Lockdown-not-lockdown, week ten

15 May, Friday

I should be on a boat to Cebu today.

The past week should've been some of my busiest days, churning out flyers, scheduling so many social media posts, and particularly researching things to do in Cebu - like, well, like I needed to, since I've been there a lot of times, but then I would've pestered Nat for recommendations anyway. And that would all culminate today, when I board a boat and settle down for a life with no phone signal and the waves wobbling you occasionally, with an anxiety that quietly permeates, not exactly about whether the ship will go down, but whether you'll even fall asleep.

But of course, things are much, much different. I'm instead stuck in the flat, doing almost nothing. It's allowed Shalla to work three ways in the day shift without me needing the laptop that much, although it's means I've been idle to an unhealthy degree the past week. That's why I'm doing my grocery run today instead of on a Saturday.

This means the queues are shorter than the meat section's a little fuller, although there's still no beef beyond the ground variety. (Sure, there's Australian beef, but I'm no confident in my beef-cooking skills... yet.) But as it's still raining, the walk's a little difficult, and I have to wear a different pair of shoes - my so-called Hong Kong pair, which I brought here but haven't worn throughout the quarantine. I could defer my trip, do it on a Saturday like always, but when my mind is set on things, it can be pretty difficult to shake off.

At least, I guess, I'm spending less on groceries. I've gotten the rhythm. But, ten weeks in, this all still feels weird.

16 May, Saturday

It's somewhat annoying that, ten weeks in, the government still seems to be figuring things out as they go along. Between the first announcement early this week that the quarantine period here would be extended (but with somewhat looser restrictions), and today, when the extension would take effect, they changed a few things around. Then, some parts of the country were supposed to get out of the lockdown; now, they're facing the status quo. Then, only one province, one city, and all of Metro Manila would be transitioning to the "modified" quarantine; now, there are six provinces. And now, that one other city - Cebu - is not easing down a bit; now, they're staying with the "enhanced" quarantine we have lived through for the past nine weeks.

Sure, a lot of this is because the situation is fluid. The national government said the risk status of some provinces were up for review; some of those provinces asked to be reconsidered, to keep the restrictions on for longer. Still, two provinces bordering Metro Manila, technically the virus' hot spot here, are loosening their restrictions. (It didn't stop Bacoor, my hometown, from unilaterally declaring that they're sticking with the modified version of the enhanced version of the lockdown-not-lockdown, a fact that nobody in the national government seems to have acknowledged as I write this.) Yes, there's a lots of space to understand why the parameters are still moving around this long into the pandemic, and yet, I'm also thinking, this is the tenth week. We should already have decided on what can and can't happen.

Today, in between cooking lunch and eating lunch, I found myself spending four hours redoing this document I email out to our members, breaking down quarantine rules across the country. The rules have changed a fair bit that it's made the table confusing, so I had to redo some of it. (And yet I still type "MCGQ" instead of "MGCQ", like it matters, because no part of the Philippines is taking that one more step towards the so-called new normal.) I spent most of that time reconciling what the inter-agency group leading the response to COVID-19 is saying, to the documents they're referring to. Perhaps it's because they're writing in legalese, and how legalese can end up confusing the people who try to make sense of it. (You know why lawyers are always called "smart"?) But I've seen this situation unfold over the past two and a half months to know that the changing guidelines and pronouncements has confused a lot of people, and still continue to do so. I don't think we've prepared as well as we have because we don't know if what the government's saying will stick before it could even take effect.

There are, of course, a few constants. The government has entered this fight with the mindset that it should affect as few Filipinos as possible, at all costs, which explains why, in the beginning, they asked supermarkets to remain open but prevented the logistics companies that deliver to them from operating. All they had in mind was "social distancing", at all costs. While redoing that document I realized that the current guidelines actually forbid people from driving cars if they're not going to work, meaning, you are supposed to walk to your nearest stores for your supplies, no matter how far it really is. Now they're going to continue restricting public transportation in many areas, perhaps to force companies to let their employees work at home. Pass the buck. We heal as one.

Another constant - and I think I've pointed this out - is how anything fun is banned. Today mass gatherings are allowed for most of the country, but only limited to ten people. (For us in Manila, it's limited to five. For them in Cebu, well, tough luck.) When a certain jurisdiction takes that one more step - a "modified general community quarantine" - only then can people start, say, watching movies, for as long as only half the cinema is occupied. Only then can people start eating in restaurants, for as long as only half the eating area is occupied. But, again, no part of the country has been deemed worthy of taking that next step, so, for now, the words "leisure activities are prohibited" printed in the official guidelines still stick out to me. You can't even enrich yourself by having a solitary day at the library, if it exists in your neck of the woods. Libraries are closed. Cinemas are closed. Tourist destinations are closed. Casinos are closed. Tough luck if you want to lift your spirits after being ground down by all this uncertainty. You're only here to survive. Anything else is prohibited.

"Pero sigurado ako, 'yung mga casino, nagpapapasok ng mga VIP," Shalla told me.

