Pandemic exposed inequality in society and institutions, experts say

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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people from all walks of life in varying degrees, experts said. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 17) — The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people from all walks of life in varying degrees, experts said.

"While the virus does not choose people, the disease affects people very differently," said University of the Philippines College of Medicine professor Dr. Tony Dans. "What this pandemic has highlighted is there is so much inequity in society."

In an online seminar or webinar hosted by CNN Philippines, speakers weighed in on the dilemma of workers and schools amid quarantine restrictions.

Dans said the poor faces three concerns: lack of work, transportation and money to pay for medical services. He cited a survey that showed the road network is skewed towards car owners but only a fifth of the population have cars.

Another expert said people are more inclined to go to work to earn rather than stay at home despite the risk of catching the virus.

"With the economy that we have, no work no pay ang mga tao... Your choice becomes gutom ba o sakit [hunger or illness] and people would say I'd rather choose magkasakit kaysa sa magutom [to get sick rather than go hungry]," said Emmanuel Leyco, president of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

In the education sector, schools and government officials are also trying to balance the need for learning while addressing limited access to digital platforms.

"We need to address the inequity that has been exposed but has been there all along - inequity in information access," said Dans. "Estimates suggest that almost 60 percent of Filipinos are not connected."

Oscar Bulaong, a leaderhip and philosophy professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said government plans must tackle the root of poverty during the crisis.

"The problem of poverty is systemic so I am a little worried that we are hearing less of that conversation about how to alleviate poverty," Bulaong said. "I think the conversation has to continue about how to solve this in the context of risk management."

Tonette Palma-Angeles, another Ateneo philosophy professor, said government systems should address the needs of the poor.

"I think to a certain extent the pandemic showed some systemic weakness of the government," she said. "If we had good safety nets 'yung talagang mahihirap sana 'yung nasalo."

[Translation: If we had good safety nets then the needs of the poor would have been covered.]

Government agencies should move as one in contaning the virus and mitigate its impact on the economy, she added.

For Dans, this should also be applied to the workplace.

"We should allow people to work from home, we should increase sick leave benefits and social amelioration for people who are sick and we should provide healthcare," he said.

"It is the responsibility of those who are less stressed to take care of those how are devastated by this pandemic," he added.