Being Right

Gaslight is George Cukor’s classic 1944 film where Charles Boyer’s character, by a series of subtle manipulations and outright deceptions, tries to make his wife, played by Ingrid Bergman, believe she’s insane.

The movie (originally, a play) has lent its name to the psychological and political term “gaslighting,” where people are mentally and emotionally destabilized, resulting in their motives, beliefs, and values being discredited or delegitimized. The objective is to exert power and control over another.

Aside from another psychological phenomena, the Stockholm Syndrome (discussed in a previous article), “gaslighting” perhaps describes most poignantly what is happening in the Philippines right now.

Consider: the Philippine Statistical Authority recently released data showing total deaths nationally from January to June of 2020 going down by 16% (or 49,584) from the same period 2019. Even assuming late reporting and if we use June 2019 numbers (309,010), COVID-19 deaths at the end of June 2020 (1,266) would only constitute .4% of deaths nationwide.

As of this writing, 460 Filipinos died monthly on average from COVID-19. Compare that with the 300 Filipino average monthly deaths by suicide, 1,000 from car crashes. Going by the Department of Health’s 2018 data: 2,038 die on monthly average from tuberculosis, 2,775 from diabetes, 2,788 from hypertensive diseases, 4,745 from cerebrovascular diseases, 4,817 from pneumonia, 5,039 from cancer, and 6,178 from ischemic heart disease.

And yet, by a relentless stream of media and government pronouncements (“COVID-19 is a deadly killer!”) many Filipinos were gaslighted into agreeing to being locked-down and, consequently, economic devastation.

Gaslighting (“So you want to put children in danger?”) was also used to shut down our classrooms.

But as of Aug. 10, the Philippines reported 2,293 COVID-19 deaths. Of those deaths, 126 came from the 0-29 years old age range. Which comes to 25 deaths monthly. Excluding those who died with co-morbidities, the chances of a 0 to 29-year-old dying of COVID-19 is nearly nil. Kids are more likely to die from car crashes, assault, pneumonia, heart disease, or tuberculosis (according to the World Health Organization’s listing of the top causes of deaths for Filipino youths).

Ah,” so the gaslighting goes, “but the problem with COVID-19 is it’s transmissibility. So you selfishly want to kill those around you?”

But tuberculosis is perhaps more so. The current estimated R-naught for COVID-19 is 2.2 (i.e., each infected person can infect 2.2 more). Tuberculosis’ reported transmissibility rate is between 0.5 to 4.3, with China and India having the highest rates. It’s a pretty good bet the Philippines would have a similarly high percentage considering we’re third highest in tuberculosis prevalence rate in the world.

Tuberculosis is also the country’s top infectious killer (more than COVID-19), with nearly 70 people dying from it every day, nearly 25,000 annually. Its case fatality rate (CFR) reportedly ranges between 7-35% (the Philippine’s COVID-19 CFR is currently 1.68%).

“But COVID-19 may have long-term effects!”

So does the flu. Or dengue. And tuberculosis.

Flus reportedly can “worsen long-term medical conditions, like congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes” according to one piece of medical literature; “dengue leaves some long term ill effects including hair fall, alopecia, joint pain and muscle pain” says another; and tuberculosis “causes lasting damage to lungs… which, in the worst cases, results in large holes in the lungs called cavities” says still one more.

“Wait! COVID-19 has no vaccine yet.”

Same with tuberculosis, which has no real effective vaccine. HIV and SARS are still without vaccines. Flu vaccines are said to be only 55% effective. And yet the country remained open.

As for that mythical COVID-19 vaccine, of which apparently all Philippine hope rests upon, the Philippine Star reported the World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warning “there might never be a ‘silver bullet’ against COVID-19 and recommending instead people ‘to focus on what is known to work: contract tracing, social distancing, testing and frequent hand washing.’”

Notice that lockdowns were never mentioned.

This present MECQ itself came about after gaslighting the Filipino people: “How dare you refuse medical workers their rest?” Later this was changed to: “No, it wasn’t about rest but to facilitate the re-calibration of resources and develop a better strategy to confront COVID-19.”

How locking people up in their houses will smoothen the way for more medical resources and developing a better strategy was never made clear.

In the meantime, almost one week later (as of Aug. 10), hospital COVID-19 occupancy rates merely went down by 2%, while daily new cases rose 116% from the day before the MECQ was implemented (Aug. 3). So much for MECQs providing breathing space.

And while GDP shrank by 16.5%, plunging the Philippines into deep recession, and 8 million Filipinos face unemployment, anyone questioning the lockdowns, the fear mongering, and closed classrooms are all gaslighted as fringe right-wingers and shouted down.

In Gaslight, Bergman’s character ultimately triumphs against her criminally manipulative sociopathic husband. And it began when she started demanding: “I must get out of this house, meet people, and see a little of what’s going on in the world.”

Wise words in these times.


Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

Twitter @jemygatdula