Thursday, January 7, 2021

Preferential options and other ruminations

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

The phrase “preferential option for the poor” came out prominently in the 1970s as a result of the gathering of bishops of Latin America where so-called liberation theology supposedly began and took root. Hereabouts in Asia, it was the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences that first pushed it although the spirit behind it is as old as the gospel that Jesus preached and embodied in the Catholic Church’s encyclicals and in social teachings in centuries past.

It did not take long for the phrase to become like a motto, a mantra among grassroots theologians and church workers, many of them suspected as subversives because they cried out, on behalf of the poor and marginalized, against unjust social systems and structures.

Why is this old phrase swirling in my mind at this time? Well, partly because in a few months Christians of this country will be commemorating the 500th anniversary of the coming of Christianity to these islands. I leave the pluses and minuses of that long-ago event for historians, theologians and social scientists to point out.

The other thing is something that at first seems remotely related. It is about the outcry over the illegal acquisition and administration of the anti-COVID-19 vaccine by the Presidential Security Group. And their defiant Commander-in-Chief, supposedly out of the loop, defending and justifying the use of the contraband for his close-in security and even threatening to get in the way of a senate investigation.

The vaccine contained in millions of vials is now being rolled out to countries ready to pay.  Hereabouts, there is not a clear scenario from the government on the what, where, when and how much resulting in people harboring studied skepticism if not nonchalance.  Our Asian neighbors have beaten us to it.

But it has been touted that the most vulnerable would be the first in line to get the vaccine, healthcare frontliners foremost among them because as one thinking official said, “We have to vaccinate our healthcare workers so that they can save lives without risking their own.” But not with contraband vaccine, he could have added.

Among the most vulnerable would be the undernourished poor who are constantly exposed to all kinds of infections, their supposed hardy immune systems notwithstanding.

“Preferential option for the poor” certainly applies to this underprivileged sector but in this country where “preferential option for one’s interests” thrives, one wonders if the most vulnerable would actually make it to the top of the vaccination list before the virus gets them first.

Now that it has been revealed that 100,000 Chinese nationals in the Philippines, most of them working in gambling establishments, have been also injected with smuggled vaccine, will they also have the President’s protection? If yes, then that would be called preferential option for the Chinese, something that grates on the nerves of Filipinos who’ve had enough of China’s intrusion in Philippine territory and the Filipinos’ everyday lives.

It is good to know that Mayor Joy Belmonte of Quezon City (where I live) has signed a tripartite agreement with the British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the National Task Force Against Covid-19. This is for the city government to purchase 750,000 doses that QC citizens can avail of free of charge.

On top of the priority list are the city’s 10,000 health workers, 300,000 senior citizens and 20,000 adults with disabilities. A report said that from the city’s 2021 budget P1 billion would be allocated for the vaccine.

And speaking of the marginalized, it is heartbreaking that when we were about to ring in 2021, brutal happenings were unfolding among the tumandok in Panay island.  Read about the killings in

Tumandok refers to the indigenous people of Panay Island. In Mindanao they are referred to as lumad. Tumanduk is the name of an alliance of 17 indigenous communities in Iloilo and Capiz provinces. 

Many have fled their homes and are in need of support. Will we be seeing a repeat of the military-style “hamletting” that was enforced in Mindanao during the Marcos dictatorship? I dread the thought of it.

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