Do you remember how you learned about the concept of Bayanihan in elementary school? I clearly recall—just like very adult Filipinos who attended basic education in the country—that image of people in a community helping their neighbor relocate by literally carrying their house and moving it to its new location.
Bayanihan is part of our tradition as a people, It is part of the value system that makes us part of the nation. The word itself is rooted in the word “bayan” which roughly translates to nation or community. The term “bayanihan” therefore refers to being part of a community, sharing its history and its vision of a future. It refers to a spirit of community, volunteerism, and cooperation to achieve the goals of the nation.
I started thinking about this beautiful and powerful Filipino tradition as I reflect on the challenges we are facing today. I am referring, of course, to the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the world. As I write this column, close to 20 million people have been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus with more than 728,000 deaths. The Philippines in particular has 126,885 cases reported with more than 2,200 deaths.
Our battle against the coronavirus is, I believe, two-fold. On one hand, we need to make sure that we can reduce the number of infections. Health experts, as well as experienced by other countries that have achieved relative success, have laid down the plan to fight the spread of the virus: test, isolate and trace.
But the second part of the battle is equally important. By all indications, the virus will be part of our lives for a long time. The World Health Organization through its special envoy for COVID-19, David Nabarro said that the coronavirus is not going to go away so we must learn to live with it.
Mr. Nabarro’s full quote is worth reproducing here: “We have all got to learn to live with this virus, to do our business with this virus in our presence, to have social relations with this virus in our presence and not to be continuously having to be in lockdown because of the widespread infections that can occur” (underscoring mine).
Unless a vaccine is developed and widely distributed, the virus is here to stay. We need to develop ways that will allow us to manage the Coronavirus while continuing to live our lives. This is where the Filipino bayanihan spirit becomes particularly critical. As we move to this new normal, we need to do our part and help one another.
The government needs to do its job of ensuring that we are testing, isolating, and tracing efficiently. From the national down to the local governments, we need to make sure that everyone follows health protocols. The private sector must invest resources towards ensuring that customers and employees are safe. World health authorities and our own officials have issued guidelines in order to mitigate the impact of this health menace.
On the part of the public, it is time that we concretize the Bayanihan spirit. Let us make sure that bayanihan is not just a concept trapped in the textbook we’ve read or that image I described. Today, we are not being asked to carry the house of our neighbor. We are being asked to carry the responsibility of being a good citizen by making sure that the virus will not spread in our homes, our communities, and our workplace.
So let us only go out of our homes for essential activities. If we are out, make sure we wear face masks. When we are lining up in groceries or public transportation, let us make sure that we observe proper physical distancing even if it is tempting to join others who violate health protocols. Let us work with our neighbors and local authorities to make sure that we follow these guidelines. If we do these, then we do not need the lockdowns that paralyze our economy and jeopardizes our future.
At this point in time, these are the most patriotic things we can do. Remember, the first three syllables of bayanihan is bayani. Let us all be heroes.