On Distant Shore – Amid frustration and despair, election brings hope in 2022

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By Val G. Abelgas

A day or two before Christmas Day, polling firms Social Weather Station and Pulse Asia usually published a survey on how Filipinos looked at Christmas and the coming year – whether they thought they expected to be happy or not in the Christmas season and how hopeful they were about the coming year.

This year, the SWS came up with a survey that said 65% of Filipinos expected to be happy this Christmas season despite the pandemic being on its second year. This was 15 points higher than last year (50%), understandably because while the Covid-19 pandemic was close to its height in December last year, this year, the number of daily Covid cases is on its way down. It is also worth noting that the survey was held in the last week of November, long before super typhoon Odette struck.

With respect to the annual hope survey, however, both the SWS and Pulse Asia still have to come up with their results.

Last year, Pulse Asia said that despite the pandemic, 91% or 9 out of 10 Filipinos were hopeful of a better year in 2021. Although this was two points lower than the previous year’s numbers, it proved the resiliency of Filipinos and their “hope springs eternal” attitude despite the many difficulties that confront them in their daily lives.

Since its own hope survey was first conducted by SWS in 2000, the percentage of hopeful Filipinos have consistently gone up from 87% that year to above 90% starting in 2006, except for the 89% in 2009.

It went to 88% in 2001, and reached 95% in 2002 before easing to 90% in 2003, 81% in 2004, and 85% in 2005. It ranged from 91% to 92% from 2006 to 2008, before falling to 89% in 2009. It recovered to 93% in 2010, and has since then been at 90s levels, reaching as high as 96% in 2017.

It would be nice to see how hopeful Filipinos continue to be amid the destructive disasters, deadly pandemic, sputtering economy and rampant corruption in the past year.

For certain, the past year offered no reason to be optimistic about the coming year.

The 91% of Filipinos that were looking forward to a much better year obviously met disappointment. The coronavirus pandemic continued to wreak havoc on the hopeful, but helpless Filipinos throughout the year, killing thousands, sending tens of thousands to costly hospitalizations, bringing millions more to the precipice of poverty, reversing economic growth, raising the prices of goods and services to runaway inflationary prices, and drowning the country and the people to trillions of pesos in debt that they have to pay for generations to come.

To top it all, the people lost trust in the ability of government to pull them out of the quicksand of despair, and the sincerity of their leaders to lead them to a better life.

Already disappointed by the government’s delayed and confused response to the surging pandemic, the disappointment turned to frustration and anger as reports of corruption in the midst of the pandemic kept pouring in like raging rain, an ugly phenomenon many termed “plundemic,” meaning plunder amid the pandemic.

The Commission on Audit flagged several purchases of medical supplies and equipment, including facemasks, face shields and Covid test kits, leading the Senate blue ribbon committee to investigate the alleged anomalies. The hearings led to revelations that the Chinese firm Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp., which had an initial paid-up capital of only P625,000 and registered only in September 2019, bagged P10.85 billion worth of supply contracts.

It was established during the hearings that Michael Yang, a Davao-based Chinese national who was a former economic adviser of President Duterte, facilitated the contracts, guaranteed the firm’s financial ability, and lent the money to the firm to purchase the supplies.

It was also established that the purchases were made through the Department of Budget and Management’s Procurement Service, headed by Christopher Lloyd Lao, a former assistant of Sen. Christopher “Bong Go,” Duterte’s most trusted aide. Photos provided to the committee, headed by Sen. Dick Gordon, showed Duterte meeting with the Pharmally executives in Malacanang in 2017.

But it was not just Pharmally that obtained multi-million pandemic-related contracts. Five other Chinese “favored” firms got huge  deals from the government. These were: Xuzhou Construction Machinery Group, P446.4 million purchase; Wen Hua Development Industrial Co., P74.26 million; Chushen Company Ltd., P1.04 billion; Wen Hua Development Industrial Co, P1.37 billion; Shanghai Puheng Medical Equipment Co., P34.4 million.

All these purchases were made to the detriment and exclusion of local manufacturers.

Then came the corruption scandals that rocked the state-owned Philippine Health Insurance Corp. that eventually led to the resignation of many of its officials. A whistleblower, lawyer Thorrsson Montes Keith, a former PhilHealth employee, testified at the Senate and revealed anomalies which he said resulted in the loss of P15-billion in the state insurer’s funds, allegedly pocketed by members of the agency’s “mafia.” The amount represented a major chunk of the funds allotted to PhilHealth’s Interim Reimbursement Mechanism (IRM), which allowed the agency to advance billions of pesos to favored hospitals.

Several not-so-favored PhilHealth-accredited hospitals, on the other hand, had been demanding the payment of billions of pesos of unpaid claims for Covid-related services already rendered, including P545 million claimed by seven Iloilo City hospitals and P114 million owed the FEU-Dr. Nicanor Reyes Memorial Foundation Hospital. The Iloilo and the FEU hospital have withdrawn their PhilHealth accreditation because of the unpaid claims, meaning they would charge PhilHealth members and other patients their hospital bills in full.

In December, super typhoon Odette struck, killing close to 400, rendering tens of thousands of families homeless, leaving millions more without food, water and power, and casting dark clouds on the country’s economic recovery prospects.

The pandemic, disaster and corruption alone – not to mention the thousands of unsolved killings, the threats to democracy and freedom, and the lack of transparency and accountability in government — should be enough to bring hopelessness to millions of Filipinos for the coming year, especially with the Covid-19 pandemic still threatening more dark days ahead. Is this the reason why both the SWS and Pulse Asia have not come up with a survey on hope that they have been conducting for 20 years now?

While the year ahead does not offer much based on the events of the year about to close, there is one silver lining ahead. The May 9, 2022 national election is an opportunity for Filipinos to change the country’s path by electing leaders who have not only the ability and resolve to confront the country’s problems, but also the sincerity to lead the people to the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams of a better life.

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