Whenever a year comes to a close, people give differing opinions about how the year that was. Some would say that it’s good, other’s not so good. Still others would have the temerity to say that it was a bad year. As we write, most everybody seems to agree that 2020 was not as good as we expected it to be. Since there were a few good things that happened, let’s just say that 2020 is a year like no other. It’s a forgettable year, but who in his/her right mind will ever forget 2020?

Disruption, destruction

When I was young and silly, I would hear the old folks talk about their worst experience during World War 2. I thought I’d share with my grandchildren the travails of the 2020 pandemic. But then again, they’re the Lockdown Generation and they’re having a first-hand experience.

The year 2020 is perhaps the year that millions of Filipinos suffered the worst in their lives. The year started with an eruption of the world’s smallest volcano, Taal in Batangas, 50 miles south of Manila. It shattered the tourism industry around the scenic volcano, and displaced thousands of employees in tourism, hospitality, agriculture and services sectors.

Before the resilient Filipinos could rebuild their lives and livelihood, the novel coronavirus (later called Covid-19) arrived in the Philippines courtesy of a couple of Chinese tourists, and the whole of Luzon was placed under lockdown. The lockdown turned out to be perhaps the longest and harshest in the world. As a consequence, business, school, jobs, religion, sports and most aspects of life were never the same again. The strategy to herd people into their own homes seemed to be more priority than the testing, tracing and treatment, which was later resorted to with private sector support. Despite the lockdown, the Philippines still registered the second highest confirmed cases (470,650) and 9,124 deaths in the Asean, next to Indonesia. (source: WHO, Dec 29, 10:55AM CET) The world has, at this writing, 79,931,215 confirmed cases and 1,765,265 deaths.

Former youth sector Rep. Mong Palatino wrote in The Diplomat on Dec. 28, 2020, “While many are reeling from the impact of the lockdown, lawmakers hastily passed an Anti-Terrorism Law, which the opposition described as a draconian measure aimed at stifling dissent. It was during this period that President Duterte’s threat to close down media giant ABS-CBN was realized when Congress rejected the broadcaster’s franchise renewal application.”

As lockdown restrictions were slowly eased, and the economy was re-opening, along came a series of typhoons. In early November, Super Typhoon “Rolly” (Goni), packing winds of 315 kmph, the world’s strongest in 2020, hit Catanduanes and the rest of the Bicol Region, costing some $392.5 million in damage to the already poor and suffering Filipinos. Rolly was as strong as, if not stronger than, typhoons “Yolanda” (Haiyan) in 2013 and “Ondoy” (Ketsana) in 2009. Many parts of the country were inundated by the typhoons, but in Cagayan province, the floods were allegedly caused by the inadvertent release of water by dam operators. The damage caused, including the death of more than 150 Filipinos, was devastating, especially as the affected communities and residents were still suffering from the ill effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Did we do better or worse than other countries? It’s your call. It’s common knowledge that other countries have started vaccinations against the Covid-19 virus. Filipino nurse May Parsons administered on Dec. 8, 2020 the first (Pfizer/BioNTech) vaccine to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan. The second recipient of the vaccine was 81-year-old William Shakespeare, an inpatient in Coventry in Warwickshire, where his famous namesake was born.

2020 elsewhere

In the US, Australia and other countries, the years prior to 2020 now seemed like the golden age of human existence. One US columnist wrote, “This was a year of nonstop awfulness, a year when we kept saying it couldn’t possibly be worse, and it always did.”

The year 2020 started in the US with the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. He was acquitted by the Senate. Fast forward, the US voters did not acquit him in the polls, as he lost to Joe Biden in the November 3 Presidential election. Earlier, the big news was the killing of an Iranian military leader in a drone strike ordered by President Trump. Iran responded by shooting down a Ukrainian airliner that killed 176 crew and passengers. As the US was busy with processing this news that could have resulted in World War 3, Chinese news media reported that a man in Wuhan died of a mysterious virus.

In the UK, Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan of Sussex announced that they no longer wish to be part of the British royal family. For a moment, it was a royal crisis, just like the “Brexit” that finally became a reality on Jan. 31, 2020.

Australia battled a wildfire that killed 33 people and thousands of animals, displaced hundreds of families and destroyed at least 27.2 million acres of bush, forest and parks. In the US, West Coast wildfires raged in California, Oregon and Washington.

The NBA was suspended on March 11. Then the NCAA games and the Tokyo Olympics were also reset. On July 7, the NBA games resumed in a “bubble.” Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers emerged later as champions, defeating the Miami Heat coached by Fil-Am Erik Spoelstra.

On April 29, the Pentagon released videos of possible UFOs. Finally?

In the US, Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down by two white men in February, Breonna Taylor was killed by police officers, and on May 25 George Floyd was killed by a police officer. After the Floyd incident, “Black Lives Matter” started gaining momentum, and protests escalated across the US. On June 12, Rayshard Brooks was shot by the police in Atlanta. All victims were Black.

Back in Tarlac province, a mother and son were shot in broad daylight by a policeman, in front of several spectators and his young daughter who was proudly chanting, “My father is a policeman.”

Ami the gruesome crimes, many of which are perhaps not reported, the hopelessness with which many poor people await the vaccine and cure for the virus, the economic maelstrom and turmoil that small businesspersons and budding entrepreneurs are now deep into, the long days, nay months, of waiting for jobs by millions of Filipinos, we can only rest in the hope that 2021 will be a better year.

Personally, I think 2020 was both good and bad. Three companies of the family had to close. But I have some things to thank God for. No one in my family got seriously sick in 2020. Amid the massive infection around us, being healthy is already a great blessing. We surely hope that 2021 will be better, especially with some new projects in the offing.

The late Dr. Robert Harold Schuller, American Christian televangelist and pastor once said, “Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.”

Ernie Cecilia is the chairman of the Human Capital Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AMCHAM); Co-Chairman of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines’ (ECOP’s) TWG on Labor Policy and Social Issues; and past president of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP). He can be reached at [email protected]