POSTSCRIPT / January 20, 2022 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Survival of fittest in the Covid jungle

Daily life has been turning out to be indeed the “survival of the fittest” in the jungles of Metro Manila and other crowded areas of the country infested with the COVID virus and its variants.

This rule became evident after the first wave of the coronavirus from Wuhan hit the country in 2020. Those who had the money, connection and other trappings of privilege got the literal first shot of the then limited supply of the earliest Chinese vaccines.

Commuters wait for buses along Commonwealth Ave. in Quezon City as the "no vaccine, no ride" rule is enforced effective Jan. 17, 2022. (The STAR / Walter Bollozos)

The rest of the population could only watch, waiting for their uncertain turn in the promised mass vaccination program. By their sheer number, those who are poor and ill-equipped to weather the public health crisis were among the first victims.

It’s still mostly that way in the campaign to hold back or ride out the pandemic – lopsided against those in the lowest “laylayan” (fringes) of society – again, probably because they are the largest in number and the most vulnerable.

It does not take a genius to see that the first job of government is to close the gap as quickly as possible between those who are fittest in the jungle on account of their status and those who lie most vulnerable at the bottom of the heap.

“Survival of the fittest” was again evident when the authorities started last Monday carrying out the “no vax-no ride” rule among commuters to stem the spread through unwitting carriers of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

The intention is good, but….

One could weep seeing commuters being prevented from taking their accustomed or essential ride on public conveyances to report for work, run important errands, or look for ways to earn a few pesos for their family’s daily needs.

We agree that there should be some way of limiting the movement of potential COVID carriers, but as has been noted on social media, humane considerations should temper the harsh enforcement of the “no vax-no ride” rule.

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The Department of Transportation said that workers, either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, may ride passenger vehicles after presenting proof, such as identification cards or documents, to prove that their travel is “essential”.

Travel is deemed essential, the DoTr said, when one is going to work, to a medical check-up, purchasing essential goods, applying for a license or passport, or heading to vaccination sites. Is commuting that is not on that list deemed not essential?

The DoTr said: “You need to present proof that you are going there like ID to show that you are an employee, or have a medical appointment, certificate/appointment from the company where you have an interview or exam, or a health pass from the barangay that you will obtain essential goods, among others.” It did not say if such papers need to be notarized.

Will the government bring out an army of investigators and experts to evaluate that voluminous documentation and decide which are acceptable and which are not?

Maybe the enforcer’s word may be enough authority for common commuters, but what about those who are not that common, such as those who drive around in flashy cars or who brandish “privilege” to discourage scrutiny and thereby survive in the jungle?

The question again arises if those who laid down that rule also take even just occasional rides on jeepneys, buses, trains, etc., to be able to understand the predicament of the large number to be affected by their no-ride rule.

Questions could move on to the rule’s implementation. For instance, what ever happened to the enforcers who barred or unloaded commuters who presented cards that indicated only one instead of two full vaccinations?

What about the enforcers who admitted not being expert enough to distinguish between a genuine vax card and a fake Recto copy?

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This is all part of learning along the way. After all, in our lifetime this is our very first COVID-19 pandemic.

But even without this public health crisis, there is the ageless law – supposedly ingrained into our humanity – for us to be more understanding of those who may make mistakes for lack of proper guidance in complying with convoluted new edicts.

In our neck of the COVID jungle, the “survival of the fittest” rule should not leave the poor mass commuters crying for a way out of a system invented and imposed by those who have no idea how it is to hang in the “laylayan” of society.

President Duterte may want to instruct officials responsible for laying down commuting rules to take (incognito) jeepneys, buses, trains and other public conveyances at least once a week –  if only to experience the effect of their rules on real people.

The President and key officials may want to first agree on what the rules should be, not only about commuting but also about other issues related to managing the pandemic. The Congress can join in without getting lost in endless talk.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra touched on one aspect of it when he said that Public Attorney’s Office Chief Persida Rueda-Acosta can opt out of COVID vaccination because there is no law to compel her to take it.

On TV, Acosta who has not been vaccinated said she was waiting for a protein-based vaccine using harmless fragments of proteins or protein shells that mimic the COVID-19 virus to safely generate an immune response.

Guevarra said, “A person may refuse to get vaccinated for his/her own personal reasons, but he/she is duty-bound to obey reasonable state regulations affecting unvaccinated persons for the benefit of society at large.”

His balancing act did not shed light on the dark areas of the law, but may have invited scrutiny of more corners teeming with questions. Meanwhile, the police are out there enforcing the not-so-clear rule that affects mostly the poor.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 20, 2022)

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