By Melo M. Acuña

For Sen. Richard Gordon, who has been with the Philippine Red Cross for decades and has gone through natural catastrophes and man-made disasters, the wrath of Covid-19 was too heavy to bear that he shed tears during a virtual forum with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) over the weekend.

He has seen the damage brought by the Luzon earthquake in 1990, the departure of American troops from Subic in Zambales and Clark in Pampanga prior to the record-breaking Mt. Pinatubo eruption, other devastating typhoons across the archipelago, the armed conflict in Zamboanga Peninsula, as well as super-typhoon Haiyan that left thousands of casualties.

However, the threats brought about by Covid-19 seems overwhelming as the national government races against time to deliver the promised benefits to minimum-wage earners, the informal workers, and thousands of people residing in squalor in the peripheries of the country’s growth centers.

To date, the government has listed 3,660 Covid-19-positive cases, 163 deaths and 73 recoveries.  Among the dead were medical front liners, including prominent medical practitioners. 

I asked him about his views on the pandemic’s impact on the economic order, the supply chain as well as its ill-effects on micro, small and medium enterprises that employ 98 percent of the country’s labor force.

“I think we can recover as we did from the Great Depression.  The world recovered from the crash in 1989. The problem is it would take a little time and there will be casualties, those who will die and those who will go hungry.  (However), we have the great repository of bayanihan (cooperation) here in this country, we can do it,” Gordon said.

He added the government should consider lifting the lockdown and getting hold of people afflicted with the virus, and “slowly opening” infrastructure so people could immediately find work.

For the 74-year old lawyer turned lawmaker, Senator Gordon said he felt for the sidewalk vendors and the public utility vehicle drivers who could not earn their keep due to the lockdown.

“You don’t work, you don’t eat,” he said, adding the government should give workers the chance to earn and get them out of poverty and harm’s way.

While the government has kept supermarkets and village talipapa or street vendors open, Gordon said the problem was that people might not have the money to buy what they needed.

He acknowledged the government’s efforts to address the severely affected sectors’ needs, whether by cash or food, and said the Philippine Red Cross had purchased the necessary equipment to augment the government’s Covid-19 testing capability.

In his closing remarks, he asked for understanding from media practitioners for turning emotional as he groped for words to describe his projections.  “Pray if you must,” he said, as he emphasized the need to apply solutions and fix existing problems and stop finger-pointing.

“Fix our problem, stop placing the blame… This is the time that we don’t burn; this is the time to shine.  Criticize if we must, but make sure we get the solutions as well,” Gordon said.