The morning after, we look up, blinking in the harsh light, and wonder: What’s next?
That question is at the heart of the reflections and reminiscences found in the pages of the landmark special section of The Philippine STAR, as the paper marks its 36th anniversary by bringing back many of the country’s leading lights that, two years ago, had written about their ongoing struggles with the then-raging COVID-19 pandemic. This time, in the first part of the STAR’s two-part anniversary special called The Next Page, they return to detail what they have gone through in the last two years — the heartbreaking losses, the days of fright and anxiety, but also the breakthrough moments and the hard-fought gains — and how those experiences are now guiding the steps they’re taking into a radically changed world.
The second part of the anniversary special (coming out on July 29) goes beyond What’s Next and asks, What If? In it, another set of key opinion leaders have been invited to answer questions that dare to reexamine the conditions we toil in at present and dream of what ought to be — how we can make our society and the bigger world a much better place based on a blueprint of innovation, imagination, fairness and empathy for others.
The 2020 anniversary edition was “a look at how the invisible war caused by the pandemic is reshaping the world, the psyche of people and their survival instinct,” wrote then project editor Bum Tenorio Jr. Thus, many of the stories featured in that edition had the smell of dispatches from the trenches. It was merely four months into what would turn out to be one of the longest and most severe lockdowns in the world, and the country was in the grip of a panorama of ruin: scores dying from the COVID-19 virus, thousands more sick and enfeebled jamming soon-to-be overwhelmed hospitals, many front-line health personnel becoming among the first casualties of the pandemic, businesses big and small across the country abruptly shuttered, millions of Filipinos suddenly out of work and the entire economy cratering to depths not seen since the last world war.
From that unprecedented crisis would come stories from “businessmen, technocrats and restaurateurs who have experienced recalibration of their businesses to keep afloat, by media men and women who keep the fight in this unseen health war, by teachers and students who will undergo changes in instruction and learning…, by public servants who don’t blink in delivering services even to far-flung places.” Ultimately, said Tenorio, these were “tales of hope and optimism. Each word is like a bullet ready to slay the enemy. Each action is a trigger to win the war.”
The Great Work of Rebuilding is What’s Next for us as a nation.
Two years later, as the Philippines inches its way out of pandemic restrictions, many of our invited storytellers are back in this paper to offer a fuller account of their experiences. They come armed with instructive new learnings to share about how they overcame overwhelming odds and made the most out of a comfortless time.
In 2020, for instance, Richard Yee, president of Goldilocks, candidly wrote: “When the ECQ (Enhanced Community Quarantine) was declared in March, we were forced to shut down all our plants and stores in the entire Luzon area. In a matter of one day, we literally went from hundreds of operational stores in the NCR to zero.” Today, he is happy to report that Goldilocks has not only managed to adapt quickly to uncharted terrain (“If there is one universal truth about change, it is that it forces people and businesses to be creative and innovative”) but that things are on the upswing, and that the cake business had in fact become even more crucial to Filipino celebrations with families cooped up for months on end during the quarantine.
Beauty guru Dr. Vicki Belo had a ready recommendation in those grim months of 2020: “Self-love and beauty can help you survive a pandemic.” But as she admits in her follow-up piece today, “at one point, I almost felt like giving up.” Fortunately, she and her team forged on, using the forced hiatus of the business to strengthen their operations. After the dire days, expansion is in the works. “More than ever, self-care has become such a necessity, and I really do believe that caring for our physical, mental and spiritual health will enable us to cope with the changing times,” says Belo.
Among business organizations, ABS-CBN had perhaps the toughest ordeal in 2020. As head of TV production Laurenti Dyogi recalls, “We experienced double jeopardy — the outbreak of COVID-19, and when the powers-that-be shut down our network.” Incredibly, from that downfall the network was able to spread its wings even further by embracing the digital realm and forging important industry collaborations. In 2020, writing in this paper, ABS-CBN news chief Ging Reyes had articulated the company’s resolve: “Our spirit can never be broken.” Dyogi reaffirms that mantra two years later: “Just like Cardo of ‘Ang Probinsyano,’ we remain undaunted.”
That commitment to duty is echoed by STAR editor-in-chief Amy Pamintuan, who in 2020 lamented that, with dailies likewise battered by the lockdowns, “There is less laughter in the newsroom.” Those lockdowns “forced millions to use digital technology for many aspects of life, from formal education to buying groceries and accessing information. But the forced shift was not accompanied by even basic lessons on digital literacy. Fake news, disinformation, financial scams and e-commerce fraud have proliferated,” writes Pamintuan today. But the STAR is standing its ground: “Good journalism in the long run is anchored on truth, and truth does prevail in our reporting.”
The urge to resist decimation, and instead rethink, recalibrate and rebuild in the face of wrenching changes, is the thread that runs through the rest of the compelling stories featured in this anniversary special. Among other worthy pivots, SM would transform its malls into indispensable vaccine centers. HMOs retooled their industry to address the unique challenges of COVID-19. Lalamove revved up as logistics and delivery became critical to a functioning economy during lockdown. All of them willed themselves to transform and reimagine the core of their respective undertakings, and in doing so became stronger, more agile versions of themselves — ready for The Next Page, as it were.
These stories of quick thinking and daring, of trauma and awakening, and the stubborn belief in the power of the Filipino to pick up the pieces and begin again, are more than a hymn to hope and that now rather tarnished word, “resilience.” They are stories that nod to both past and future — as firsthand testimonies of a recent cataclysmic time in the nation’s history, and as an urgent manifesto to build a better normal for the country using not only the hard lessons of COVID-19, but, more enduringly, the best virtues and qualities we have as a people.
Collectively, they more than make clear to us what lies in the months and years ahead: The Great Work of Rebuilding is What’s Next for us as a nation.