Recently, stories of two particular individuals breaching enhanced community quarantine protocols caught the attention of the public – the story of the detainment of a street dweller and the story of a senator’s escapades during the quarantine period.
It should have been expected that the street dweller was granted compassion and the senator was demanded for accountability. However, the contrary happened.
Despite the provisions of the Republic Act 11332 or the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Disease Act” that justifies warrantless arrest of those who will violate lockdown terms and the punishment for non-cooperation of those “affected by the health event of public concern” and of those “person or entities identified as having notifiable disease,” it had been evident from the rulings that the law exempts the favorable.
Photo from Chel Diokno’s Twitter Account
Photos from PhilStar’s Twitter Thread
Without a doubt, both individuals had breached imperative guidelines and regulations. However, there is a stark difference between the two – one had no choice and the other one made a choice.
The idea of isolation and “home quarantine” is a luxury the street dweller cannot afford – a privilege she had not been granted with. The streets had been her home and she had thrived in it for years. She had no other option nor choice on where to stay amid the strict implementation of the ECQ guidelines.
On the other hand, the senator had the privilege of having options – that is, whether to stay inside the comforts of his home or to go out despite strict instructions to self-quarantine. He had been privileged enough to be aware and knowledgeable of the nature of the virus, to be VIP-tested for the virus upon manifestation of the symptoms, and to have the ability to contain it and prevent its transmission to others. Despite these, he made a choice that affected the people around him.
The question now is this: where do we draw the line between accountability and compassion?
In the simplest sense, accountability may be defined as “blaming or crediting someone for an action” that is usually associated with a recognized responsibility.
“Accountability is the readiness or preparedness to give an explanation or justification to relevant others for one’s judgements, intentions, acts, and omissions when appropriately called upon to do so. It is [also] a readiness to have one’s actions judged by others and, where appropriate, accept responsibility for errors, misjudgments and negligence, and recognition for competence, conscientiousness, excellence, and wisdom. It is a preparedness to change in the light of improved understanding gained from others,” said Ethics Activist Geoff Hunt.
He stated that one can be held accountable if (1) the person is functionally and/or morally responsible for an action, (2) some harm occurred due to that action, and (3) the responsible person had no legitimate excuse for the action.
“Ideally, the assumption would then be to hold a person who is responsible for an action also accountable for the results of that action (…) This position assumes that the responsible person is relatively autonomous, or free to make decisions associated with his or her job without outside pressure or influence,” Hunt further explained.
Compassion, on the other hand, generally refers to one’s ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person. It is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help.
Given these explanations, is it right to demand accountability from a person who had no other choice but to thrive in the streets? Likewise, is it right to call for compassion for a person who made a choice and had all the means to survive in the midst of everything?
Who shall be arrested? Who shall be helped?
In today’s society, the urban poor make up the majority of the country’s population. These are the people who are less privileged and less subsidized by the national government. These are the people who thrive in the slumps and streets – those without clothes on their backs, food in their mouths, and roof over their heads. These are the people who earn – sometimes less than – minimum wage, who scavenge for food in the dump, who beg for alms on the sidewalk, or who are socially and economically exploited in lowliest occupations. The urban poor, this marginalized sector, is the face of poverty.
While some people are privileged enough to comfortably get through the community quarantine – or in life, in general – as they have all the means to stay educated, informed, connected, entertained, and alive, the urban poor do not have the luxury to stay idle for a month – much less a day – as it would mean no food on the table for their families.
The reality here is that these people are neither lazy nor are they less gumptious than the others. Unfortunately, they have not been given the right set of cards to help them survive – that is, they weren’t given the same privileges, the same opportunities, and the same chances as those who made it through life.
To quote Theodore Roosevelt, “No one is above the law and no man is below it.” While this proves to be true and imperative, it is equally important to note that the law should also endow compassion to those who truly deserve it. And granted that we want to contain and eliminate the threat of the virus as much as possible, and as early as possible, it gives one no excuse to tip the scale of justice in accordance with one’s set of privileges.