I've been watching the government response to the COVID-19 crisis for the past few months, like most of you. I'll admit, I haven't really watched it as closely, for several reasons. I've been hyperfocused on several aspects of the response because it is my job to do so. I also have been trying to clear my head a bit, not react to everything, seeing that it's costing me the friends I have left. You get my drift. But I digress.
I've been trying to see things differently than I have before. Back then, I'll admit, I understood less. I was focusing on the political aspect of things, of how elected officials do the things they do, and why. It explains why I've written more angry essays about the last president than the current one, I think. It's not because I am on the side of this one, but rather, because I understand more. I know, the "ikaw kaya mag-presidente" defense is flimsy, but having seen at least a small slice of how things work in government - and even got involved, in the most marginal of ways - I have come to several realizations, the most critical of them being how your motivations change the higher up the ladder you go. The more beholden you are to the number of votes you can get in the next election, the more your actions are motivated by the need to keep power, if not for yourself, then for people who theoretically have your back.
So, this government's response to COVID-19? It's hard to tell, if you ask me. I personally don't want to lapse towards easy conspiracy theories - not the fantastic ones like "this coronavirus is a bioweapon", but rather, the sort that easily explains a sequence of events the way a magic wand supposedly makes things disappear. But then, it's difficult to resist the thought that this administration would take the opportunities provided by the pandemic to make things easier for itself. People are polarized and both extremes are more vocal than before, or at least since the beginning of this presidency. But any manifestation of dissatisfaction, of dissent, would adversely impact the capacity of those higher up to keep power to themselves. What better way to prevent this than to keep people home? No public gatherings. No, it's not because we want you to shut up, but because we want you safe and well. And you can always air your grievances online - but, of course, people who disagree with you will probably pummel your notifications with vitriol, death threats, and perhaps the possibility of being doxxed.
It's too easy to go there. I find it insulting that this is how one can explain things. Personally, having seen how people both within government and outside it fail to see eye to eye, exacerbated by layers of bureaucracy and the fickleness of time, I'm oscillating towards a more complex explanation: things just didn't happen. It's not that the government purposely withheld testing; it's that they didn't see that far ahead and got a bit too comfortable. That doesn't mean people within the bureaucracy didn't act; they may have, but then, the higher up the ladder you go, the more beholden you are to the need to keep power, the more you act to keep the impression that things are under control.
That, to me, explains why the necessary action of essentially halting everything to keep COVID-19 at bay was followed by confusion over what to do. I will tell you that government, perhaps with the best of intentions, made things up as they went along. Of course, it doesn't help to keep the view that things are under control. Right now, it isn't. We're being told (and I hate writing this in a separate essay now because this is a thought I've been keeping for my lockdown entries) that we have to deal with the new normal, and yet it feels like we're being told to suck it up while government scrambles to cover itself for its failings. But, to me, it certainly is a better explanation than "it's their evil plan all along", or even "they grabbed the opportunity".
But then, today, the government has decided to order the country's largest broadcaster - one that employs tens of thousands, directly or indirectly; one that reaches a bigger proportion of the population than perhaps every other broadcaster; one that plays a key role in promoting the nation's cultural bona fides, regardless of whether you think it actually enhances or destroys them; one that is at the forefront of bringing the country's communications capabilities to the future - to shut down, tonight.
Tonight. When people, more than ever, rely on it to make sense of what's happening in the world, in the middle of a crisis that we're still feeling our way through, two months in.
Tonight. When people are scrambling to keep a sense of normality amidst increasingly uncertain times, whether through familiar personalities or engaging storylines.
Tonight. When there are more important things to do.
In times like these, I can't help but oscillate back to the thinking that this is what they wanted to do all along. And, frankly, we know that, considering how the higher ups managed to drag their feet on something as routine as license renewal, because the one on the top kept on throwing tantrums about a perceived bias against him. The opportunity is there, after all. Nobody will protest in the streets, and if they try to, the police and military will make sure they don't.
It's an incredibly convenient explanation, how this administration would try to consolidate power now under the guise of keeping people safe. Even I still find that explanation insulting, because there's always more to it than that catchy line. And yet, tonight, of all nights, it all makes sense.