Bursts of bayanihan have been the characterizing feature of Philippine response to crisis – recall Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, the near-eruption of Taal Volcano in early 2020, and now Covid-19.

Bayanihan is a traditional system of mutual assistance in which the members of a community work together to accomplish a difficult task. Bayanihan is when a community stands in solidarity with one another, not because there is profit to be made, or because there is a government order that needs to be followed, but out of a sense of responsibility for each other, that we are all in this together. In times of crisis, acts of bayanihan have been a source of pride for Filipinos. But the flipside of these heartwarming displays of generosity is a twin reality that makes such generosity necessary: high inequality and a weak state capacity.

How can one family have a billion pesos to spare when thousands of families are desperately rummaging around for just a few hundred pesos to put food on the table? How can companies have savings worth billions of pesos when the workers that have manned their stores, labored in their construction projects and manufacturing lines, and secured and cleaned their offices, do not have decent living spaces to practice social distancing, sufficient food for their families to weather the economic lockdown, and health insurance to make sure they can get treated if they get the disease?

What this crisis has made more evident to everyone is that the rules we have designed to govern our economic life is broken. Lifting lockdowns and finding a vaccine may end the current crisis, but it will not fix these broken rules.

So how do we turn these seasonal bursts of bayanihan into a bayanihan that is embedded in our everyday life?

As we seek to reduce the dominance of market forces in how we organize our society, let us also be mindful of the reality that business and the private sector have outpaced government in responding to the crisis. Private hospitals and testing laboratories are making up for the deficiencies in the public health system. Business and individual donations working with church and civic organizations have been able to provide protective personal equipment (PPEs) at a much faster pace than government, and have been able to send food packs to vulnerable communities at a scale much bigger than government. Simply put, the democratic institutions that we have created to serve the needs of the community are greatly impaired. Merely transferring resources from business to government will not lead to better outcomes.

The way forward must recognize the value-creating dynamism of the private sector while ensuring that people are justly rewarded for the value they contribute. Similarly, the new normal must institute regulations with a realistic expectation of government as slow, bureaucratic and characterized by politicized-decision making.

For example, in revisiting the system that governs our lives as working people, this crisis has shown us the undeniable conclusion that the price that the market assigns on the value of work of cashiers, baggers, janitors, and security guards among many others, does not capture the totality of their contribution to society. At the same time, we must also understand that our businesses and companies will continue to face the uncertainty and seasonality of demand that exists in the market, and for them to continue to survive and create jobs, they must be given the flexibility to weather such changes.

We must simplify our labor laws so that justice is not dependent on the lawyer one hires. Labor contractualization should be the exception, not the rule. Despite the seasonality of demand, land and capital is rented and borrowed on fixed terms. Labor should be employed on fixed terms as well.

We must sort out our health care system so that the quality of care one receives is not based on a person’s ability to pay nor should it be based on one’s proximity to those who hold positions of power.

We must put in place minimum living wages provided either by the employers directly or through a government-run system of social protection funded through taxes.

This crisis has turned many accepted rules on their head. In rebuilding after this, let us work to ensure that people’s survival need not again hinge on the heart and generosity of a few.


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