Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Re-electionist President Trump is caught in the vise of enforcing stiff restrictions on social distancing and quarantine, even as he courts votes from Americans already rebelling vs. those restrictions. With 36.5 million Americans losing their jobs in US due to the pandemic, Trump gets crustier by the day as Democrat rival Joe Biden seems to be cherry-picking votes. Tough luck to run for re-election amidst the pandemic.

The two contenders for this November's presidential elections in the US, Donald Trump and Joe Biden

All over the world there seems to be a coronavirus fatigue and there's a lot of pressure internationally to cautiously abandon the lock-down imposed by various governments and open up various  economies and societies. It's a tough balancing act that will be demanded from country leaders as their people have grown tired of staying indoors and practicing social distancing in public places.

Peoples most everywhere in the Western world, it seems, have been  craving for the fun and excitement of the outdoors and the beaches this summer, and in social events where they want to throw social distancing to the winds.   

It's truly tough and this is true all over the world, be it in the US, in Europe, and in South America.  In the temperate countries that are counting spring days moving into summer's warmth, especially in a society as free as the US, it could take armies to stop people from going to the beaches and holding pre-summer parties and picnics, as well as concerts in the parks. Those perks have been their way of life for generations. 

 It is estimated that at least 10,000 more Americans could lose their lives in this re-opening of communities.  The tragedy, however, is that there seems to be a full-blown rebellion in America against any and all restrictions---it's the we-don't-care rebellion. 


In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is ready to throw up her hands as her constituents threaten to rebel if she doesn't lighten up on rules and regulations governing gatherings and beach sorties. The same pressures are found in Spain and Italy. 

 In the United Kingdom spring weather is warming up and folks are just as restless indoors, despite all the warnings about social distancing and slowing down on opening such places as barbershops and nail salons, to avoid spiking up the virus. 

The problem is that all the late spring and early summer activities could shoot up to new highs in the world-wide battle vs. Covid 19.  A second wave could bring more than a million stricken and tens of thousands of new deaths in the Western Hemisphere. 


What complicates things for the US President and his team is that national presidential elections will be held this November and he is running for reelection in what's becoming a very unpopular contest for him vs. Democrat Joe Biden---the guy who has nothing to do with limiting public gatherings and enforcing social distancing. 

As Trump becomes increasingly caustic and sarcastic with the media, Biden is pulling away, as per election polls.  Due to all the pressures on the poor fellow to allow restless Americans to have their annual fun at the beaches, President Trump has become increasingly unpopular---as daily statistics show his Democratic opponent sprinting ahead of him in the popular polls.  

Trump's increasingly poor performance at the polls is, in turn, reflected in his increasingly caustic attitude toward the media---with CNN as the lead battering ram vs. Trump.


Democratic candidate Joe Biden faces the issue of having allegedly molested a woman staffer in the past, which he stoutly denies;  the allegation, however, does not seem to dent his campaign---simply because the lock-down is damaging Trump.  Joe Biden, in fact, does not even have to campaign, it seems, as all the pent-up frustrations of the American people against the coronavirus appear to be vent upon the haplessTrump. 

The more vexed, sullen and fretful the Republican candidate appears each day towards the American people and the media, the more he loses support and votes.  Indeed, Trump has been pretty crusty these past days, especially to the media---with CNN appearing all out to get him.    

As a reelectionist president, Donald Trump has every reason to deplore the various economic stats. The prevailing unemployment rate in the US today of 14.7% of the population---which means that an estimated 36.5 million Americans lost their jobs as of this month of May, six months into November's elections---is regarded as the worst since the Great Depression.  


There is a big contrast between the American and the Filipino public in relation to Covid 19.  While the Americans are fretting and even rebelling in many cases against the strict lock-downs and rigid rules and regulations governing social conduct in these present times, Filipinos appear far more obedient as a people---readily conforming to the stiff measures set by the Duterte administration in these pandemic times.

The Duterte administration has virtually shut down people in their own homes and villages, enforcing the use of face masks and threatening to arrest elderly folks found wandering around. The administration has, except in few place, enforced social distancing in normally crowded places. It is interesting to note that Filipinos are themselves most cooperative in this regard---unlike the rebellious Americans who outpace the Europeans in this trait.


