4/03/2020
Lockdown-not-lockdown, week three

27 March, Friday

Already I've seen people talk about having cabin fever because they haven't gotten out of their houses for two weeks. I'm not sure about that. But then again, my flat has this big window that overlooks the city.

Don't get me wrong. It's not a big flat. It's just a big window, and out of it I can see Vico Sotto... well, his office... his office building.

Today, though, I had to go out of the house. I have to do some bank transactions, and the nearest branch is closed, so I have to walk to Ortigas. A bit convenient, because I also have to get something from the office. And then, maybe, I can squeeze in a visit to the grocery.

The outside does not feel that different. Well, sure, there are less cars, and there are some checkpoints here and there, and everybody is wearing masks, and there's this distinct smell of disinfectant on the roads. Otherwise, everything feels normal, but you'll have to tell yourself that you're walking early on a Saturday morning, and that for some reason the stores are all closed.

Well, most of them. I found an open 7-Eleven, so I finally fulfilled my week-long siopao craving.

And then I snapped out of the delusion when I entered the building that houses the bank. There is, of course, the temperature check. The security guard pointed a thermal scanner at my head, and I thought, "well, I walked twenty minutes, so I would be warmer than I should be, right?" And then someone pointed a spray bottle at me. It was filled with hand sanitizer. Then you realize, once again, that these are indeed unusual times.


28 March, Saturday


I didn't get to go to the grocery yesterday. I should've remembered that social distancing is a thing, which meant only a certain number of people will be allowed inside at a given time. I ended up at the back of a very long line, and since I didn't really need to shop that day, I decided to skip it and go today instead.

The plan: leave the flat at fifteen past eight, and walk for roughly ten minutes to the grocery. The catch: the lines are still long when I did arrive.

Right, again, these are unusual times.

The line was weird, to say the least. Then again, supermarkets don't usually get rope and stanchions to manage crowds. They instead had chairs spaced a meter apart, so that those in the front of the line can take a seat. Past those chairs, well, there didn't seem to be much order. It snaked to one side of the mall, and then back. It's a miracle the one security guard overseeing the whole queue managed to control everyone. I mean, everyone stood roughly a meter apart. Anyone can cut the line, because it's not really clear where the line ended.

I stood (again, a meter apart) alongside an old-ish lady. Maybe in her late fifties. I would think, "why is she the one doing the groceries?" until I saw a man who seemed to be her husband walk to her, more or less, cut the line. Don't the rules say only one person per household can do these errands during the quarantine period? That's why I rushed down to get my barangay pass last week, had my name written on it and all! But then, one, the rules are woefully inconsistent. Also, I don't know what their story is. Are they really husband and wife? Are they just neighbors who happen to see each other at the queue? Are they separated and just found the need to work together in these difficult times? Are they, perhaps, siblings? Still, why are you together? I would've brought Shalla along if only to have someone help me carry whatever I end up buying, but no, I have to do this alone, because these are unusual times.

Perhaps the best explanation is "they're rich and can therefore do anything". I mean, he did cut the line. In the time of social distancing, how do you complain about someone cutting the line?

The supermarket opened at ten minutes past nine - so, late - and the first batch of shoppers, surprisingly including me, went in. Everybody proceeded to the vegetable section. Social distancing quickly went out of the window.


29 March, Sunday

Shalla has determined that the flies that decide to quarantine themselves in the flat are coming from the bathroom, specifically through the bathroom window.

Now, I keep that window open because it's really the only way for the flat to get a good shot at air circulation, so the whole place doesn't feel so sticky as the days pass. Also, the other windows don't open that widely, and it's against the rules to cook with the door open. (My mother insists I should do it anyway, but alas, I am a stickler for most rules.) But then, we have both noticed that flies we haven't seen before make their way from the bathroom, and then it's another days-long struggle to get them out.

So, sure, I can close the bathroom door.

It seemed like a good compromise, but it made the whole place sound a little creepier. Perhaps it's what they call the wind tunnel effect. Perhaps it's why it's so windy at the pool area. (I wonder if anyone still goes swimming, alone, in these times?) When the bathroom door is closed, you hear this howling sound. Definitely the wind trying to find a way to somewhere. It's certainly creepy when I have to go to the toilet, because you will first hear the door creak ever so slightly, and then you find it hard to open or close the whole thing. Imagine me, sitting on the toilet, and hearing what essentially are the moans and cries of souls in between damnation and merely being lost.

