This was my entry for the Association of Law Students of the Philippines, Inc. – National Capital Region (ALSP-NCR) Conflicts of Law 2021 Essay Writing Contest. The deadline of submission of Entries was on May 15, 12 midnight. All the while, I thought it was 12 noon, so forgive me because I honestly crammed a 1000-word essay in less than an hour. I didn’t win but I’m happy I was able to finish a piece for a writing contest. Thank you so much, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila – College of Law for letting me represent PLM. Thank you, ALSP-NCR and Villasis Law Center for the 10% discount voucher. 🙂 This was the first time I joined one since 2013 (college). For me, this is already a win.
The first cut was small, but the wound grew bigger and deeper until it caused the world to fall.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic. This tested the public health system of different countries and the leaders of different states as regards their response towards this global crisis.
In the Philippines, quarantine measures were imposed. People were not allowed to go out unless they were “essential workers.” Public vehicles were mandated to fill only half of their vehicle’s capacity. People were required to wear face masks and face shields to practice social distancing. Gatherings were prohibited. To cut the story short, the movement of people was controlled, and of course, when you violate the rules, you are expected to be punished.
Fast forward to May 2020, a boy named “Debold” celebrated his now infamous mañanita, violating quarantine rules and measures. There was public outrage, but he was defended by the very people who imposed lockdown protocols. While ordinary Filipinos are bound to pay fines if they violate the rules, there is this man who got away with it. The truth was shoved to everyone’s faces that odds are in favor of those in control to benefit their interest. It is public knowledge that convicted criminals who are in power enjoy house arrest privileges, while ordinary citizens endure their stay in overpopulated prisons. Prominent names involved in this administration’s “War on Drugs” are given due process, but ordinary citizens face extrajudicial killings. The system has always been this way, but Debold’s birthday bash became the talk of the town. This question arises now: “Did the pandemic make us see how unjust the system is?”
The pandemic has caused the world to lose life. In this aspect, we are all probably on the same ground. Losing a loved one, whether it was caused by COVID-19 or not, wound people deeply. The pandemic made it even worse for people who cannot be with their loved ones for the last time because of travel restrictions and quarantine protocols. But is there justice when the privileged are prioritized to be admitted to hospitals while those who cannot afford a room are just forced to wait?
Article II, Section 15 of The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines provides that “The State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them.” The law expressly states our right to health, but there is no justice when the number of COVID-19 deaths is unreported due to poor access to healthcare.
The pandemic has challenged the world’s livelihood. Those who are on top of the socioeconomic pyramid have probably been wounded, but not as deep as those at the bottom have been suffering from. On the one hand, those who are in the upper class of the society have probably found ways to cover their wounds, like modify their business models to adapt to the restrictions that are being imposed. On the other hand, those who got unemployed could not even stop the blood from flowing. They would fall in line in their barangay halls to claim the aid from the government, with risk of exposure to the virus, because a box that contains a kilo of rice, a few canned goods, and a pack of noodles already means a lot to them. But is there justice when they are being blamed for their poverty?
Section 9 of the aforementioned article provides that “The State shall promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living, and an improved quality of life for all.” Section 18 of the same article also declares that “The State affirms labor as a primary social economic force. It shall protect the rights of workers and promote their welfare.” The law clearly states that people should be freed from poverty and the rights of workers should be protected, but there is no justice when the capitalists have their bandage for survival, while the poor are left bleeding.
The pandemic has tested the world’s fight for social justice and human rights. It became more difficult because we can see how deep the underlying inequalities are. These create extremely unjust consequences. Going back to the socioeconomic pyramid, those on top get the chance to have their swab tests prioritized, with the results released earlier than others. They can also have themselves vaccinated first without waiting for the government’s free vaccination programs simply because they can afford it. The only wound that the privileged get here is the prick of the needle. The law is meant to be our weapon towards medical empowerment, social justice, and equality, but is there justice when in the administration of swab tests and vaccines, those at the bottom must wait for the wound of being at risk to be treated?
Article XIII, Section 1 of The 1987 Constitution states that “The Congress shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic, and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.” The law explicitly provides that inequality should be addressed, but there is no justice when most citizens must still wait while the privileged are already finished.
The law is meant to be our protection. It should not wound the citizens for whom it is created. Now more than ever, justice should prevail. The pandemic became the society’s equalizer where no one is a hundred percent safe from COVID-19. The pandemic should not be the event that would cause even more division among the different classes in the pyramid, nor it should make those in power think that they can use this situation to carry out their political agenda. The law is a wound as much as the pandemic is if justice is not enforced. Moreover, the executive, legislative, and the judiciary should work hand in hand to provide permanent solutions to address this public health crisis. Enforcing one lockdown after the other is like touching an unhealed cut. It will just worsen its condition. The world got wounded more than a year ago. While other countries are already getting back up, the Philippines is still bleeding.
William Scott Downey once said, “Law without justice is a wound without cure.” Band-aid solutions only work when the wound is small, and the infection could be prevented if we only listen to where the pain is coming from and treat it with care. It is not the time to impose authority just because the law says so. Now more than ever, we need justice to cure the law. Heal the wound. Hear the people.