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Rediscovering patriotism

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THE NON-BIODEGRADABLE health secretary has recently discovered patriotism in light of the pandemic, and he has found it sorely wanting in some Filipinos.

Mene mene tekel upharsin, he might as well have said. One of two things though: His very scale needed some repair or correction. Or scales need to fall off his eyes, like Paul at Damascus, to see stark reality or whose eyes have the logs on them.

In particular, Secretary Francisco Duque III, who finds himself at the eye of the storm over the health crisis itself and the issue of corruption at Philhealth, has taken a blithe dig on Filipino nurses working abroad.

It’s an unfair and unkind portrayal of those nurses, for a number of reasons.

It’s unfair because those nurses had been working their butts off abroad prior to the pandemic. They had come for vacation or visit but later were trapped by the ensuing restrictions that, among others, banned them from leaving their homeland and fulfil their contracts abroad. The government relented only when the unflappable Foreign Affairs Secretary weighed in on a batty policy.

It’s unkind because those nurses are part of a band of heroes and heroines called OFWs who had consistently send remittances back home to help their families and, in the process, also shore up the country’s economy. Without those remittances, the economy could have been in far worse shape. One of the bragging rights of this administration is its huge reserves. Guess who should partly get the credit?

The flipside of the story, of course, is that had they not ventured out of the country to seek a better future, they would have joined the ranks of unemployed and underemployed professionals. And there are thousands of them forced to work as call center agents and other odd jobs because getting employed abroad isn’t a walk in the park either.

Some nurses who work abroad had to hurdle several examinations and interviews and shell out hefty sums for other related expenses to nail the job. That is, not to mention the uncertain risks that they courageously took because the prospects for a nurse in their country are as fuzzy as the political horizon.

For one thing, the government, particularly the health department doesn’t seem to care. And now, Duque appears to froth in the mouth that some Filipino nurses are honoring their word with their foreign employers? On his misdirected hoot for patriotism alone, the constant nagging by Senators for him to do some soul searching maybe like Gilead’s balm.

Is it wrong, asked Ronaldo Puno, the president of a group of medical professionals, for a medical technologist who’s only getting less than P10,000 month to seek a higher paying job outside the country that is commensurate with his or her expertise?

Puno, in fact, should have raised a more relevant question: where was the government— no, Duque– when nurses in the country cried to high heavens that their basic pays be elevated to a more respectable and realistic level long before the pandemic struck?

Hypocrisy, it is often said, is vice paying tribute to virtue. That maybe one of the things Duque will deny vehemently along with the Senate conclusion that he’s entangled in the corruption web at Philhealth, one way or the other.

Let us count the fault lines along which several senators saw him falling into the cracks: failure of leadership, negligence, incompetence, and so on. Early on, he refused to recommend the banning of flights from China because his boss would not be happy about it. Nor will China be. He said at one time the country was already under the second wave of virus infection only to be excoriated by his own camp later. He thought the pandemic, notwithstanding the havoc it wrought on most Filipinos, was a blessing in disguise to Filipinos.

Somehow he’s on the money because the calamity has revealed the type of people in charge of our health system and their brand of leadership and competence, or the sheer absence of it. The Senate, for one, wanted Duque to resign. Conveniently, he had tossed the ball repeatedly to Duterte because it’s at his pleasure that he serves.

Dr. Tony Leachon, a former member of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) against Covid 19, has bewailed the chronic lack of government plan or action for medical professionals that are jumping on the so-called “brain drain” bandwagon.

This has been going for decades, he laments, and there appears to be no corresponding action from government.

Duterte has a simple solution: let nurses join the military or police where the pay is higher. Duque has yet to offer a more attractive counteroffer er.

Understandably, he’s in a tight spot right now because of the Senate recommendation to have him charged over the anomalies at Philhealth where he has been the chairman of Philhealth for years. But he knows the Nile isn’t only a river in Egypt. It’s also a route to redemption.

I remember that the late Ninoy Aquino occasionally quoted the famous Samuel Johnson whenever the issue of humungous corruption was brought up in conversation in the Senate of old.

Patriotism, he would say, is the last refuge of a scoundrel. In other words, those who profess their love of country at the top of their voice maybe guilty of something quite the opposite.

I like Oscar Wilde’s take better. Patriotism, he said, is the virtue of the vicious.

Will the true patriot please stand up?

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