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Othering the Other?: A Call for Moral Cosmopolitanism

It can be observed that countries and regions have an increasing intolerance of differences. This may sound as simply a reduction of matters, but humanly speaking, when we genuinely looked at our core, there lies the unsettling and ‘resounding’ fear within. Recently, fear ‘infected’ with hate towards those who ‘spread’ COVID-19, – Chinese. Our response and how we relate with them [Chinese] challenges our moral compass of cosmopolitanism.

Though there was a drop on daily incident of the COVID-19 in Wuhan, Hubei, China, the prime epicentre of the virus, this pandemic remains a global concern today more than ever. Today, in Wuhan, life begins to resume to normalcy with one local case of the virus [as of this writing], however, Europe, the new epicentre of the pandemic, is grappling with the pandemic, where Italy is the worst hit of the virus now resorts to a lockdown, while other European nations resort to closing their borders. In Southeast Asia, the Philippine government has declared an ‘enhanced community quarantine’ in the entire Luzon [the largest island group] until April 13, 2020. Life is now at standstill for many countries today. Scientists are still searching for a cure and a vaccine to prevent this disease. However, there is something that is worse than the disease, that is the new form of Sinophobia [negative perspective on Chinese who are seen as ‘filthy’ or ‘unhygienic’], which is a xenophobic attitude towards Chinese and it extends to Chinese-looking Asians with the undertone of fear of contagion. Because of this outbreak, China is again referred to as the, ‘sick man of East Asia’ or the ‘yellow peril’, both are a revival of an old racist slur. There have been incidents where hate expressions went beyond offensive words; xenophobic attitude experienced by in some Chinese and other Chinese-looking Asians in certain parts of Europe and United States have been quite violent, from sarcasm, hateful words to being physically beaten.[1] These are disproportionate responses out of fear of contagion. The person is not a virus, they are human beings. It seems that we have blurred the distinctions that led to discrimination again. This pandemic must be a wake-up call to governments and world organizations to seriously strengthen the health care systems to avoid unnecessary panic that results of unwarranted hostility towards the innocent people. In 2015, in his talk in Ted Talk, Bill Gates has warned us of a weapon of mass destruction not of nuclear bombs, but epidemics that we have no solution and are not prepared for.[2] In fact, he claims the problem lies not that our health system did not work, but because we do not have a system in place at all. We are not ready, and he is correct. The matter today in not where the virus originated, there is an urgent need for governments to recalibrate their priorities, that is for the safety and security of human life. Gates proposes some measures to make us equip for any outbreak, first by having a strong health system, especially in poor countries; train medical reserve corps who will be ready to respond in times of an outbreak or medical crisis; pair medical professional and military for better logistics; have simulations of germ games, and invest on RND that will test and work or vaccines and diagnostics. On an individual level, we need to re-evaluate our moral obligation towards our fellow human. More than ever, we are called to exercise cosmopolitanism to our fellow. Let human goodness prevail; let us bring the best of humanity this time of crisis.

If xenophobia seems to creep into our borders due to the CODIV-19, another kind of intolerance is happening in the Philippines led by Duterte and his administration allies. Lately, the self-proclaimed ‘strongman’ [Duterte] has threatened to nullify the previous government contracts with the country’s water concessionaires, cancels the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that is a treaty with the United States, where the two nations agreed to have military exercises, and  terminates the franchise of one of the two biggest media networks, which is the ABS-CBN. These are some of Duterte’s dictatorship moves where his fanatic supporters accept, defend and even applaud. His war on drugs is a failure in mitigating the widespread drug cartel and addiction in the country. Some of Duterte’s ways to silence his opponents are by intimidation with legal cases and arrests such as the likes of Maria Ressa of Rappler, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, detention of Sen. Leila De Lima, ouster of the former Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno, and deportation of Sr. Patrica Fox, who incidentally are all women and criticised Duterte. The freedom of speech and expression has been under threat since Duterte has occupied the palace in 2016.

His threats were made only on his whims and are put into effect by his fanatic allies. More Filipinos are witnessing Duterte’s leadership that progressively dilutes our democracy with his authoritarian moves and abuse of power by threatening and intimidating whoever disagrees with him. In addition, the nullification of the VFA due to a personal vendetta for his close friend [Roland dela Rosa, whose US visa was cancelled by the US Embassy] puts the country’s sovereignty at the edge. It has to be clear that the Philippine constitution has its system in place where the procedures in ratifying a law or treaty is stated in the constitution. Making a treaty into a law requires the joint act between the President and the Senate, and the same applies when terminating a treaty or law. Therefore, a unilateral termination of the VFA by the sole discretion of the Duterte without the concurrence of the Senate is deemed unlawful and invalid. A unilateral termination of the VFA is a grave violation of the law, and if we simply allow Duterte to pass through his whimsical decision then we have placed him above the law. His intention to terminate the treaty is not only unlawful, but is a move that sabotages and endangers our national defense and sovereignty by allowing the aggressive expansion of Beijing in the West Philippine Sea. We have to accept that the Philippine military needs the presence of its long-term ally – US, that in some ways have mitigated the military threat and confrontation by Beijing.

It can be observed thus far in his years in office, Duterte’s leadership has created an atmosphere of intolerance to those who differ from his view or questions his governance, which is a hallmark of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The only difference now with Duterte’s leadership and administration is that, there is no need for a coup or a formal declaration of martial law to imprison those he considers his “dissidents” because his courage lies behind those who agree and applaud his authoritarian style. Intolerance by intimidation and arrest to those who differ from him [Duterte] is a dangerous prelude [red flag] to the loss of democracy.

In February 25, 2020, we have commemorated the 34th year anniversary of the historic EDSA People Power Revolution, a bloodless revolt against the Marcos regime. This event must serve as a reminder of our [Filipino] obligation and responsibility to safeguard our democracy from further erosion. Democracy is not a far right populism that is intolerant of difference and the different. Democracy does not effect a negative othering, xenophobia or hostility to those posing difference and ‘infected’. Rather, the hallmark of democracy is cosmopolitanism – a border that welcomes those in need, keeping safe those who are threatened and welcoming negotiations where parties aims at achieving, equity, justice and the common good.

[1] “Filipinos experience discrimination in Italy amid nCov scare,” GMA Network, February 6, 2020, accessed March 17, 2020, and Ella Torres, “Backlash against Asians could hinder efforts to contain coronavirus, expert says,” ABC News, March 13, 2020, accessed March 17, 2020,

[2] Bill Gates, “The next outbreak? We’re not ready”, March 2015, accessed March 15, 2020,