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Revisiting citizen roles and state response

This follow up piece comes almost exactly a year since it’s older sibling: a Blueboard article entitled “Reconsidering citizen roles and State response” which was written in January of 2020. The Philippines (and the world) was at the tail end of the “old normal” and at that point, the first month of that year had given us “much to consider” with the eruption of Taal Volcano, and movements in the Middle East that could potentially displace our OFWs. The then officially unnamed coronavirus strain was only beginning to give us “a little cause for pause.”

In this context, the article posited that the role of the State was “one of many actors” and “no longer had monopoly of people’s actions in times of change.” Just like any relationship, it should be one which should be continued to be re-examined and re-negotiated by, first and foremost, the citizens themselves. Political actors that were identified to continue to reshape this relationship include: non state actors (CSOs, churches, local networks), local actors (including the LGUs themselves), and international organizations and national agencies rounded up the list of political actors that were noted in last year’s article which lobbied for a more flexible state response to emerging issues.

Twelve months later, the usual anchors of analysis, reliable yearly milestones such as economic growth, disaster risk response and climate change, political reform, and the protection of vulnerable sectors have been inextricably linked to the global pandemic and most current analysis in any of these areas are now anchored on the effective state response.

Non state actors will have to redefine their network. Once easier to reach, vulnerable sectors in this new normal have required technology for communication and coordination (available to both the assisting organization and the sector they intend to reach), new protocols for active engagement (including social distancing and other health related requirements), and (sometimes the most difficult to produce) an innovative mindset when articulating and aggregating the responses of these sectors.

Strong local response is not enough. These will have to be joined with a good organizational structure at the grassroots level and robust coordinative mechanisms to deal with the complexity and fast changing nature of the pandemic.

International organizations and national agencies are now required to rewrite policy more frequently, and in doing so consistently consider a balance in economic, political and social indicators along with the necessary health related ones.

One year later, we are nowhere near normal and those who are farthest from what is acceptably normal are still those who were farthest from it in January 2020: the youth, women, overseas workers, and other vulnerable groups are sometimes lost in even the policies that seek to protect them from the effects of the pandemic.

We return to the need for re engagement with the State, and aside from the mentioned non state actors, locally based actors, international organizations, and national agencies who used to front quite effectively for vulnerable groups, the individual citizen will also now have to recast their role. What does active citizenry mean in the new normal? How do we ensure a voice? Not just ours but also those who are normally left out of the conversation. Where do we take this conversation with schools physically closed and people limited to little else than work and home (or work from home)? Granted that the effects of the pandemic have left many of these questions secondary to health concerns, our answers to these questions will determine our lives past this pandemic and into a new era of state-society relations.


Maria Elissa J. Lao is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Ateneo de Manila University where she is currently the Director of the Institute of Philippine Culture.

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