I've had enough, so I decided to just close the bathroom window and leave the door open. It's somewhat difficult, because there's no handle; you just pull the thing in as close as you can. But, since I'm tall, relatively, I did it... for a while. The window opened by itself.


30 March, Monday

Yes, this is me acknowledging my privilege again. I mean, I have to, because not everybody can buy groceries.

But it did just happen that we have the right canned goods to make ourselves an attempt at a full English breakfast. It was Shalla's idea: we have eggs, pork and beans, and bread. You just cook the first item, heat the second item, and toast the third.

Okay, it's not a full English breakfast. We forgot the bacon.

But these things allow us to feel like things aren't as bad as they actually are. Being able to cook gives you a sense of control you wouldn't otherwise have - but yes, it will depend on what's on your pantry and whether you managed to get the right things at the grocery. Speaking of, I was able to get celery and cabbage! Finally, sopas that isn't too starchy, like the last time when we ended up using potatoes and carrots as our vegetables. I felt really good realizing that I was essentially making a mirepoix - onions, carrots and celery sweated together, a foundation of French cuisine - for Filipino comfort food that some would call unassuming. But then, I may have bought too much celery. I guess I'm snacking on these over the week.

I do most of the cooking here, and I don't do fancy stuff. Not yet; not while I only have one slightly unpredictable induction cooker. (Second on the list: an electric range.) But it does feel good, being able to cook food for your hunhun. I also took the time to sort of break out of my usuals. I wonder what I'll do with the porkchops I bought, so I don't have to make more meatballs. That's where YouTube's many cooking videos come in. I did have a Julia Child phase, but this time I'm watching Gordon Ramsay, where everything is about flavor, and everything is beautiful.

But, again, I know not everybody has the means to cook in this quarantine, one the government rushed to implement without thinking of the supply chain consequences. I mean, they had to be decisive to stop the spread of disease, sure, but the government - not just this one - isn't really built to be welfare-oriented, not unless they can plaster their names on supplies. Otherwise, you have to fend for yourself. How do you do just that when, unlike in previous weeks, it's shelves of bread and rice which are empty?

And then you see otherwise privileged people call out other privileged people for not doing enough. "Eat the rich" only became palatable when it's not the communists saying it.


31 March, Tuesday

Yesterday there was an announcement that the president would make a televised address at four in the afternoon.

Whenever such announcements are made, I see a collective flinch on my social media feeds. Again, the caveat: the people on there tend to be critical of the president, and have been extra engaged during the past fortnight. I get it. They're anxious both about the outbreak and about the person leading the charge against it. I mean, even I could summarize the paranoia in a few words: create chaos, consolidate power. When your leader's first instinct is to make people feel unsafe so as to say home - which backfired, arguably - well, why wouldn't you be afraid?

And then the narrative quickly shifted. Will the address even happen at the scheduled time?

Of course it wouldn't. I think I was going to sleep when he finally spoke, and this was at almost midnight. Another pre-taped address. Now, as much as I have to monitor these things for work, I will admit I have never seen his addresses apart from the first one, and maybe the second one where he announced this "enhanced" lockdown-not-lockdown we are in now. I've long figured his addresses are there solely to make it look like he's on top of things. In the past fortnight he hasn't really said anything new or specific. They're mostly already covered by the daily press conferences of the COVID-19 task force, and they're explained a bit better - a bit, considering how confusing actual implementation has been.

Some did watch last night - if you have nothing better to do, what else do you do? - and have been complaining about the whole fiasco this morning. Others who skipped the thing have been more anxious. "Did he declare an extension to the lockdown?" was a question I got from a colleague. "Did he declare martial law?" was the question I'm sure he was asking.

Thing is, we have a leader the majority don't trust. The surveys may say one thing, but on the ground, there's always been a sense that, at some point, he will throw off the balance and go all-out authoritarian (like he hasn't already). I'm not even sure his followers really believe he will deliver on everything he's promised. Apart from the critics' favorite "DDS changes his mind and sees the light!" narrative, there's the fact that the paid trolls don't really have an argument other than "how would you like it if Leni was president?" when their side takes a beating that's difficult to ferret out of.

