Corporate Watch


This is our second Valentine’s Day in nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps two years have changed remembrances of Valentine’s Day in the recent past, of it being a giddy celebration of all kinds of love for a special “other” — legitimate and illegitimate, known and secret, present and past, and even future.

Everyone has to have a Valentine. One’s spouse is de-rigueur, and Mom and Dad are the favorites aside from other family members and close friends. Of course, Valentine’s Day is the big day for boyfriend-girlfriends, or open gay lovers. But the standing joke for Valentine’s Day before COVID was that it was celebrated on Feb. 13 for “forbidden” love. I wonder what happened to those drive-in motels with closed garages (the “biglang-liko” or sudden turn as they call these clandestine trysting places) where secret lovers exhausted and expended themselves in demonstrative declarations of love that cannot be? Many out-of-business motels are now COVID quarantine places for incoming tourists and returnees to the country and from other regions in the country. 

The alienation and isolation that occurs in a pandemic can change the face of love. Gabriel García Márquez set his most famous novel, Love in the Time of Cholera (published in 1985) in Colombia, in 1875 to about 1924, in the time frame of the fifth cholera pandemic that raged fiercest in 1883–1887. The epidemic cost 250,000 lives in Europe and at least 50,000 in the Americas. Cholera claimed 267,890 lives in Russia (1892); 120,000 in Spain; 90,000 in Japan; and over 60,000 in Persia. In Egypt, cholera claimed more than 58,000 lives. The 1892 outbreak in Hamburg killed 8,600 people (from Wikipedia). 

Some critic pointed out that aside from the name of the disease, the term “cholera” in Spanish, “cólera,” can also denote passion or human rage and ire (the English adjective “choleric” has the same meaning). Cholera as the disease; cholera as passion; passion as a disease: is love helped or hindered by extreme passion? Perhaps García-Márquez bares an allegory of maddened passionate love as it is isolated and quarantined until it is unmasked and released to again claim an unfulfilled love in youth. But time will have healed the hot passion of the loins to the comfortable warmth of the passion of the soul. 

The story opens with two deaths: a foreigner has committed suicide; the doctor-friend who proclaims him dead dies soon after from a freak accident, falling off a mango tree while trying to rescue his runaway pet parrot. At the wake for the doctor, two lovers-in-their-youth see each other after “51 years, nine months, and four days” and Florentino Ariza professes, for a second time since, his “eternal fidelity and everlasting love” to the doctor’s widow, Fermina Daza. 

A racy flashback to years of pining for Fermina — not without risqué love affairs deceiving, betraying, and using women, and including molesting a 14-year-old ward — paint Florentino as a flawed tragic hero, caught in the turmoil of hormones and dark thoughts broiling inside him. Angered and driven by the frustration of not getting her to be his wife (Fermina’s father had rejected his proposal to marry her when they were young), Florentino has built himself up to be a very rich man. Possession and property, power and influence are often placebos for the debilitating lack of emotional and spiritual achievement and the peace of the soul. 

But in old age (probably  70 years old) Florentino still obsesses over owning the reluctant Fermina. He relentlessly woos the widow until finally she succumbs to their first-ever lovemaking, cruising down the Magdalena River. (What more obvious simile that the main river in Colombia is named after the supposedly fallen biblical Magdalene?) As the ship nears its last port, Fermina fears having to face society with her perceived stigma of having fallen to base instincts. Florentino orders the ship captain to raise the yellow flag of cholera, which the captain does. There are no passengers onboard but Fermina, Florentino, the Captain, and his lover. No port will allow them to dock because of the supposed cholera outbreak aboard.

Love in the Time of Cholera — tragically ending in the painful ecstasy of García-Márquez’ penetrating strokes presages the seemingly near-hopeless human condition in this time of the long-playing COVID pandemic, like being onboard a ship that cannot yet dock. Today, the second Valentine’s Day in the grip of restrictions and isolations imposed by the pandemic, our values and definitions of love are challenged — is love an obsession with possession, a means to a self-serving love of self? Time enough to ponder and discern.

Possessive love has been romanticized much in literature and the arts, in folklore and common language, and social mores have institutionalized the dubious nobility of jealous protectiveness over the exclusivity of one for the other in a love relationship. A peer-vetted medical website says, “We almost all feel some degree of possessiveness in romantic relationships. After all, it’s at the heart of the phrase ‘be mine’ we hear every Valentine’s Day — that concept of ‘belonging’ to someone… If taken too far, possessiveness can become a serious issue that leads to other relationship problems.” 

“Possessiveness is fundamentally a fear of loss. Possessive people worry that their partners will leave them. They worry that their partners can’t be trusted… and they will lose their ‘possession’” (, Dec. 3, 2020). 

What a sad commentary for the highest and noblest act that Man can do, “loving one another as God has loved you.” Trust and faith are the virtues that uphold this covenant between God and Man, between Man and each other. How poignantly Valentine’s Day in a pandemic reminds us that love is not possession of another, but a conscious act of the will and sustained feelings of heart and soul that persist even in the isolation and restrictions of time and distance, in quarantines and health protocols. 

The COVID pandemic has also riveted us from inordinately loving the material possessions and obsessions that had surrounded us in our “past life.” We have been caught in the accoutrements of wealth and power that shackled us in fierce competition with one another — economic status has been the measure of success. “In our day, for many people, life’s meaning is found in possessing, in having an excess of material objects. An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when, paradoxically, a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive,” Pope Francis said in a Christmas Day homily at St. Peter’s Square in Rome (Reuters, Dec. 25, 2018). 

“Let us ask ourselves: Do I really need all these material objects and complicated recipes for living? Can I manage without all these unnecessary extras and live a life of greater simplicity?” Pope Francis said. 

Can I love without possessing? Must possessions be my measure of happiness? 

Pope Francis prays to God, “it is not the time of Your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.” (, March 27, 2020). 



Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.