This was originally supposed to be a list of the Most Influential People of 2020, the movers who shaped the world this past year. But given that there was hardly any movement, much less shaping, anywhere, we had a rethink. And a refeel.
We reckoned that the world is still quite a ways off from the end of the pandemic tunnel, and we felt that celebrating the people who shone a ray of light and provided a glimmer of hope during these unprecedently trying, chaotic, uncertain times is not only a more relevant undertaking, it is more right and necessary.
But these are not your cookie-cutter warm and cuddly inspirations. They’re inspiring for the courage they showed in fighting the battles they waged—most of them inadvertently—this year. More importantly, for the causes they fought for—decency, truth, people’s rights, good governance, and real public service, values that have been under fire in these dark times.
Here are three inspirations on the global stage.
Many considered Donald Trump’s defeat at the U.S. Presidential elections in November a foregone conclusion even before the first vote was cast. And with good reason.
He was, after all, riding into the elections on a huge wave of public dissatisfaction with his monumentally bungled Covid-19 response. But even before the pandemic completely exposed his unparalleled ineptness and total lack of vision, he was already losing his grip on Americans’ favor, consistently registering higher disapproval ratings since after his first year in office.
Thank goodness the anti-Trump registered voters did not take these for granted and they made sure to have their voices heard where it truly mattered – on the ballot.
That Trump actually had a shocking increase of votes of over 11 million from his 2016 results makes the Biden victory even more impressive. His 7 million lead is truly tremendous—to borrow one of Trump’s favorite words—but what’s more remarkable was the 15 million jump of voters who turned out to not vote for Trump (from Clinton’s 65.8M to Biden’s 81.2M).
The results are inspiring because they prove that, with enough upright and freedom-loving people taking their patriotic duties to heart and actually exercising their right to vote, populism can be trumped.
That cheering heard around the world following the U.S. media’s declaration of a Biden victory was the sound of hope that the strongmen in other countries will soon meet the same fate that befell Trump in 2020 and usher in a bright new era of dignity, integrity, and visionary leadership.
In this day and age of heightened authoritarianism going against the state can be life-threatening and takes nothing short of superhuman courage. Especially if you’re in places like China where dissent is largely frowned upon even by the populace itself. And especially if have heard reports about people being punished for speaking up and you have already been told to shut up.
The Wuhan whistleblowers are rightfully considered some of the pandemic’s foremost heroes. They put their lives at risk by putting out information in the early months of the pandemic about the real situation in Wuhan, where the virus originated—information that the government was trying to keep from the people because it painted a very bad picture of the state.
Chief among these truth champions are Wuhan doctors Ai Fen and Li Wenliang who are considered the sources of the first pieces of evidence that the authorities tried to censor. In the last days of December 2019, they shared with their colleagues private messages warning them of a SARS-like virus that has been sending an increasing number of patients to their hospitals. Wenliang’s messages included a photo from Fen, who works as director of emergency at Wuhan Central hospital, of a portion of actual lab results that she got hold of.
A few days later, Wenliang was investigated by police for "spreading rumours" and told to "stop making false comments" and Fen was reprimanded by the hospital’s disciplinary inspection committee for “spreading rumours” and “harming stability.” They were both forbidden from posting any more messages and images related to the outbreak.
But by then the alarm they had set off among their medical peers had reached the public. When Wenliang died of Covid-19 in February, his social media pages were filled with messages of public anger, some even calling their fellow citizens to “rise up.” Fen took some cue and broke her silence in March. “If I had known what was to happen, I would not have cared about the reprimand,” she said in an interview with a Chinese magazine. “I would have fucking talked about it to whoever, where ever I could.” She did just that in the interview, telling of the heartbreaking moments she encountered with Covid-19 patients in her hospital including those who eventually died.
At least four other citizens have come out as whistleblowers since Fen and Wenliang, including a Shanghai-based journalist who posted on-ground video reports online straight from Wuhan. All of them were reported to have gone missing for days following their exposès and presumed to have been met disciplinary actions by state forces. This has made them an even stronger force in the pursuit of truth about the origins of the virus and the Chinese government’s efforts to hide it.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church has been a source of inspiration for many across the world — and across faiths, cultures, and orientations — since taking the papacy in 2013. This is largely because of his evolved and even progressive or at least liberal views on many long-standing controversial issues.
