Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Filipino Family Post Pandemic (Part 1)

          The family is the first line of defence of society against COVID-19.  The universal admonition coming from the authorities from all over the world is for individuals to “stay home.”  Home for the vast majority of human beings is where the family is.  This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has reflected on the strong foundation of every society.  As has been repeatedly stressed by at the Roman Pontiffs, where the family goes, society goes.  It is only in the family that a person is valued simply for being the person he is.  Quoting from a college textbook on “Conjugal Communion” by Fr. Caesar Santos et al: “In contrast to any other social group a man can belong to, it is in the family where a person is valued radically or exclusively for being himself.  In other social groupings, man is valued because of the function he fulfils.  Because of this, he is replaceable as a member of the group.  Should he neglect his responsibilities—or become incapable of fulfilling them—another person is put in his stead, and the group functions as before.   A person is irreplaceable, by contrast, as a family member.  He is valued in his uniqueness as a person.”

         In a Message to the First Latin American Congress on the Pastoral Care of the of the Family in Panama City, Pope Francis stressed the importance of the family as a center of love:  “Over and above its most pressing problem and its peremptory necessities, the family is a ’center of love’, where the law of respect and communication reigns and is able to resist the pressure of manipulation and domination from the world’s ‘power centers.’  In the heart of the family, the person naturally and harmoniously blends into a human group overcoming the false opposition between the individual and society…In the bosom of the family, no one is set apart:  both the elderly and the child will be welcome here.  The culture of encounter and of dialogue, openness to solidarity and transcendence, originates in the family…For this reason, the family constitutes a great and ‘rich social resource’.  In this sense, I would like to highlight two primary factors:  stability and fruitfulness.”

 

         Whatever earthshaking changes may result from the Corona virus that has hit the whole world with a great depression whose depth can only be compared with what the global economy experienced a hundred fifty years ago, what continues to be the strong foundation of society and the key to a recovery is the family.  The family is the result of the indissoluble union between a man and a woman in a marriage that is open to the transmission of new life and the education of the children resulting from such a union.  In fact, a blessing in disguise of the pandemic that has spared no country is the forced lockdown that resulted in families rediscovering the importance of spending a great deal of time with the immediate members of each family and to make up for past negligences and omissions.  Especially for Christian families, as St. Josemaria Escriva, the Saint of Ordinary Life, wrote: “When I think of Christian homes, I like to imagine them as being full of the light and joy that were in the home of the Holy Family…Every Christian home should be a place of peace and serenity.  In spite of the small frustrations of daily life, an atmosphere of profound and sincere affection should reign there together with a deep rooted calm,which is the result of authentic faith that is put into practice.”

 

         In a predominantly Christian country like the Philippines, the many months of lockdowns that were decreed by the Government to prevent the rapid spread of the virus were opportunities for married couples to deepen their realisation of the following teachings of St. Josemaria:  “Husband and wife are called to sanctify their married life and to sanctify themselves in it.  It would be a serious mistake if they were to exclude family from their spiritual development.  The marriage union, the care and education of children, the effort to provide for the needs of the family as well as for its security and development, the relationships with other persons who make up the community, all these are among the ordinary human situations that Christian couples are called upon to sanctify…”  I would consider the many more opportunities occasioned by the pandemic for married couples to put  into practice these teachings of St. Josemaria on the sanctification of marriage and the family as the collateral benefits of an otherwise tragic situation.

 

         The question remains, though, what is the future faced by married couples in the Philippines as regards their obligation to provide for the economic needs of the family as well as for its security and development?  Because of the many lockdowns occasioned by the Corona virus with one wave of infection after another, the Philippine economy—in tandem with practically all the countries all over the world—experienced the worst economic depression since the Second World War.  More relevant to Filipino families is not the brutal drop of 16.5 percent in Gross Domestic Product that the economy suffered in the second quarter of 2020 but the very high rate of unemployment that went from just over 5% before the pandemic to over 17% by the end of the first semester and is expected to rise to 20% before the year is over.  This means that over 7 million Filipinos have lost their jobs since the pandemic began.  The poverty incidence that was already down to 16 % in 2019 (from more than 20% at the beginning of the Duterte presidency) is expected to rise once again to over 20% as a result of the rise in unemployment.  This means that more than 4 million families will be struggling to put body and soul together as they face dehumanizing conditions of poverty, especially in the rural areas.  The worst victims are the small farmers, landless farm workers, sustenance fisherfolks, and members of indigenous tribes.  Add to these the informal settlers in urban areas whose sources of livelihood have dried up because of the various lockdowns.  These are the families who have to be the first target of social amelioration and small business wage subsidy programs of the Government and philanthropic or social responsibility work of business enterprises and civil society.

 

         What is the future for the remaining 80% of the families most of whom belong to the lower middle-income segment of the population earning approximately P20,000 to P40,000 monthly income for an average family size of five? In the next 12 to 18 months, the major concern of most of these households will be survival as they suffer from reduced income because of lack of employment or business opportunities resulting from the lockdowns.  Many of these households will also suffer from the decline in remittances that they used to receive from their relatives who have worked as Overseas Filipino Workers,  a good number of whom have been forced to return because they lost their jobs abroad in their host countries that have also been hard hit by the pandemic, especially in the Middle East and Europe.  OFW remittances are expected to decline anywhere from 5 to 10% for the whole of 2020. This will worsen the poverty situation in the Philippines.  Will this economic crisis last for a very long time?  (To be continued.)