Well, there are people like my cousin, who seemed incredibly excited about that delayed televised address, perhaps because he wanted it so bad to be a total lockdown, after which he can laugh at the face of the colleagues he looks down on, because he was born into a well-off family and graduated from a "prestige" school.


1 April, Wednesday

This is about that time of the month when I text my barber to set an appointment, but then I remembered, these are different times, and it's very likely he's got no work right about now. Well, I sure hope the shop he works for is still paying him, and all of his colleagues, including the ladies who work on my nails at around this time.

I usually don't go for longer than a month without a haircut. As my mother is always keen to point out, my hair is like a carpet, like her mother's. It's thick and sort of convoluted - I had curly hair as a kid - and thus, when it gets really long, I get uncomfortable and sticky. But then, I guess I was trained for this around the holidays last year, when I couldn't schedule an appointment due to logistical reasons and I ended up not getting a haircut for six weeks. I had to take more showers just to not feel heavy in the head. On the head, more of.

This is the third week of a quarantine we're all supposed to be in together. If this ends next week, as was promised, I will not rush to the milk tea places or the fancy restaurants. I'll get a haircut. But I'll have to ask if they're open first. As I type this, it dawns on me that this month is a reset for all the wrong reasons. Most will be left at the mercy of meager relief packs, and I will be made to feel guilty about it.


2 April, Thursday

Imagine waking up this morning to a lot of vitriol on your social media feeds.

All right, you're not supposed to check them first thing in the morning, but then, I'll always say it's my job to do so, especially at this time, especially when I have to update people about whether goods get to go where they should go. And I'll admit, that focus has insulated me from the political aspect of this so-called quarantine. Not that I ignored it - I couldn't ignore it; I am still reading the feeds, after all - but I could take my focus off it, because there is work to do.

But then that political angle keeps on creeping into what is ideally really a matter of public health. I can't help but think this government is trying to take advantage of a genuinely scary situation to benefit itself, or at least certain people in high places. (Remember what I said last week?) Consider, also, that this government thrives on sowing chaos, on packaging things are more dire than it should be. Peaceful revolutions worked many times before, so let's make that impossible, by appealing to people's fears. Then we can do whatever we want, and we don't have to hide it, because people are too afraid to crave for freedom. But some people will not be able to stop themselves, so let them be noisy. And then we swoop down and take more control. Then we can do whatever we want.

So, last night, the NBI sent a subpoena to Vico Sotto, asking him to explain why he shouldn't be charged under existing anti-graft laws for allowing tricycles to operate when the law says he shouldn't, never mind that said law - that emergency powers law - was only passed last week, and the whole tricycle thing happened two weeks ago. And then, just as I went to sleep, the president had a rare, live, unedited televised address, where he reiterated his tired anti-corruption shtick, before commanding his policemen to shoot dead anyone who violates the quarantine g guidelines. #ProtectVico! #OustDuterte! I think my feeds raged while I slept - lots of finger pointing at the president's supporters, "now will you wake the fuck up?" a line they've always used to no effect - and they continue to do so now that I'm awake.

It's no longer right to dismiss these as idle thoughts from a quarantined population. Clearly something changed last night, and it's unfortunate that Vico has become the nominal figure from the other side, because I'm sure he doesn't want to. But then, it's gone beyond him now. People are articulating their anger much better, because choosing between dying from the virus or from a gunshot is something they don't ever want to do. The only thing is, people can't assemble on the streets, because social distancing and all that. And if this lockdown-not-lockdown is lifted next week as they promised, what's to guarantee that they will go out in the streets, that they will feel free to go out in the streets? A month is enough to consolidate power. The president can just say the threat continues and more drastic measures have to be put in place, and his spokesman can continue his narrative that the critics have only begun to speak up this week after three weeks of silence, because, right, the critics have said nothing when the quarantine began, riiight.

I wonder what will happen in the coming weeks? Do we have to stay home for much longer? Will I have to grow out my hair?

And your responses...

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