s programs and it is now threatened with bankruptcy – unless the government takes the extraordinary step of providing unscheduled funds. I am convinced that the national government will do it, but surely at the sacrifice of other necessary services.

In the center of the eye of a pandemic, my depression does not come from Covid-19 the enemy. It comes from within, from viruses worse than Covid-19, but no less deadly to the lives and morale of our troops, no less destructive to the poor whose health benefits are severely compromised. Yet we cannot give up.

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Thelma J. Longworth

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