As the newly discovered vaccines make their journey to the Philippines, let us accept that it will take some time before they turn into life-saving vaccinations in our people’s arms.
It is good news that steps have been taken for the Philippines to secure 2.6M doses. Happily, this is a joint undertaking by the government and the “private sector” that has put up PHP 600M for the AstraZeneca vaccine. While there are still questions about the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the Philippine population[i] vis-s-vis the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines developed at 94.5% and 95% efficacy respectively, the deal is a good concrete beginning.
Under the deal, the “private sector” buys the vaccines and donates this to government. At this stage, without government, the “private sector” could not have bought the vaccines. Government receives the vaccines from the “private sector,” but agrees to use half for government frontliners, the other half would cover both regular and private employees included in “the government list of priority sectors.”[ii] I surmise that this includes not only regular and private employees of the donating “private sector” companies, but includes the private-sector frontliners and those whom President Duterte has said government would prioritize in vaccination distribution, like the security sector and especially the poor.
And while the “private sector”-government deal is good news because it promises vaccination soon for 1.6M Filipinos/as, the better news is that there are some 110M of us Filipinos/as today. Next year there will be even more!
If the poverty incidence among Filipinos/as is still 26.3% according to the Philippine Statistics Authority[iii], government is prioritizing the vaccination of some 28.9M Filipinos. Among these are many poor but promising learners and students in public and private schools.
But what about those of us not included in the deal nor in the government priorities? The signatories to the “private sector” deal with government reads like a who’s who list of the elite leaders of the corporate world of the Philippines. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Through the healthy operation of these companies, the jobs and livelihood of millions of Filipinos/as depend. So too hopes for a reinvigoration of the Philippine economy.
But the private sector is also peopled by the entrepreneurs of small and medium enterprises, civil society organizations, farmers, fishermen, laborers, artists, writers, entertainers, tourist guides, market vendors, delivery boys, scientists, engineers, researchers and teachers. It is also peopled by the private schools of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations and of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines. The interests of this private sector are not necessarily represented by “private sector corporate Philippines.”
That is certainly true when one considers troubling issues like the environment, mining, old-growth forests, biodiversity, food security, internet democracy, inclusivity in the management of land-use, the rights of the indigenous peoples, and the like. Not all of the private sector live in walled-in, gated communities (cf. Fratelli Tutti, 27).
Why am I bringing this up? Because in the end, distribution of the vaccine in the Philippines must be based on one’s claim to it in humanity, and not because one is a frontliner or an essential part of a corporate conglomerate or because one is useful in this or that enterprise, nor even because one is poor. If prioritization in distribution is necessary, as it is, the prioritization should be part of a roadmap that sees all 110 million of us vaccinated. That is not just government’s responsibility nor that of the “private sector.” It is our responsibility as human beings.
Why? Pope Francis would say: because Fratelli tutti: because we are all brothers and sisters.
My humble suggestion for the rest of us who are not included in the 1.6 million who will benefit from the “private sector”-government deal, let us be happy for those who will benefit from it!
But while the vaccine is making its way to the Philippines and eventually to the private sector through the government or the commercial markets, let us each work to save up to afford the vaccine for oneself and at least for one other. This would mean, I think, saving up something like a thousand pesos for yourself and another thousand pesos for every other person you help.
Saving to get the vaccination for yourself is not selfish. It is like the adult who must put on the oxygen mask in an airplane first before helping one’s child put on its mask. Saving to get the vaccination to another human being who needs it is an act of love. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus teaches (Mt. 22:39).
For small private enterprises who are all self-respecting contributors to the economy and the economic recovery of the country, the principle would also apply. Let the private enterprise provide vaccinations for its personnel – through corporate initiatives or private interventions – so that the enterprise may function well in society, i.e., survive in humane entrepreneurship and contribute to the upliftment of all in our Philippine community.
And when our enterprise or school is provided for, let us use our resources to help others get vaccinated. Government says it will take care of the poor. But considering the number of our poor, we can be able to help. We will help. That could be our deal with government.
If the vaccines will be in the Philippine market “by the second quarter of 2021 at the earliest”[iv] We can begin preparing for this now.
What government must do for us is what we cannot do for ourselves: make sure that a safe and effective vaccine is available to us in the Philippine market at reasonable rates. Keep the vaccination market free of all corruption and profiteering. For this, we can rely on Sec. Carlito Galvez of the Inter-Agency Task Force.
What we can do for ourselves and others in genuine freedom and social responsibility, we do in a genuine spirit of bayanihan. Pope Francis, I think, would also call this social friendship in promoting our shared fraternity.[v]
Saving up for this vaccine for ourselves and for others may well begin as we prepare for Christmas. Advent begins today. Let us spend less on holiday consumption that threatens life. Let us save up for a vaccination that will save our lives and save others. Let us look forward to a future normal of less selfishness, less private interest, and more responsiveness to all our sisters and brothers in our Philippine community.
That would be a nice way of responding this year to God’s gift of the Child in the manger…
[i] Cf. “DOH Awaiting AstraZeneca Expalanation on Trial Results” by Louella Desiderio (Mla: Phiippine Star, Nov. 28, 2030) pg 4
[ii] Cf. “Phl Secures 2.6 M Doses of AstraZeneca COVID Vaccine” by Louella Desiderio (Mla: Phiippine Star, Nov. 28, 2030) pg 1
[iv] Cf. “Realistic timeline for COVID Vaccination by Q2 2021” by Rainier Allan Ronda (Mla: Phiippine Star, Nov. 28, 2030) pg 4
[v] Fratelli Tutti: Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father FRANCIS on Fraternity and Society Friendship. Pasay City: Paulines Publication, 2020