By L.S. Mendizabal
You are now probably jaded with the barrage of information and opinions—some educated and quite helpful and others downright moronic—on “flattening the curve” circulating here on the Internets. I know I am. But there’s something we need to commit to memory as long as we still enjoy three square meals a day in the midst of this pandemic pandemonium. Repeat after me: We are the lucky bastards, the privileged stinkin’ suckers.
Philippines in lockdown
The working class whom some of us have called “tanga,” “pasaway” and even “motherfuckers” of late cannot afford steady internet connection to keep abreast of the latest developments in the national and global COVID-19 crisis. Most of them have only the Malacañang Palace to turn to for advice, which means that they are likely to ward off the virus by eating bananas and gargling saltwater. Those who reside outside but work in Metro Manila who don’t have a television or electricity at home might not have known about the enhanced community quarantine guidelines and found themselves stuck in Manila without any money to spare for food for the long walk back home now that mass transport has been suspended. People crossing the city boundaries experienced having to literally run in agitation over the armed authorities’ 30-minute countdown before lockdown. Meanwhile, thousands have been held up in the streets by a sheer number of AFP-PNP personnel in full battle gear pointing only two or a few more thermal scanners at people’s heads, interrogating their identities, who they were with, where they were going and why. Once the number of patients infected with COVID-19 began to rise in the Philippines, the administration’s knee-jerk response was militarization. “Obey first before complaining.” Groundbreaking.
Honestly, I was not the least bit surprised by the total lockdown, given that Duterte has been consistently grabbing every conceivable opportunity to maintain his fascist reign. Neither am I as dismayed by the exponential spread of COVID-19 as I actually am by the callousness of so many posts and comments, some of which are made by friends or acquaintances (or are they still?), on social media regarding the plight of the least fortunate—those who cannot afford to “work from home” and must brave the outside world to, I don’t know, probably earn money, find food and shelter maybe? It must also be noted that ironically but not surprisingly, the people who are calling the poor “pasaway” and “naghahanap ng sakit” are the same ones who called them “bobotante” after last year’s botched elections. How disgustingly swift some people have ceased to be humane after their #quarantinediaries selfies earning likes and follows are rudely disrupted by news of the poor struggling to continue living despite government’s orders for them to essentially stop doing just that. How sickening and revolting it has been to know how some of us might act in dire situations such as these, safely perched in their homes, watching TV, clicking and swiping on links in their smartphones or laptops while more than half of the Filipino populace are fighting for their lives in conditions more precarious than ever before, less fearful of the virus and more of hunger and ejection from their homes that may or may not have their own bathrooms and running water to begin with, if they had homes, that is.
The Philippines pre-COVID19
I wish I could write about something more optimistic to lessen our collective anxiety or a detailed objective analysis and critique of the nation’s healthcare system (a.k.a. an easy target for the trolls because apparently, they’ll defend anything their golden calf does), but what really keeps me up at night is not the shortage of 70% isopropyl or ethyl alcohol in stores but the seeming scarcity of empathy in many Filipinos I’ve encountered, at least online. Naturally, the prevailing people in power will do most anything in order to stay in power, while the powerless and exploited will always find ways to fight back. That’s just the kind of society we were born into, sadly. But I’m afraid that this element of “class struggle” has somehow left the consciousness of many a Filipino as we deal with this new unseen enemy they are so afraid of that they cannot be bothered about their fellow Filipinos, especially if in huge crowds in congested places.
In other words, y’all missing the context. Before Luzon went on lockdown, many things have happened in the Philippines besides Sarah Geronimo’s secret wedding. Here are the following, to remind you of a few:
- The pending ABS-CBN franchise renewal;
- Apart from non-remittance of taxes, reports of various crimes linked to POGOs, most of which have victimized Filipino citizens, have risen to an alarming rate;
- Millions of Filipino drivers, operators, dispatchers, mechanics and their families and commuters face the impending jeepney phaseout as well as the inevitable fare hikes as the PUV Modernization Program pushes through in June this year;
- Contractualization of workers remains rampant despite Duterte’s promise to end ENDO. Police offices have also been erected in Central Luzon industrial zones, a clear threat to workers’ rights to self-organize and fight for their basic interests and welfare;
- Filipino farmers and millers are plunged further into bankruptcy because of the liberalization of rice importation which has resulted into the Philippines, an agricultural country, currently being the world’s biggest importer of rice;
- Mindanao is still heavily militarized even after the lifting of martial law, where Lumads are driven to mass exodus as their lands get overrun by military and paramilitary forces, their schools being closed down, their leaders and allies harassed or killed. Meanwhile, Marawi remains in ruins as true rehabilitation has yet to take place;
- Human rights violations keep recurring as elements of the state continue to redtag, file trumped up charges against, abduct and murder social activists, human rights workers, journalists, church leaders, lawyers, environmentalists and other critics. Last Tuesday, in the thick of the COVID-19 lockdown and Duterte’s incitement of ceasefire between the AFP and CPP-NPA, choreographer and activist, Marlon Maldos, was abducted and killed in De la Paz, Cortes in Bohol province; and all along,
- The proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is still underway, which seeks to repeal the Human Security Act of 2007, amending provisions to supposedly strengthen the government’s campaign against terrorism. Simply put, these amendments may lead to anyone getting accused of being a “terrorist” and punished for “terrorist crimes.” For instance, journalists in Cagayan de Oro City and Iloilo City campaigning for the ABS-CBN franchise renewal have been tagged as “communist-terrorists.”
