Hope may be in short supply these days, given the continuing health crisis and the economic toll that is just emerging. But hope can also bolster the mettle of people in distress. History, for instance, offers examples of how people overcame adversity. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War 2. Granted, the anniversary of the victory in Europe earlier this May was overshadowed by the pandemic. But for the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia, the war did not end until after Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945.
True, Filipinos collectively have a short memory, even a lack of affinity with history. Good thing that before the outbreak of of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), James Scott’s book Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita and the Battle of Manila came out. It reminds us, in grisly details for some parts, about the atrocities endured by Filipinos during the Japanese occupation. The situation worsened as Americans returned to fulfill the promise of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Nearly all of Manila was razed to the ground. Civilians were slaughtered, including women and children.
But the country eventually rose again. Life went on, even as each later generation saw rough patches of their own.
Fast forward to early 2020, the Philippines is among the fastest-growing economies in the world. Before the health crisis, the country’s economic fundamentals were good and getting better, notwithstanding the flaws and shortcomings of our society and political system.
Those fundamentals continue to buoy the spirits of economic forecasters, who expect a quick recover once the health crisis is under control.
Covid-19 is here to stay, according to the health experts. In fact, epidemiologists predict that cases will resurge when the autumn begins in the northern hemisphere and flu season begins again.
That may be hard, perhaps even painful, to contemplate given that more people are still contracting Covid-19 and dying from it. Worse, there is concern about a second wave triggered by the reopening of economies here and around the world. This is a concern for people in Metro Manila and other places that are still under a modified enhanced quarantine as they transition to a further relaxation of the lockdown in a general community quarantine.
Eventually, people will look at Covid-19 in the same way they view measles or smallpox today. In fact, we should count our blessings, because the mortality rate from this coronavirus is relatively low. It is far milder than the special pathogens that preceded it, like Ebola or H5N1.
To date, Covid-19’s most threatening attribute is its ability to spread rapidly.
Two faces of change
As many have said, Covid-19 will usher in a new normal. And as we are experiencing now, change can be difficult, especially if it happens abruptly. But change also has a positive side. In a famous speech by the late US President John F. Kennedy, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters in Chinese. One means danger, the other opportunity. Like other Kennedy sound bites that were either expressed in a foreign language or referenced one, their accuracy has been questioned. But the point is not to despair, not even in trying times.
Even today, opportunities are emerging. For instance, the greater acceptance of people working from home may contribute to a better quality of life for those who are allowed to practice it. The new arrangement will even help ease traffic congestion, which costs the Philippine economy P3.5 billion a day based on a Japanese study.
The pandemic may even hasten the development of the digital economy, even in emerging economies like the Philippines. Perhaps with more people working from home, there will be greater public pressure for the government to accelerate the introduction of the third telco player and faster development of the country’s digital infrastructure. And with quality internet connectivity, perhaps the government will be successful in decongesting urban centers because people will be able to work from anywhere in the country.
True, times will remain tough in the days and months ahead. But it is accurate to note that resilience is one of the best attributes of Filipinos. For now, drawing on our reserves of hope can tide us over until better days.