How to Make 2021 Better Based on What We Learned in 2020

What should the Philippines strive to change and keep for 2021? We asked movers and shakers from various industries to share their thoughts with us.

As it did with the rest of the world, 2020 proved to be a defining moment for the Philippines. Punctuated by natural disasters, corruption, activist killings, and a mishandled response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the year highlighted the fallacies of our structures and systems front and center.

“It has paraded all the lapses in governance and excess of misinformation that has always left the public to fend for themselves,” noted Keisha Uy of PAGASA, a civil society organization in the Philippines.

Despite its misgivings, however, it also presented opportunities for change. How, then, should the Philippines move forward in 2021? We asked movers and shakers from various industries to give us their thoughts.

  1. More Streamlined Processes

Because face-to-face interaction has been discouraged, companies and industries have had to reevaluate the way they did things. From unnecessary in-person business meetings to working employees to the ground, these practices have eventually been cut down to make way for the necessities.

For instance, film director Avid Liongoren noted how film and TV production had been streamlined during the pandemic. “Finishing a shoot day in under 12 hours is now imperative, and the health of the crew is now a big factor.” He added, “In the old world, shooting for over 24 hours was not uncommon and the welfare of the crew is very low in the concerns of the producers.”

Beyond businesses, this need to streamline processes can also be extended to the current mode of governance and response to these problems. Psychologist Celine Sugay remarked on the importance of where the country focuses its resources. “The country’s budget, projects, and even our efforts should be geared towards supporting our people and uplifting their lives, instead of trivial things that do not make a significant impact on the lives of the Filipino people,” she said.

2. More Inclusive Solutions

Solutions to the country’s woes — such as poverty, pollution, and unaffordable health care — are often myopic, and tend to ignore their intersection with the people’s socioeconomic standings. These solutions tend to be short-termed, imbalanced, and not rooted on the underlying cause perhaps because they look good on paper and ensure budgetary allotment year after year. More often than not, responses such as these are spearheaded by those not directly impacted by the issues plaguing the masses as they remain shielded by their bubbles of privilege.

For 2021, then, it’s important that we get more voices involved in the decision-making process. For linguist Jem Javier, this means involving as many ethnolinguistic groups as possible into the conversation. “[This is] taking into account the socio-economic and historico-cultural aspects that may be important and even of great help in crafting policies at the local and national levels,” he noted. Doing so ensures that everyone is given a seat at the table, which is crucial in these “extraordinary times.”

Sugay took Pasig City government’s people-centric approach as an example of how including people on the grassroots level can bring positive change. “Pasig residents see and feel how their taxes are used. There is transparency with where the money comes from and how the budget is used. The city’s projects have also helped the residents with specific needs, especially during this pandemic,” she noted.

For Tasha and Bella Tanjutco of nonprofit organization Kids for Kids, inclusivity also extends beyond people. Here, they note the importance of understanding, “We need to understand the intersectionality between people and planet. We must realise we have to stop putting down our people, our culture, and our environment — because these are our solutions. What truly is Filipino can create revolutionary change.” Instead of looking at these aspects as impediments to change, we can instead see them as part of the bigger solution and integrate them accordingly.

3. A Focus on Meaning

With the lockdown isolating a majority of the population, there has been a renewed focus on what’s important — not only for the individual self but for others as well. This introspection, if used well, can be a crucial instrument in moving us forward as a nation.

“I feel we should question the reasons we move and act,” noted Issa Barte, founder of youth-led Filipino-focused non-profit organization, For the Future. “And if not for love of our home and people, discover the reasons it’s so easy to fall in love despite.” After a year that has drained people’s material and emotional capabilities, Barte’s suggestion resonates loudly.

Focusing on what is meaningful also lets us take targeted action. Katrina Stuart Santiago of PAGASA pointed to how the influx of issues in the country can distract us from bigger crises. In order to secure future outcomes, she asserted that we “need to keep our interest in issues and focus on how we can galvanize ourselves into a massive force.to contend with.”

Moreover, the crises of 2020 have reminded us of the importance of compassion. While it has divided some, this year has also brought about a “growing sense of responsibility to the nation and to each other,” as Leslie Umaly of PAGASA put it. In turn, this responsibility allows us to band together as we both navigate and make our mark in the time of COVID-19.

Jen Horn, founder of environmental organization MUNI, summed it up nicely. “We need to support each other — especially those doing work in industries that provide care (for people and the planet), culture (that remind us of our roots), and creativity (that show us pathways forward) — by putting resources (time, money, and people) into things that can really bring us towards a future world that helps to heal the planet, bridge divides, and include everyone in the pursuit of prosperity — the definition of which perhaps also warrants revisiting.”

4. No More Settling

Finally, if there’s one thing 2020 has taught us, it’s the importance of taking action.

“Numerous dissenters were arrested, but the silent majority rode on the government messaging that peace and order have been restored, [even] after violent protests in the streets — a reaction only in proportion to the corruption in the government,” noted historian Kristoffer Pasion. “While the pandemic and the lockdown have put the incompetence of the current administration front and center, we are all in danger of being content with just voicing our dissent online, or taking comfort in the illusion that many have been voicing dissent online, while the vast majority of people without internet and [those] who are directly affected by the pandemic lay uninformed.”

While 2020 has shaken the foundations of Philippine society to the core, there is still a threat of complacency if we do not take action. One such example is the insistence on Filipino resiliency during natural calamities and how the government has justified avoidable tragedies with the strength of the Filipino spirit. “Resilience is not another word for martyrdom,” noted Anina Abola of PAGASA. “The insidious powers that be who seek to keep us in check rely on the fact that because of our ‘strong sense of community,’ we will not choose to do the difficult thing.” This echoes Horn, who reiterated our role as citizens and the need to demand for better leadership. “We must refuse to resign ourselves to ‘e wale e, that’s how things are.”

Fortunately, 2020 has also seen instances of people rising to the occasion and speaking out on these injustices. From the public outcry on the PHP 15 billion stolen by Philhealth officials to the calls for better public transportation during the pandemic, the year has shown that not all is in vain if enough people stand together.

Political scientist Cleve Arguelles hopes this is a sentiment that continues stronger into the new year. “I hope that more Filipinos will rediscover the spirit of people power,” he noted. “That ordinary Filipinos are stronger than the people in power and that we can shape our shared destinies as a nation for better. Huwag sukuan ang isa’t isa.”

While 2020 has shown us that all efforts toward change is not in vain if enough people stand together, 2021 is the year we can build on these foundations that have been laid. It’s the year that we can take hope and put it into action, and continue to shake misleading mindsets ingrained so deeply in our society.

This article was written by our contributor, Pam Musni.

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