It appears that the good behavior of the Pinoys stem from fear of contracting the deadly virus itself, as well as fear of contradicting the President who is known to get quite rough when he needs to. In this case, however, Mr. Duterte has reaped more obedience than sullen reactions, because the Pinoys are realistic about what could happen to them if the pandemic hits them hard---which, thank God,  hasn't because of the stiff lock-downs and other measures being strictly enforced here. 

The number of Filipinos afflicted with Covid 19 has spiked, but compared to how it has  gone haywire in Europe and the US, we are still alright and those afflicted count for quite low. Let's keep it that way. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Americans, vexed at tight social restrictions, frantically seek to open up as summer approaches. Throw in November's US presidential elections and Russia's current 93,000 virus cases, and new spikes could afflict the world. Was Covid19 cooked up in Wuhan chem lab, not derived from wild animals as China claims? PRESIDENT TRUMP APPEARS CONVINCED THAT THE LAB THEORY IS IT . Or is it?

As of today, statistics from CNN stated that over 3 million cases of the Coronavirus have been reported worldwide, of which some 211, 350 were deaths from various parts of the world. Of the total affected, more than one million virus afflictions have hit the  US, plus some 58,365 deaths. Even Russia reports some 93,000 ill cases. A pandemic alright. 

The interesting thing about these figures is that  even as they appear to be growing, there's a restlessness in the US---the country that has been affected the most also because it's the largest in the world. With summer approaching, there's tremendous pressure from US citizens themselves to loosen up on restrictions earlier imposed. 


For one thing, weather in the Western Hemisphere is improving as spring has turned the corner, working into summer in a few weeks. While virus afflictions continue to result in either illness or death, figures are plateauing in an entire continent that has grappled with this virus for many months now. It's obvious from interviews that Americans are plainly tired of lock-downs and restrictions, and are ready to cautiously junk their protective gear and enjoy the beaches and the outdoors.

The question is, how much to open up and throw caution to the wind?  I was listening to CNN earlier tonight and an American official was discussing with the emcee about the possibility of beaches opening up, though with proper social distancing. As he spoke, photos of beach scenes that looked kinda crowded appeared on the screen, and it was obvious that distancing would be the  toughest thing to impose among the gregarious Americans---after a terrible locked-down winter dominated by the virus. 


The official also spoke about the need to jump-start other activities such as sports and shopping malls, as closure of so many business outlets has hurt the economy so much. It is said that some 26.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the last five weeks---a phenomenon never seen before even in the Great Depression. Thus, this plan to reopen America seems to have become imperative. 

Reopening the economy, however, has to be done with a lot of care and caution, and we can only wish the American people good luck. We know how the virus can be so contagious, and super-gregarious Americans are given to hugging and kissing---all too often defiant of social distancing. But it's not only the Americans who will open up but also the Europeans and the Australians, as the weather warms up a bit. 

At this point, state authorities could try to still impose social distancing, but for folks who have been restricted so much, this is like holding back waters from a huge damn whose floodgates have broken loose. How will the virus behave when social distancing is thrown to the winds? Virologists are warning of spikes as much as 78,000 cases next winter. 


THERE IS ANOTHER COMPLICATING PROBLEM:  the presidential elections are coming up in November---with Republic President Trump vying vs. Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden. The elections will, of course, trigger feverish political  campaigning---goodbye to social distancing, throw caution to the winds. 

The campaign season has unofficially began---with former First Lady and Senator Hillary Clinton just recently having endorsed Joe Biden for president.


Another issue: did  the coronavirus that has killed nearly three million people and afflicted another million really come from "host species" among wild animals such as the pangolin and wild bats---as China insists?  Or was the virus "synthesized" by theWuhan Institute of Viriology (WIV), where the disease was first identified and then inflicted upon the world?

A French and a Japanese scientist who were awardees of world-renowned scientific honors were earlier also quoted as expressing some doubt about the Covid 19 virus as originating from wild animals, Some scientists have also noted that this virus shares "an uncanny similarity with HIV."


Thus, doubts and counter-doubts have persisted in the past week about the nature of this virus that has wreaked such terrible havoc on the world. President Trump HAS COME TO ASSERT that the probability is high that the virus has originated from that Wuhan laboratory, which China is expected to deny vigorously. 

