Seares: We wouldn’t go to China and China wouldn’t let us, if things were reversed

Pachico A. Seares

REACTIONS varied on the call of two mayors—Cebu City’s Edgardo Labella and Lapu-Lapu City’s Junard Chan—for a ban on people and flights from China because of the threat of the 2019-novel coronavirus.

Responses have ranged from (a) affirmation of the need to show decisiveness to (b) caution that we wait for a strong reason before imposing the ban, and (c) rejection of xenophobia or fear of foreigners or strangers.

Support, caution, reject

The first was shown by those who support the ban, mostly constituents of Mayors Labella and Chan, most of whom believe that a ban on suspected human carriers of 2019-CoV is a defensive measure that a nation or community has the right to take in the face of a dreaded epidemic.

The caution came from the Chinese government, through its Cebu representative, Consul General Jia Li, who said Wednesday (Jan. 29, 2020) there is no reason to ban Chinese nationals and asked the two mayors to reconsider. He argued that China’s measures to stop the virus are adequate and countries like the US, Japan and Germany have not declared any ban.

The third response slams the mayors’ call and condemns any kind of a ban of foreigners as xenophobic, narrow-minded and ignorant.

Leap of faith, safety zone

Here are some facts to help one pick the response to support:

[1] We have the right to defend ourselves against the epidemic and choose which measures to adopt and when to adopt them. China wants us to trust their measures, including a lockdown in Wuhan City where the virus originated, and believe in their capacity to contain the threat within its boundaries. Must we take that leap of faith?

[2] We took some comfort for some time that there was no single confirmed case in the Philippines since the outbreak but that safety record was breached when the Department of Health announced Thursday (Jan. 30) that an adult female from Wuhan was now the country’s first confirmed case. Meaning, what we dread might happen could happen and did happen. Our safety zone is not invulnerable.

Central authority...

[3] The governor and the mayors are tasked by the Local Government Code to lead, through the local health boars, programs and efforts to protect the community’s health.

But the decision about a ban on entry of suspected virus carriers logically belongs to the central government which can determine foreign policy implications and scope and harness resources of national agencies such as the bureaus and departments on immigration, customs, aviation, health and the armed services.

...Local initiative

LGU leaders, who know their community better, can recommend the measures, including quarantine and ban, but central authority is needed for coordination on policy and resources. National authority, local initiative.

That has been shown by Mayors Labella and Chan in their recommendation for a ban. Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia has been in effect leading the charge on emergency measures short of the travel ban, such as requiring a two-week quarantine on suspected coronavirus cases.

Not xenophobia

Is this a fear of foreigners or strangers? Cebu is famous for being friendly and hospitable to visitors. Branding as xenophobic a standard measure to protect citizens’ health against suspected carriers of disease from outside the country is a bit of a stretch and an undeserved self-flogging.

If during the emergency we are advised to do away with “beso-beso,” getting or giving a hug, or having the priest’s hand touch our mouth in communion, we can tell Chinese visitors and travelers from China to put off their trip to Cebu. Come when you are safe and we are safe.

Except on a matter of life and death, if the situation were reversed, we Cebuanos wouldn’t go inside China and China wouldn’t allow us to enter.