Alain Presillas from the Philippines: “We don’t hide being humanists, especially now”

#GlobalHumanismNow: an update from HAPI

  • blog Type / Membership blog
  • Date / 22 May 2020
  • By / Mahalet Tadesse

#GlobalHumanismNow is a series of mini-interviews with our Members and Associates from all around the world where we ask them how they are coping with the global coronavirus emergency, to explain what initiatives they are taking, and to tell us how the global humanist community can support them.

All interviews are available here.

Today we speak with Alain Sayson Presillas, Executive Director of Humanist Alliance Philippines International (HAPI).

Humanists International: Hi Alain, thank you for accepting our invitation. Can you tell us a bit about how the situation is in the Philippines right now? 

Alain: The COVID-19 global pandemic has truly shown how ill-prepared and inadequate the current health care system is in our country.  We have now lived under “enhanced community quarantine” for eight weeks and there is a clamour for mass testing, which our government still has not provided.

A lot of people have lost their jobs – mostly those of the daily wage earners, and those below the poverty line. They are the ones who have felt the full brunt of this crisis. There are claims from our national health officials of a flattened curve, yet there is an alarming rise of positive test results and deaths.

[UPDATE: As of 22 May, there are 13,434 confirmed cases and 846 deaths.]

Can you tell us some more about how the country is responding to this crisis? 

At first, it was a bit confusing. At the beginning of 2020, there was an immediate call for a lockdown but our leaders rejected that option for political reasons stating their “full competence” in handling the situation. The whole country went into lockdown on the third week of March. The government responded by closing off cities within its jurisdiction. Each local government unit has made its own set of management crisis policies.

On 1 May HAPI members distributed 500 rice cakes, locally called puto, in the local community of Alabang, Muntinlupa. These rice cakes were labelled with the tagline “Don’t worry, be HAPI” so those we would receive this simple gift would have a reason to smile.

As I said earlier, the poorest amongst the poor are the most affected, as they are dependent on the ability to earn daily. Freedom of movement has also been restricted due to the lockdown. A quarantine pass and an identification card are needed just for people to go out and buy groceries and other essential items. Mass gatherings are strictly prohibited. The right to assembly is severely restricted and frowned upon, sometimes resulting in arrests by law enforcement officials for breaking social distancing protocols.

There is a divide when it comes to getting help. In some areas, there exists an efficient distribution system, and people receive the necessary aid from the government. In other places, there lacks common sense when it comes to distributing goods. Unfortunately, a lot of people are being denied help from the government.

HAPI members bringing food and other basic goods to doctors and nurses in the front line

How has the crisis affected your organization and the individuals within it?

We have been partly affected. We were supposed to finish with a lot of paperwork needed for the organization and hold already scheduled events and activities, but some of them had to be postponed indefinitely until things go back to normal.

Local and international flights have been cancelled, and travels within or out of cities have also been restricted. Most of our meetings are now done virtually via social media. We have had to rely solely on our ability to utilize technology in order for us to move as an organization. We also experienced a hard time mobilizing help to those who needed it the most.

How is your organization responding to the emergency?

As an organization, we have been responding accordingly and appropriately. We made sure we are able to provide help while maintaining social distancing. We coordinate online collaborations with various individuals and establishments via our various network channels.

Do you want to add anything on a personal level?

I wish I could provide more help but my hands are also tied because of the physical restrictions made by the local government in our community.

How do you think we should face this emergency as humanists? Which humanist principles should we value most right now?

We are already facing this crisis with so much caution and scientific knowledge, as we ought to. We should make sure that all marginalized people are appropriately helped by our organizations. We hope that they are not compromised in any way and that their basic needs are provided for at least. The value of humanism is to have a positive attitude towards the world, centered on human experience, critical thinking, and a certain level of trust in our rational and emphatic capacities.

Our mindset should be that together we will get through this pandemic, with proper scientific means, empathy, solidarity and a positive humanist attitude.

What kind of support do you need from the international community?

As humanists, we must support each other in every way. May it be in information dissemination or via monetary support for our fellow marginalized humanists that are yet to receive local aid.

What is your message to humanists all around the world?

We will all get through this together. I have always had great faith in our humanity. What is happening right now in the world doesn’t diminish our efforts to promote humanism. We don’t hide being humanists. We go out and advance our cause. We do it all up front and in public. That should really be the way all humanists work, if allowed to. And we shouldn’t change it for a minute.

I wish that every HUMANIST is able find the inner strength to face these trying times. Everyone ought to know that we are here as one.

Thank you, Alain!

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.

If you represent a Member or Associate of Humanists International and you want to participate in the #GlobalHumanismNow series, please contact us at [email protected]

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