COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis in governance

The world is currently in chaos as apart from the COVID-19 pandemic, protests are happening here and there. Though the pandemic is not the direct cause, it is the trigger of at least three major crises — health crisis, social crisis, and economic crisis. Unfortunately, the same pandemic revealed another crisis — the crisis in governance.

Source: Khan et al, 2021

For the health crisis we have direct mortality and morbidity, and disruptions on health systems. As of this writing, 115 million individuals have already been affected 2.56 million of whom are dead. Most countries exhausted their health systems and resources just to curtail the pandemic with a number almost on the brink of giving up.

With the pandemic, travel and mobility became limited so the economy was affected. Based on International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates, the global economy shrunk by 4.4% in 2020 — the worst decline since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Limited mobility has likewise increased unemployment, curtailed the conduct of classes and decreased educational opportunities, and increased social violence and unrest. In Brazil, for instance, unemployment rate in 2020 was recorded at 13.4% while Italy registered 11%. In the Philippines, unemployment rate in April 2020 rose to 17.7 percent accounting to 7.3 million unemployed Filipinos.

But there is one crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed — the crisis in governance. Governments with beautiful records on paper actually revealed their true colors when the calamity came. Compounded by other issues, more and more people went out of the streets to protest along despite prohibitions on social gathering and regulations on social distancing. According to Global Protest Tracker, there are at lease 230 significant protests happening worldwide in more than 110 countries. 30 of these protests are COVID-19 related. 

To cover up the crisis in governance, the solution of sitting governments is to quash the protests which include, among others, police brutality. Officials in Thailand, for instance, took advantage of COVID-19 to increase repression. In 2020, pro-democracy supporters suspended their activities in observance of health protocols but the current regime used this opportunity to arrest and charge at least 55 of them for insulting the monarchy. Observing police brutality, Thai beauty queen Amanda Obdam brought to social media her observation — an action that led the Thailand’s Department of Mental Health to stripped her off her title as Mental Health Ambassador.

The Philippine Congress, meanwhile, used the pandemic to stealthily pass the Anti-Terrorism Law which, with its vague provisions, could include the arrest of protesters airing significant and legitimate issues. The law is currently brought to the Supreme Court for review.

The Philippine President, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, also experienced meltdowns that the #DuterteMeltdown  became a trending hashtag starting November last year. The hashtag is being continually used as the President tried to parry criticisms on how his government is handling the pandemic.

The crisis in governance is not only true in Southeast Asia but also in other parts of the world. In the United States, President Donald Trump was not reelected because of how he handled the pandemic, among others. Protests also continue in Latin America and the Caribbean as 30 million people are on the brink of poverty due to needed COVID19 response measures. Even the European Union has been challenged as its member countries became individualistic “applying a place-based approach to policy responses, and implementing national and subnational measures for in response to the COVID-19 crisis” rather than a coordinated organization-level approach. It was only lately that the EU member countries started to think as a group, get back to the track and seize the opportunity to gain more global influence as a node in transnational networks.

But of course, not all countries can immediately think on their feet and look at the bigger picture. Middle income and least developed countries are still looking at molehills not accepting where have they gone wrong but are instead focused on justifying their actions and worse, terrorizing their citizens airing legitimate issues and concerns. So if one is asking about a post-COVID-19 scenario, the easy answer is it will lead to a bigger inequality and social gap not only among citizens but also among nations.

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