Pandemic kills 80,000 Filipinos

NOPE, that’s not the latest fake news being spread by that broadcast journalist who’s gullible, hysterical, incompetent or a paid Yellow agitator (or all of the above.) Neither is it the prophetic vision of some religious nut.

That’s how many Filipinos died as a result of the misnamed “Spanish flu” that ravaged the world in 1918-1919 and killed at least 50 million and afflicted 500 million souls. It took the lives of 80,000 Filipinos and infected 4 million. That makes the current Covid-19 pandemic — so far — look like a minor cold. The other day it infected “just” 1.8 million people (4,428 Filipinos) and killed 108,834 (247 here.)

I find it astonishing that a pandemic of such colossal magnitude hasn’t been etched in our collective consciousness. I consider myself well-read, but it is only in researching material on the current pandemic for this column that I became aware of the horrific scale of that tragedy which afflicted humanity just in the last century.

One explanation is that the drama — if I may use that word — of the Great War (the First World War), its clash of empires, the emergence of terrible new weapons of war such as mustard gas and tanks, and the heroism of soldiers eclipsed the “mundane” deaths of millions of ordinary human beings, each dying only with a whimper.

Another explanation is that the pandemic was so horrific, that as in the case of individual consciousness, our global mind consciousness coped with it by blocking it from memory.

Indeed, one puzzle has been the fact that literary writers of that period — supposedly the people’s voices, hypersensitive to the human condition — were for some reason silent on the horror of the Spanish flu, even if many such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and John dos Passos were witnesses to it. One writer though speculated that the hell of the Spanish flu actually silently wormed its way into the minds of writers and especially philosophers to create a genre of works of cynicism and ennui just before World War 2.

How else could T.S. Eliot — considered the single most important and unparalleled poet of the modern era — have thought of these chilling lines, “This is how the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper.” Was the bang World War 1, the whimper the last breath of a flu-infected man?

Source: F. Gealogo, ‘The Philippines in the world of the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919

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Did Jesus exist?

AT this time, when our culture, dominated for nearly four centuries by the Hispanic model of late-medieval Catholicism, imposes on us several days of contemplating the Christian Messiah, I dare post again a piece I wrote two years ago, discussing whether Christ did exist in the first place. Someday, sometime in your lives, you will have to choose: the Red or the Blue pill.

My 2018 column follows:
It is incontestable in this modern age that science has been the singularly most powerful tool for us to understand reality, to separate what’s false and mythical, and what’s true and factual (or historical). Science just in the past 100 years of modern human’s 200,000 years of existence, for instance, has unlocked the mysteries of the atom and of the human genome, so we understand now that the world is not composed of “earth, air, water and fire” nor are we just a more sophisticated form of dust.


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Thank God for China

TO be perfectly honest, with the nightmarish course of the Covid-19 pandemic since February, I would have probably stopped writing by March as I would have been so busy using most of my meager savings stocking up on rice, coffee and canned goods; preparing for a refuge somewhere in the mountains or in a remote Boracay-kind of island; and arming myself with pistols and rifles (to fend off looters).

But I didn’t because of one thing: China.


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Renato S. Velasco: Dear friend and comrade

RENE Velasco, my best friend in the past two decades and comrade in both the activist Maoist days of our youth and in government in our adult life, passed away last Saturday from pneumonia caused by Covid-19.

It’s a surreal, terrible feeling that something in the news everyday in the past two months, about which I’ve written so many articles, would snuff out the life of a dear friend, whom I couldn’t even visit when I first heard that he was in hospital. It would be like reading and writing about a serial killer, who would then kill a close friend.

Rene and I were communist cadres in our college days, he the secretary of the party group in the University of the Philippines when I was head of the party organization in Metro Manila. Unlike many of our comrades at that stage in our lives though, our egos were not invested in the communist cause, nor in the camaraderie of the struggle, nor relying on it for our livelihoods.

July 16, 1953-April 4,2020

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Globalization’s monster: Covid-19

TIME was when the Philippine elite’s mantra, what they saw as nearly the cure-all for everything that ailed the country, was “globalization.”

It was former president Fidel Ramos who practically made it a national policy. He ingrained the doctrine so much into the ruling class’ consciousness that the capture of even our key telecommunications industries by “global” companies like Hong Kong’s First Pacific Co. Ltd. and Singapore’s Temasek Holdings Pvt. Ltd. — even through a patent violation of our Constitution — has been nonchalantly accepted, even to this day.

In the globalist ideology, nations are remnants of the 20th century. In the 21st century, there would be a borderless world in which global companies source their materials and labor power from whatever part of the globe that is most efficient. Top corporate executives and millennials boasted that they were “global citizens” rather than parochial Pinoys. Children of the elite were sent to Ivy League schools in the United States and boarding schools in the United Kingdom to be our contributions to the world’s global citizens.

Guess what, most of the world have now shut down their borders to keep out the horrible coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.


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Govt must now craft and start post-lockdown strategies

THREE weeks into the lockdown of Metro Manila and other major urban areas in the Philippines, the government must now craft appropriate strategies to end this draconian but necessary means of containing the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

As I will try to explain here, such post-lockdown strategies are part and parcel of our war to defeat this plague, and its implementation has to start soon. The government must consult with local governments, the medical community, the private sector and others to develop such strategies.

