I have looked forward to 2020 for about three years as it was my forecasted early retirement year. For someone who has been in the work force for around four decades, idea of letting go and taking care of a travel bucket list was enthralling. My plans were meticulous to include advance airfare and hotel bookings to ensure cost savings. Likewise, in a number of cases, the reservations were on a confirmed and nonrefundable basis.

February 20, or 2-20-2020, was the day. It coincided with an event at the bank that acknowledged personnel who rendered long years of service. It was a pleasant take off day for me as Head of the Sector in charge of the recognition.

In two weeks’ time, I was on the first day of my travel list specifically a visit to Georgia, USA to meet my beloved sister Malou. And to make a long story short, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) happened and all my travel plans were in jeopardy.

Actually, it began before the trip when the Philippine government announced the travel ban to Hong Kong, which was my stopover to the US. I had to scramble to get a ticket via Seoul and by the time of my travel, South Korea was also being hit by the virus. Luckily, the plane trip went on without a hitch. When I arrived in the US though, many States started their own lockdown and what was originally planned as a criss-cross trip from East to West became a one stop visit.

Returning prematurely in early April, I was one of fourteen passengers in a plane from Atlanta to Los Angeles, part of the half-full long haul flight from Los Angeles to Seoul. And my plane trip to Manila had 10 warm bodies as passengers. Ratio of crew to passengers was almost one to one. I had laid out travel plans for May, July and yearend. Everything is now in limbo.

Many of us have had our plans put awry because of this pandemic. A meme on the internet even proclaimed that one’s worst or most useless investment for the year would be buying a planner diary for 2020. It would have taken a prophet and gifted seer to have predicted the devastation of the world as we saw it in the recent months. Frankly, alternative scenarios are now being drawn on how the rest of the year will look like. One thing is certain, it will be life as no one ever imagined it to be. Recession is definitely in the works. The more important question is — how long and what will it take for most economies in the world to recover?

One wonders how we could have prepared for 2020 if we knew the things would happen as it is. As they say, hindsight has perfect vision. I would have made drastic changes, maybe even postponing my early retirement to a better time. But how does one really anticipate a worldwide catastrophe like this? Anybody who proposes a lockdown even before the virus spreads would have been called out crazy. The natural tendency is to maintain the status quo, especially from the economic perspective.

My personal issues are actually trivial compared to the losses of many. We are all facing losses, whether it’s a missing on a graduation exercise, facing cancellation of sports event, losing our chance to go to church and masses, struggling to earn for those whose employment is unstable and even the inability to visit sick relatives or say goodbye to a loved one.

While I grieve for my inability to fulfill lifelong dreams, when I look at the bigger pain of others, I feel ashamed for my selfishness. Others have more alarming problems such as actually losing a loved one to COVID-19, small businesses in shambles because of lack of a market, postponed celebrations like weddings, or lacking the cash for day to day sustenance.

But as psychologist Dr. Victoria Tait shared, “let’s allow ourselves to feel those losses, whether big or small. Stifling negative emotions doesn’t make them go away. In fact, suppressing them often gives them more power over us!” Vulnerability researcher Brane Brown observed “emotions do not go away because we send them a message that these feelings are inappropriate and do not score high enough on the suffering board.”

In other words, there are times when it’s OK to be NOT OK. A little disgust and some grieving is healthy. Because no one could have seen the pandemic, we will all have different level of losses and it is alright to feel bad for it. David Kessler, an expert on grief, said it’s absurd to think we shouldn’t feel grief right now. Understanding the stages of grief is a start. Acknowledge the grief you may be feeling, manage it and we will find meaning in it.

On another note, allow me to share an initiative of Don Bosco Mandaluyong High School Class of 1972, in cooperation with DBTC, BICC and DBMAA. The program initiative is to reach out and appeal to the friends of Don Bosco worldwide to give back whatever help they can extend in the fight against COVID-19. Funds raised from donations will be used to design and produce ventilators. Our goal is to produce as many ventilators as possible as soon as the prototype receives the mandatory regulatory approvals. Interested parties can send their contributions to Metrobank SA 0763076947814, under any of the following names — Benel Lagua, Pascualito Oliveros or Noel Cariño.


Benel Dela Paz Lagua was previously Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer at the Development Bank of the Philippines. He is an active FINEX member and a long time advocate of risk-based lending for SMEs. The views expressed herein are his own and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of his office as well as FINEX.