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My grandpa’s fable



I can hazard an arguable but plausible guess why Pampanga Gov. Dennis “Delta” Pineda is reasonably cautious about walking over to next phase for the province under the community quarantine.  Based on the national government’s recent announcement, Pampanga should be ready to move into the general community quarantine or GCQ after the ides of May.

Not too fast, says the young governor. Another week extension may be a more prudent and careful approach.  Superstition may have  less do with it, as in the tragic fate of Julius Caesar  as in the ides of March.  Science, maybe, or the lack of it. No hard data or facts cited or presented  to support Delta’s cautious move.   Or the numbers at hand, perhaps, did not add up. Better be safe than sorry.

It appeared more commonsensical.   Context is appropriate.  The province lost  its provincial health officer at the start of COVID 19 crisis  last March or April .  One lost pillar of health is one pillar too many.  As they say in Kapampangan, pusang mepali na, marimla man, mangilag ya.  (Roughly, a cat burned once will avoid even a cold stove).

At this point in the pandemic, Delta probably doesn’t have the confidence with the scientific data he has to get the province into the new quarantine phase. It can be dicey or batty, considering what’s besetting our national war against the invisible virus

But I am getting ahead of my story.

When I was a young boy, my maternal grandparents regaled  me with folksy tales and stories. And they were very good story tellers.  Television was still a luxury at the time, so my grandparents lulled me to sleep with  “kurido”  stories or Biblical  accounts.  My granny loved to replay “Pugot Negro”, which I vaguely remember now.

But I recall vividly my grandpa’s fable, which was either an original or generational passed on by his ancestors. The fable was about the race between  the deer and the spiral-shaped snail we call “susong balibid” in our vernacular (Balibid may have come from the word “palipit” or twisted).

One day, the haughty deer challenged the lowly snail to a marathon. The race would run the length  of a nearby creek, a concession to the snail who lived on the bank of the  creek. The prize at stake?  If the snail won the race, the deer would give away its gallbladder. The deer was so confident the snail would lose the race, given his, well, pace. The deer thought it would  be a walk — er,  run — in the park.

The deer set the rule of the game. Everytime the deer would shout ” Are you there?” in the direction of the creek, the snail should answer back in the affirmative.  So off they went.   But each time the deer called on the snail, the latter would answer  “I am here”.

In the end, the deer lost the race because the snail seemed always ahead of it.  

Not known to the deer, snails like his  puny challenger  were all over the length  of the creek. The day before the race, the snail passed on the instruction to the rest that whenever  they would  hear the question “Are you there?”,  someone –  and only one-  should answer in the affirmative.  Talk about effective messaging.

That ‘s why, my grandpa said, with smile in his eyes,  the “balibid” has that black portion on its mouth.  That’s the deer’s gallbladder. The moral: the battle is not always to the swift or strong.

 In a way,  part of our problem in battling COVID 19  is that  we don’t seem to have enough science to arm us with. Or we simply have disregarded them, which in itself is unscientific.  Of late, there were reports of erroneous data, no less pointed out by experts from U.P. Some senators have equally weighed in on the subject. At one time, one solon was told he was positive with COVID 19, and in a heart beat, Malacanang allies and trolls raked him over the coal for meeting with its prime occupant.  It turned out it was a false positive.

Two prominent health officials have declared in the past that ” we have flattened the curve”. It was a categorical statement.  Well. not a few Metro Manila mayors have expressed about that, which led to what is now a modified ECQ in the metropolis. The certainty of the position was tested when a journalist  asked the health official if the virus was now under control. The health official said, no.

In other parts of the world, when the curve is flattened, those responsible for it tell it like it is: it’s under control but has not been eliminated yet.  (Some portion of the house may still be burning,  but fire under control).  In most countries fighting the pandemic, the head of the  “combatants” is invariably a health expert, a doctor, in other words.  In the Philippines, the heads of agencies in the forefront against the virus are retired generals.

On Monday night, President Duterte asked Health Secretary Francisco Duque to make his presentation during the Cabinet meeting, he declined  and passed it off  to Carlito Galvez, chief implementer  of  the government anti-virus campaign.   The earlier call for his resignation might have punched a hole in his confidence.   Just the other day, the government task force recalled an earlier order lifting lockdown in low-risk areas. Why the seemingly lack of confidence in our leaders?   Even the President appeared to be gun-shy making the announcement, although always  itching for a fight with the communists.

 Has “war” become a metaphor for lack of expertise, competence or mutual trust?

 We hope we don’t lose our gallbladder like the deer in this existential challen ge to beat the  corona virus. (Gallbladder is the moral equivalent of wisdom in Kapampangan). Both science and common sense can help us win the day.  Or wisdom, when one whispers in your ear “it’s the economy, stupid, while the other cries, life, above all.


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