And so the plot thickens, even as worries are stirred anew about how social distancing could be practiced in various beaches, social clubs and theaters in the summer in Europe and America, and amidst the furious political campaigning for the fall national elections in the US. Will all these happenings spike new highs in this pandemic? 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The tragedy in our midst from the deadly virus---as dished out in ever-growing statistics by competing media orgs---quite heart-breaking and most worrisome for the world's population.

Because of the Covid 19 virus, the world has become captive to the huge media outlets for the latest statistics. 

Everyday for the past two weeks, I have been tuning on, rather obsessively, I must admit, to this Covid 19 pandemic that is upon us, and though I have lived long enough on this earth, so that I should no longer be overwhelmed by anything at all---I cannot help but be just that. 

I am simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of this pandemic that started from a hitherto unknown virus that came from a couple of wild animals in the small, obscure city of Wuhan in China's central province of Hubei. This virus has now victimized over a million dead people, and nearly as many are hovering in the twilight zone.


Among those who are quite ill are very close friends of mine:  former Senator Sonny Alvarez and my radio partner, Cecile Alvarez. They are fighting for their lives in a hospital in Manila and I'd like to implore prayers for these two most patriotic citizens.

I have cried enough, especially since my only surviving sister also finally left this world after many weeks in the hospital---with tubes inserted into her throat to aide her breathing---right at the height of Covid19.


Over the past days I have been transfixed before the TV, listening to all the heart-wrenching stories of families from around the world who are afflicted by this virus, and the bravery and stoicism with which they have put up with it among families and friends.

What overwhelms me is the magnitude of the pandemic and the innumerable lives that it has afflicted in a most terrible way all around the world---either very ill or dead---and how their surviving loved ones have had to deal with these grim realities, despite their being in constant threat of contamination. 


As a result of this pandemic, we who have led relatively easy and rewarding lives will never be the same again ---even if we survive this virus. Our parents and grandparents have had to live with their own pandemic challenges in their time, and now we are going through the same cycle.

Our parents and grandparents have had to confront epidemics which easily turned pandemic in those times of smaller populations and less mobility---as well as far less developed medical science (no antibiotics as yet). Among those were the cholera and influenza epidemics of the late 1800s, and much earlier, the smallpox and the bubonic plague (termed the "Black Plague" ). 

So gripping were these mass plagues in those earlier eras that  famed French-Algerian novelist Albert Camus was encouraged to write his classic work, "The Plague," in 1947. This work won Camus the Nobel Prize in 1957, when he was 44 years old.


Over the past days, as I would shift from one international TV news channel to another, at first I was merely the jaded media person listening to all the stories and the flood of statistics of afflictions from one country to another, and so on. Eventually, what I found intriguing was the inevitable blame-game among various  people. 

But over the past few days I began to be very affected by all the dire broadcasts, especially when I couldn't even say goodbye to my own dying sister as a result of this pandemic. This physical distancing was understandably dictated by the virus, but it didn't also give much allowance at all for emotional distancing---my sister had to be cremated right away before we relatives could gather.  

Since that episode--- where I couldn't even say goodbye to my sister because of the need to keep physical as well as emotional distance---I began to sense that something in me was being transformed. 


It was not only my sister's passing, as that was expected: she had been confined in St. Luke's Hospital in Quezon City for as long as four months. I think it was more like I was drowning in the grim statistics that I was feeding on from the various international news channels day after day---about how people were dying like flies in various parts of the world---most especially in the most advanced countries. They were dying because of the vicious coronavirus and how fearful the peoples of the world have all become, because of it! 

What a time we are living in! Simply unforgettable. This pandemic has changed our world and our lives more than we will ever know or imagine or care to admit.


Each generation manages to live through an epidemic or even a pandemic of sorts. I heard all about the past happenings from my parents as I grew up and in my history studies at the UP.  

 But living through one actual pandemic now---the corona virus --- amid the tireless news about its pandemic nature, as brought into our homes and workplaces every hour on the hour by various highly competitive international media channels--- has assured me of the reality of pandemics, where before these used to be mere stories from my parents and elder siblings.


The super-stiff competition among the huge media channels for thorough coverage of the Covid 19 pandemic has assured us of all the news we want to hear---every hour on the hour. But I'm afraid that it has also produced such a numbing effect on many of us human beings. For many folks around the world, it has fast become just one of those everyday occurrences in the world, cold statistics on who, where, when, etc. 

This is what a pandemic produces in the ultimate---most worrisome, most frightening.