Among the most notable of these has been his position on matters related to the LGBTQ community. He hit the ground running in this area when, on his first year as Pope, he answered a provocative question about homosexuality with this rhetorical question, “If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”
A year later his support turned pointedly socio-political, rather than purely pastoral when he tackled the issue of same-sex civil unions, for which he first voiced openness when he was still Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Although he reiterated that “marriage is between a man and a woman,” he offered that “we have to look at different cases and evaluate them in their variety.”
This year he doubled down on his support and gave his most striking statement yet. In the documentary Francesco which debuted at the Rome Film Festival in October, Pope Francis is heard saying, “Homosexual people have a right to be in the family. They are children of God. They have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out of the family or made miserable over this. What we have to make is a law of civil coexistence, for they have the right to be legally covered. I stood up for that.”
While it remains to be seen whether Pope Francis’ pronouncements will actually eventually lead to the Vatican creating such a law – it probably won’t – it is very inspiring that the 84-year-old pontiff, despite strong criticism and opposition from circles within the Church itself, has not only not loosened his embrace of gay people and their rights, he has even tightened it even more.
Here are some of the biggest inspirations in the Philippines.
The officials who could
Incompetence has long been the norm in the Philippine government; the pandemic only exposed it fully for the whole world to see. Fortunately, it’s not absolute and there are exceptions to the rule. Vice President Leni Robredo, Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto, and Marikina Mayor Marcy Teodoro were the few — too few — who bucked the “system” in 2020.
They provided real leadership with smart, responsive, timely, and decisive action when it mattered the most. Robredo harnessed public-private partnership to raise funds to purchase personal protective equipment and to provide free transportation service to healthcare workers, Teodoro put up the first full-on molecular diagnostic laboratory in a local government unit to conduct Covid-19 tests for its own residents, and Sotto was able to give at least P220 million in different forms of aid for residents hit hard by the lockdown even before the national government announced it would give cash subsidies.
Their work also included some innovations that are truly notable for a country known to be a laggard in this area, in particular, Pasig’s disinfection drones and The Office of the Vice President’s Community Mart delivery app that helped small market vendors and tricycle drivers affected by the lockdown.
These three officials inspire hope that not all is lost with the Filipino electorate – that they still have the wisdom to vote for the truly capable and competent – and that there might still be a future in which government is run by leaders with vision and the chops to turn that vision into reality.
The one-time Darna (GMA’s 2005 fantaserye) probably had no idea that she was going to face a lot of battles in 2020. And in real life at that. That she met them head on with total conviction to ideals of justice, truth, and real beauty was a showcase of strength of character worthy of the Pinoy Wonder Woman.
There was the fight for survival of her home network, ABS-CBN, the fight against the President’s diehard supporters, and the fight against body shamers. “I love my country, I love the people,” she said in an interview. “I think it's natural that we stand up for what is right. As long as you know you're doing the right thing and try not to mind the negative things na nababasa mo. 'Wag kang matakot na magsalita porke't merong taong hindi mag-a-agree sa'yo. Kung tingin mo naman nasa tama ka, you'll never know kung sinong natulungan mo. Marami diyan walang boses.”
And that’s just half of The Angel Locsin Story of 2020. The other half saw her taking on her biggest philanthropic project yet — a Covid-19 fundraising drive that raised over P11 million in a span of only 19 days with which her group was able to set up 225 isolation tents and 21 sanitation tents with misting machines as well as provide personal protective equipment, medical supplies, and food in 135 hospitals nationwide.
She didn’t stop there. A couple of months later, she launched the 2020 edition of her “Shop & Share” joint initiative with Anne Curtis which was introduced in 2009 for Ondoy and Yolanda relief edforts. This time the goal was to raise funds to purchase Covid-19 test kits for the underprivileged, and for this project she put up no less than her 2015 Dodge Durango for auction.
In 2020, celebrities who put their money where their mouth is and walked their talk did not get more inspiring and heroic than Angel Locsin.
Banner photos from Leni Robredo on Facebook and Angel Locsin, Joe Biden, and Pope Francis on Instagram.