#VoxPopuli | When False Dichotomies Turn Fatal
by Cathleen Baroy
*This was an entry to Econ No Mix 2021’s essay writing competition.
When talking about measures against COVID-19, we always hear this message from our government officials: “We need to boost our economy.” However, this message comes often at the expense of critical pandemic responses. Economic efforts, such as the reopening of businesses, entail easing of quarantine restrictions. The government has spun a narrative where health & economic wreath cannot coexist.
Filipinos are no strangers to dichotomies.
We’ve already seen this in the political arena, long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Complex discussions are wrapped in black-and-white, or more specifically Dilawan versus DDS. This prevents us from unraveling the roots of these issues, and we often have to pay the price for these half-truths. Many activists who expressed rightful dissent have even paid with their lives. These dichotomies are not just false, they are also fatal.
It is imperative that we break free of the health versus economy narrative, so that we can truly fight COVID-19. In fact, it is in improving our health and its systems that will enable us to revive our economy. This method has been tried and tested in other countries. New Zealand, which imposed stringent lookdowns and comprehensive mass testing, is now functioning normally, allowing them to regain their economic losses.
Despite having the longest lockdown in the world, the Philippines still underperforms in regards to its COVID-19 response. This gap in policy and outcome can be traced to the lack of mass testing and contact.
But, this does not mean we’re not supposed to implement economic interventions either. Another policy successful countries have is the implementation of stimulus checks. Without incentives, working class Filipinos brave the virus to bring food to the table. And, in effect, they unwittingly become spreaders of the virus.
The dilemma does not lie in which problem we should prioritize; it was never one versus the other. Our problem comes from the lack of science-based policies. The refusal to listen to science has prevented our government from investing in preventive measures. Instead, they implement shallow and surface level solutions, such as dolomite sands in Manila Bay and the “Balik Probinsya” program. By wrongly and blindly choosing only the economy, they are further exacerbating the issue. Now, as vaccine rollout starts at a slow pace, we find ourselves stuck in a loop of quarantines. We are forced, time and time again, to choose between dying from COVID-19 and dying from hunger.
But, there’s always a way to break out of these loops and, by extension, false narratives.
The fight against COVID-19 is far from over. Moving forward, mass testing and contact tracing are needed to get numbers — our main weapon in a health crisis. Vaccination must also be done more efficiently. Stronger science communication is needed as well to dispel false myths surrounding vaccines.
At the heart of a failing pandemic response, however, is a failing public healthcare system. Long term reforms, such as better compensation of healthcare workers and more organized policy implementation, are needed to make us more prepared for the next crisis. In effect, improved healthcare also helps our economy. Better healthcare means a healthier population, helping labor productivity levels. Insurance programs that ease the economic burden of getting sick also encourage citizens to seek healthcare.
Most importantly, we must promote critical thinking and discourse when it comes to these types of issues. Thinking in binaries is costing us our physical and mental health, creating both micro and macro repaircussions. It’s easy to fall into the trap of false dichotomies. But, by encouraging open-minded discussions in our communities, we will be able to break free of them.