It may sound like it but I am not reading all this as if it were the apocalypse. I only want you to understand that the nation has already been in a state of catastrophe even before the COVID-19 lockdown, and the two main takeaway points here are: 1) No matter how shitty, life goes on, especially for the working class because they have no other choice; and 2) Extreme militarist measures have caused us, notably the poor, more fatal harm than good. So to all those who dared repost photos of progressive groups holding placards that called for a medical solution to the national crisis, and saying that they deserved to be shot down by the military or hurt in any way, please know that persecuting people for fighting for ourrights only highlights your ignorance and apathy. They could have chosen to stay safe and quiet, indeed, but they sacrificed a day out in the streets before eventually bringing the protests online, albeit in masks and at arm’s length between each other, to speak out for you. And yet, you choose to not see the significance of protest in fascist times like these when so many are being terrorized, even slaughtered, into silence. You have neglected the fact that protest and dissent have taken you to where you are today, when you can call yourself a Filipino, enjoying unfiltered internet connection in your cozy house slippers and your soft couches with your Netflix subscriptions and smug faces. You lucky basturd, you.
One may credit this online idiocy to deindividuation, which social psychology defines as the loss of self-awareness because of the feeling of security that stems from anonymity or being in a mob or group like, say, Marcos apologists or passive-aggressive millennials who buck at anyone and everyone on Twitter but can’t bring themselves to ask for ketchup at the fastfood (just a personal observation, sincerely no offense meant). Deindividuation does not, however, make people any less liable for their actions. With or without the COVID-19 crisis, cheering on any human rights violation is just vile and an abuse in itself. If you disagree with the protests, fine. You do you. But please do not attempt to gag them just because you are in a position of privilege. I know you could not afford to house your entire family at St. Luke’s Medical Center if you caught the virus. Leave the discrimination and the bigotry to the elite.
Love in the time of COVID-19 and fascism
Now, more than ever, when the national setting is being engineered to be more conducive to isolation, deindividuation, individualism and segregation, when “social distancing” is the new norm, the Filipino people must strengthen social solidarity. We may not be able to physically link arms with one another, but there are many ways to fortify our unity and national spirit, as proven by:
- The brilliant scientists and artists who have worked hard to create the COVID-19 test kits and sanitation tent design, respectively;
- The doctors, nurses and health workers who actually respect human rights and tirelessly toil in and out of the hospitals in spite of the slashed health care funds and lack of facilities and resources;
- The journalists, researchers and writers who keep us properly informed through the news, online public service announcements and statements;
- The governors, mayors and other government officials and their staff who are present on the ground, making sure that their constituents are being looked after;
- The government and bank employees, telecommunications workers, pharmacists and other agents who uphold their duties to secure the daily operations of our most important institutions and systems;
- The responsible netizens who use social media as an effective platform to launch campaigns that extend all sorts of help to those in need such as petitions, donations and food distribution for the homeless who cannot self-quarantine, free rides for those who are forced to walk across cities because of the absence of public transit, and many other efforts; and last but definitely not the least,
- Our farmers and farmworkers, some of whom are collecting harvest now as you read this, the workers in the factories, truck drivers, security guards, grocery salespersons, clerks and baggers, couriers, street sweepers, garbage collectors, vendors and the rest of the underprivileged but hardworking masses who are the main reason we are able to eat food that isn’t stale, have clothes on our backs, sleep soundly in relatively cleaner and safer neighborhoods, or for the smokers to even remotely have access to a pack of cigarettes.
The Philippines we woke up to this morning is a fascist authoritarian’s erotic fantasy— stifled press freedom, empty streets, no jeepneys, tricycles or public vans servicing commuters, no teachers or students in schools, no work, food and shelter for the poor, and no mass testing to keep people in the dark while we are being divided and conquered, slowly massacred, or in the case of those who dare criticize him, abducted and killed. Martial Law can’t even.
Our democratic space is constantly shrinking into a cramped cell and only the few and the powerful will not be held prisoners. So unless you see this as a bright future for yourself and your children, you might want to rethink if apathy and blind faith is indeed convenient for you and your fellow human beings. Perhaps now is the time to stock up on an unlimited supply of love, empathy, kindness and compassion, and courage partnered with critical thinking. If there’s anything our long history of Filipino social struggles have proven time and again, it is that nothing can defeat a united front—not an army of foreign colonizers, not a single viral sickness or a single tyrant.#
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Socialite Cat Arambulo calls workers getting arrested on TV “motherfuckers” and other elitist reactions to COVID-19 lockdown:
Panelo claims eating bananas is effective to combat COVID-19:
People running to cross city boundary:
Cagayan de Oro City and Iloilo City journalists campaigning for ABS-CBN franchise renewal tagged as “communist-terrorists”: