The widow might
Surely you have a favorite parable from the Bible. Mine happens to be “The Widow’s Mite,” in which Christ saw the wealthy put their gifts in the Temple treasury, and then, pointing to a poor widow’s two mites or small copper coins, said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” It was a story that particularly came to mind often with the explosion of community pantries, but which also struck me repeatedly whenever the Vice President tried to lead by example in this pandemic era.
It was the President himself who wiped the floor with his rival candidates in 2016 when, during a televised debate, he simply declared, “The problem of this country is leadership.” By his boldness, he proclaimed, without having to say it, that he had what it took to provide what he claimed was missing. That was then.
Yesterday was a reminder of what the President’s actual leadership has been proven to be, in this pandemic era. His scheduled morning rant, it was announced, wouldn’t take place. The reason was obvious. The Senate was continuing its hearings into scandalous circumstances surrounding the Department of Health and government procurement of PPE and other materials, frustrated by its inability to find after summoning, individuals such as one of the President’s advisors linked to the whole dubious debacle. When the hearing concluded, the Palace suddenly announced that the President would, after all, go on television later in the day.
In the same hearing, one Cabinet member was questioned on the use of Philippine Air Force planes to pick up PPE from China. Senators expressed misgivings since a commercial transaction was seemingly made possible with government logistical help; at the very least, it could be construed as having unduly aided foreign merchants when domestic ones had mobilized to try to fill in the need for PPE.
Do you remember when that happened? Back in the early days when materials were scarce? And once again, I was reminded of the parable of the widow’s mite because you might also remember in those early days, the situation was so frantic, people were volunteering to make PPE at home, just to help our frontliners. Do you still remember how the Vice President helped organize these volunteers? Or how the effort led her to release, for public use by anyone who’d care to use it, a template for people to follow, to make useful PPE? That was on March 29, 2020. On YouTube, you can still see the video of her visiting sewers in Bulacan on Aug. 5, 2020. This was the second wave of such efforts, mind you, at a cost of P378.37 per set. Do you remember her response, when the government, in imposing a lockdown, decreed a halt to all public transport? Free shuttle services complete with schedules were organized. And there were COVID-19 kits for citizens, the Swab Cab initiative, the Vaccine Express initiative, the free dorm effort when our frontliners were being ostracized and even evicted from their dorms, the Community Mart for consumers, and many more.
Perhaps for those plugged into the networks of her civic and NGO partners and other allies, you might remember. If you were elsewhere, the fact that hers was a Little Office That Could, may not have registered because news about it couldn’t get out. You can go on YouTube and look for Leni Robredo and you’ll see it. And it will introduce you to what leadership in this pandemic looks like.
I am old-fashioned enough to think that in an election, an administration stands or fall on its record during its term, as judged by the people; the job of an opposition during that time is to lay out not just what the administration failed to do or came up short, but how it would do better were it to be given a mandate. Truth be told, as the American comic Will Rogers once famously put it, the only job of a Vice President is to get up every morning and ask, “How is the President?” And yet the incumbent veep has simply taken what little she has by way of budget or donations and channeled it to perhaps the most productive and effective record of proactive assistance of any public office. For every part of the present government’s pandemic response where it has been found not only wanting — but increasingly, criminally, accountable — the widow established precedent for an alternative method that was inclusive, logical, responsive, and effective.
The only criticism that can possibly be left is that what has been done are merely proofs of concepts that still require scaling up. Fair enough. The veep recently suggested she’s up to the challenge. Give her the authority. And she just might…