Thoughts on the COVID-19 Crisis


I never looked at the term "privilege" the same way again from the moment that college began. In class, students spat out words like elitista, pribilehiyo, a bitter look of disdain etched on their expressions, in reference to those secured by their family's wealth. In the Philippines, where 54% of families considered themselves poor in the fourth quarter of 2019, suddenly, the most fundamental human rights have become a privilege that not everyone can afford.

I remembered this during the suspension of work and classes at all levels across Manila, taking immediate effect with no afterthought, smacking the hardships of seeking public transportation, a shift to a "new normal" nobody wanted. Privilege was daunting as I watched events unfold before me, as fear of the unknown crept, hollow and unyielding.

One by one, when the first few cases of local transmission of COVID-19 emerged, I read each patient's history of exposure and travel, until the statistics grew exponentially, there was too much to count. Fifty, hundreds, now a thousand—at home, I could only watch.

I consumed the news day and night, convinced that I was well-informed of local transmission cases that engulfed the country in fear. Yet, I was oblivious, unknowing of the fact that on the other side of this chaos, a war with poverty was threatening to burst.

Suddenly, privilege is a knife in the gut after three meals a day, the capacity to take online class at home, while scholars resorted to mobile data after struggling with Internet stability.

Privilege is watching the arrest of "no work, no pay" workers through a 52-inch television, calling them expletives with anti-poor remarks in the name of social distancing.

Privilege is working safely at home, while laborers, despite the emerging threat of COVID-19, crammed themselves in trains and buses in order to work and feed their families.

Privilege is liberty offered only to those who meet the daily expenses, the daily groceries, the basic rights calling for healthcare and nutrition, supposedly due for all without favor for status.

For me, privilege tasted hostile, felt sinful to deny. Who am I to look away?

Today, I ache for the Filipinos who staged protests at the City Hall, pinned to the ground and arrested for demanding food and assistance that never arrived.

Today, I ache for the Filipino man who died by suicide after experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, fearing that he would infect his family who were financially incapable of affording treatment.

Today, I ache for the urban poor, the war fought, the unjust structures that propagate inequality, the disparity of Philippine society, the victims, the advantage, the privilege.
jillian etc.