While there could still be sudden spikes of infection and even deaths, and the colossal United States and European failure in dealing with the pandemic could affect us, it is reasonable to conclude that the lockdown has worked in containing Covid-19’s exponential growth.

It is rampaging in the US because Americans, and their political leadership, refuse to impose such lockdown. “That will create civil war,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo even said when President Donald Trump floated the idea of that state’s lockdown.

But the lockdown strategy has its huge costs: it means a cessation of production and other economic activities. The longer we have a lockdown, the more people won’t have livelihoods, more of the poorest will starve, worse will be the damage to the economic system.

Even government’s P200-billion financial parachute for the poor will quickly run out. Simply having the central bank print more money — as tax revenues have and will fall because of the lockdown — to fund similar lifelines risks hyperinflation that would make the peso worthless.

We have to gradually end the lockdown, which means circumspectly allowing economic activity — i.e., factories, offices and distributors — to resume in an orderly manner. If we simply return everything to normal, that is, lift the enhanced community quarantine tomorrow, we risk some straggler virus force from spreading again exponentially, throwing back to the end-February status and maybe even more.

I list below a few elements of such a post-lockdown strategy.


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How are we doing, relative to the rest of the world, that is?

TO be frank, for a second or so, the news reported yesterday afternoon that we had 272 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total to 1,075, sent a shiver down my spine.

That’s the highest increase in a day so far, although, as a health department official explained, the rise in the past several days may have been due to the increase in tests being undertaken and results coming in only recently. But no epidemiologist can really be certain whether we’ve reached the peak or are just starting on the curve. The statement of a United States health official has become classic: “It is the virus that makes the timeline.”

What gives some comfort though is how we stand compared to other countries.

Confirmed Cases and Deaths by Country or Territory
Confirmed Cases and Deaths by Country or Territory.
Source: (Philippines and World updated for March 29, 2020)

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Strong states – yes, authoritarian states – save lives

IF there’s anything the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic has demonstrated, incontrovertibly, I think, it is that at the end of the day, people and even our entire human species have to rely on strong — yes, even authoritarian states — for their survival.

Argue as much as you can over some details — for example, that Italy has a huge over-70 population, which made its citizens more vulnerable to the disease — the data stares us in the face:

It is nations with strong, authoritarian states — mainly the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation — that have beaten back this pandemic, which some religious fanatics even see as ushering the biblical end of days. Nearly overwhelmed in February with 77,016 cases, China now has just 3,947. Russia has only 626 case.

I would even include in that list Asian nations that have had a long history of authoritarianism — Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and, yes, even Japan — which appear to have the pandemic under control within their territories, with cases only by the hundreds, in contrast to the democracies with their tens of thousands.

We may not have an authoritarian state, contrary to what the Reds and Yellows are claiming, but we do have a strong leader.


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Where is the Church?

NEXT to the state (including its essential police and military apparatus) and excluding the anarchic, each-to-his-own corporate sector, the Roman Catholic Church has been the most powerful institution in the Philippines, even arguably in many Christian nations.

The world now faces one of its most serious crises since World War 2, with at least half a million souls likely to be infected by the coronavirus diseases 2019 (Covid-19) and 17,000 so far dying from its horrible symptoms. Millions of Filipinos will be going hungry because of the necessary house-per-house quarantine the government has imposed till mid-April.

Yet this second most powerful institution in the country, the Catholic Church is nowhere to be found. A recent photo, after the lockdown was imposed, of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene or Quiapo Church, the epicenter of the Black Nazarene procession attended by at least a million devotees that is the yearly demonstration of the Church’s colossal hold on Filipino consciousness, speaks a thousand words.

Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo: Closed for business? PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA

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Convert selected private hospitals into dedicated Covid-19 centers

SO far, we are not doing badly at all in our struggle to contain the deadly coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic that has plunged the world into a health crisis, which is likely to push the global economy into a recession never seen before.

Based on information midday Saturday, our country of 105 million has had 307 cases and 19 deaths. Just to put these figures in context, confirmed number of cases in South Korea is 8,897; Malaysia, 1,183; Japan, 1,054; Indonesia, 450; and Thailand, 411. A figure that could also put the Covid-19 situation in context is that in the 2012 dengue outbreak, there were 271,480 dengue cases, 1,107 of those infected dying of it.

We are certainly not over the hump, but I’m convinced that with the “enhanced community quarantine” — the stay-at-home order in the entirety of Luzon and the ban on travel to and from metropolitan Manila — we’re starting to contain this terrible pandemic.

What is needed now is intensified contact tracing to quarantine those who had even remotely been in contact with a confirmed case. We should have locked down the entire country starting March. An old friend and comrade, Aileen Baviera, was fatally infected with Covid-19 after attending a conference in Paris last March 5.

The biggest risk we face is a sudden and then sustained increase over the next two weeks of cases as happened in Italy, Spain and now in the United States. The deluge of cases in those countries engulfed their medical facilities. This, among other things, resulted in the steep fall of quarantine protocols in their hospital emergency rooms and intensive care units (ICUs), in turn creating more carriers, sadly even infecting the physicians and nurses themselves.


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