By Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III

This year, 2020, is annus horribilis. The statistics are grim: close to 1.7 million people out of 76.1 million cases, globally, and still counting, have died from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The annus horribilis is not just about COVID-19.  For whatever reason, deaths have piled up this year, whether or not they are associated with COVID-19. The tragedy, moreover, is personal. This year, I grieve over losing two aunts (Paula Isis and Paula Isabel), a cultural icon that I regarded as my second mom (Gilda), distant relatives, friends, colleagues, relatives of friends, etc.

But even as 2020 is about to end, the horror, the misery, and the devastation persist in our wretched land.

A new surge of COVID-19 infections is happening during the holiday season. Many just couldn’t resist the temptation of celebrating with relatives and friends. Having large get-togethers, dining indoors with non-household companions, being merry by boozing or singing loudly in public places are risky activities at this time. And the poster boys of reckless revelry are high-level government officials — Salvador Panelo, Harry Roque, and Debold Sinas, all caught on video breaking the government’s health protocol.

It is most frightening that the resurgence of COVID-19 cases and fatalities will again overwhelm us during and after the Christmas season.

In this regard, the health sector has called on the public to be vigilant and to observe measures that will reduce the risk of getting infected. The Health Professionals Alliance against COVID-19 (HPAAC) has embarked on an information drive that is expressed in the message: “APAT dapat.” APAT stands for:

A — Air circulation.

P — Physical distance of one meter or more.

A — Always wear a mask and face shield.

T — Thirty minutes interaction or less.

The Department of Health has a similar slogan:  BIDA+, which means:

Bawal walang mask at face shield. (Not wearing face masks and face shields is not allowed.)

I-sanitize ang mga kamay. (Sanitize your hands.)

Distancing ng isang metro. (Keep a distance of one meter.)

Alamin ang totoong impormasyon. (Learn about real information.)

Siguraduhin ang magandang daloy ng hangin. (Make sure there is good air circulation.)

Let us follow APAT dapat or BIDA+. APAT dapat and BIDA+ are apt messages for Christmas.

Upon deeper reflection, Christmas is truly a celebration — but it is a celebration of life, symbolized by the birth of Jesus Christ. COVID-19 dampens the spirit of Christmas. Nevertheless, the message of APAT dapat and BIDA+ is about the value of life, about protecting our health, about saving lives. By observing the reminders encapsulated in APAT dapat and BIDA+, we are able to uphold the spirit of Christmas, of valuing the life of everyone.

Most tragic is that the unnecessary loss of life in the Philippines is not only attributable to the pandemic and the other diseases. People are being killed, being murdered. At a time that the government and society are fighting COVID-19, and despite government’s pronouncements about saving lives, the State apparatus has been used to kill people.

Recently, stories have been published about the killings of unarmed political activists and of people, including a popular Los Baños mayor, suspected of involvement in the drug trade. Their deaths have the trademark of extra-judicial killing (EJK).

Again, in the spirit of Christmas — of valuing the sanctity of life — we call for the end to these killings. The pattern of killings can no longer be ignored. The International Criminal Court (ICC) reports that it has “reasonable basis to believe” that crimes against humanity were committed in the conduct of the administration’s war on drugs.

The unnecessary and disproportionate use of violence also applies to the killing of political activists.

It is imperative for the whole of society, including the decent high-level officials in the Duterte administration, to act and stop the impunity. We must encourage a bipartisan effort for a thorough investigation to stop the impunity and to exact accountability.

Annus horribilis is about unwanted deaths caused not only by the pandemic but also by the State’s brutal war on citizens.

Pope Francis’s message for 2021 is about a “culture of care,” wherein no person is discarded. In his words: “To care is to know how to value, that is, to recognize the individual as a person with dignity that must be cared for.”

May we have a caring and peaceful Christmas, and may 2021 no longer be an annus horribilis.

Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.