Batuhan: Hell on Earth

Allan S. Batuhan
·4 min read

As we go into the commemoration of Holy Week, which is usually when we occupy ourselves with all things heaven and earth, I got to thinking. Maybe we have got this idea of hell all wrong? And maybe we have been shown already, possibly a few times every now and then, what hell could really look like?

As I stay locked down, along with the rest of the country — no, along with the rest of the world — in what seems like an eternity of waiting, I got to thinking — what if this is what hell is really like? A perpetual period of isolation, with no end in sight? A time of having to stay put in place, not knowing when the signal to resume “normal” activity would come?

And what if, despite this being what hell looks like, there is actually a way to get out of it, if we don’t behave like people destined for eternal damnation? Religious teaching of hell being eternal to the contrary, there are some in mainstream theological circles who believe that even salvation from hell is possible, with God’s mercy being boundless and eternal. But I digress a bit from what I was trying to say.

The great pandemic shutdown, which for the Philippines is over a year old now since a couple of weeks ago, does feel like it is a foretaste of what hell could be like. And yes, it also offers hope of how even in hell, we could still redeem ourselves if we only try.

Where do I start with my, “Why do I think this is hell” scenario?

I imagine leaders in hell must be an incompetent bunch. Clearly, hell is not a place that runs efficiently, and maybe just lurches on aimlessly, not knowing what awaits at the next turn. Well then, if this is the case, leadership during this pandemic certainly feels hellish, to put it mildly. Even if we look at the countries we normally think as being well-run, it turns out that they are not really that much so. Thank heavens for Donald Trump being finally out of office, but wasn’t he just what you imagine a leader of hell to be like? Distorting information, peddling lies about the disease, selling unproven cures, and finally himself getting sick from the virus, only to be saved by therapies not otherwise available to the other inhabitants of hell? Personally, whenever I think of someone who is picture-perfect to lead a place like hell, my top of mind would be the ex-president.

And what about the inhabitants of hell? What would they be like? Well, I think they would be no different from the people in this pandemic, really. Just think back to the events of last week, when Metro Manila was placed under a stricter quarantine as cases skyrocketed to all-time highs. What did many people do? Or more properly, what did many people not do? Just check around social media and you will see.

Perhaps the most asked question was — how do they get to the beach without being stopped by authorities.

Say what, now? Get to the beach? Really? Isn’t there a lockdown in place, and still people want to know how they can get to the beach? Isn’t the purpose of an enhanced quarantine to stop people from congregating in crowded areas like beaches, so the disease does not continue to spread like wildfire? And yet, the first thing on their minds is beating the system, and getting to the beach, enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or no ECQ? Surely this is how hell-dwellers think, right?

So, is there redemption from hell? Can we still get out of this hell-on-earth we are in now, if we tried hard enough? Hell yeah!

First of all, there can’t be any semblance of non-hell anywhere, if we don’t even have the slightest concern for the common good. Beach on ECQ? Beating the system to get there? Continuing to congregate among friends even if the disease is spreading like wildfire? No redemption with these around, my friends.

Yes, there is hope. I just don’t see it yet. Not until we behave like we really and truly want to get out of this man-made hell we put ourselves into.

(I would like to extend my warmest greetings to my father, the former NLRC Commissioner Bernabe Batuhan, who celebrated his birthday recently. Cheers, Dad!)