I never thought of that before. She's likely right. I mean, what are the odds? Police chiefs can hold a birthday party in the middle of all this, the same way politicians get to be ahead of the line when it comes to being tested for COVID-19, the same way people in privileged positions will get that wished-for vaccine first. To be honest, I don't think I'll ever get vaccinated, because the government will fuck it up in one way or another. And since they're insinuating we will have to just live with this until that vaccine comes along, I'll just have to put a mask on forever and stay away from anybody and everybody. That's probably going to be my new normal. I'm only here to survive. Anything else is prohibited.

17 May, Sunday

So, restrictions were loosened yesterday, which means today I woke up to people complaining on social media, again, about the people who they say are going to fuck things up for them, again. Why did you all rush to the malls? Why did you all clog up the roads? Don't you see we're going to see a lot more cases if you continue being stubborn? Stop fucking this up for all of us!

Of course, that's not what they exactly said, but, well, of course, that's what they're really saying.

I think I still get it. This quarantine has gone on for too long, they'd say. They are getting frustrated. They want this all to be over with, to get back to life the way it was. So, it's easy to paint themselves as those who are biding their time, waiting for this to be all over, following the rules so it can all be easier. It's easy to paint everybody else as selfish, as those who will do anything to break the rules and satisfy their wants and nobody else's.

Of course, it's far more complicated than that. I know I am generalizing when I paint people as obsessed more with looking good in front of others than with genuinely doing the right thing. But of course, when confronted with this thinking, one would be defensive, because, well, who wants to look like an asshole in front of everybody else? Even I wouldn't.

Also, you have a strong defense for those who rushed out to some sort of freedom yesterday. (Some sort, because while malls can technically open, they really aren't. Again, it won't be cold inside, as per government orders.) They've been cooped up for so long. They need to get out to feel alive again. They need this for their own sakes, so they can fight on further. (Also see what I said yesterday about living to survive, and nothing more.) If anyone's to blame - and many of you surely have said this, perhaps including me - it's the government, for not implementing mass testing, for possibly fudging the data to make things look better than they are, for plausibly choosing to kowtow to China rather than prioritize Filipino concerns.

Of course, it's far more complicated than that, but then, I'm aware that I have said all this before, and I am circling down the same facts that will be dismissed in this time of you only believing what sounds good to you. All I'll say is, we don't trust each other, so we'll blame everybody else. As long as, well, as long as it makes us look good, too.

I'll try to not be too political tomorrow. I didn't plan to write just politically-charged social commentary.

18 May, Monday

Shalla's anxious that she's getting fatter, so today she downloaded a demo of a Switch game called Fitness Boxing. It pretty much is a boxing game, with a female "trainer" who guides you on what stance to take and how to position your feet, or something.

It's the first time in a long time that I've seen her sweat that much. The quarantine means she has not gone out of the house since that day after the government made the announcement. I was on my way to the flat to hunker down for what I imagined was a month. My dad was with me, because he needed the car and I couldn't borrow it for that long. We picked Shalla up from work and then went to McDonald's for breakfast. It was really early in the morning - barely half past six - and I still remember raving, somewhat, about the touch-screen kiosks, because I never thought I'd see them here after seeing them everywhere in Hong Kong.

Since then, she's called herself an agoraphobic. But then, she doesn't have the quarantine pass. I do. I'm the one doing the chores that require going out of the flat, whether it's grocery runs or bank runs or figuring out if the laundry will ever be open again. I think she's only gone down to the lobby twice in the past two and a half months: when I asked her to help me with the groceries, and when she had to pick up some food delivery because I was at the water station at the same time.

I guess that's why I'm the one getting thinner. But then Shalla would say that I've been getting thinner when she's been going the opposite way. She's sad because my belly is smaller. I haven't even done anything deliberately, I think. (Maybe this means I'm slowly dying, but then, that is the case for everyone.) I guess this means she's buying Just Dance soon.

19 May, Tuesday

Considering all that's happening politically these past few months, I've wondered how this will all translate come 2022, when they have to start fighting for our hearts and minds.

It's safe to say the opposition will pounce on all this. The COVID-19 pandemic, after all, is as issue that hits deep among voters. "Sapul sa sikmura", so to speak. They can easily point to how this administration badly handled the crisis - perhaps pointing out how their allies and officials seemed to get preferential treatment over the masses - and just hammer that point home until they get victory.

But then, the opposition's main problem is that they are perceived as elitists, and this administration has had many years to weave, through its pronouncements and policies, the narrative that the true enemy of the people are the elites - the oligarchs, the media establishment, basically anyone who says they're bad. And the crisis has not changed their minds. Just see how they have blamed "undisciplined" people instead. This government will always mean well, they say, and it's just you lot who are ruining things.

Perhaps more critically, this administration has continued to deploy its campaign tactics from 2016 to ensure the narrative remains in their favor, or at the very least, has a fighting chance of being deemed as equal as those of the people they're fighting. All I'm saying is, you'll still have keyboard warriors, and social media wars, and a ton of misinformation, come 2022, and that, alongside the opposition's tendency to think of itself too highly and its resulting refusal to engage, is going to make things less clear-cut than it seems.

Is it too cynical a read? Perhaps, but then, the rules have long gone out of the window, so any attempt at predicting how things might go will have to take a bit more effort. Me? I only did this because I've been bored, and also, I've been holding on to these thoughts since writing what I wrote last night. That said, I did say I'll try not to be political here. Damn it, Niko. This is getting really boring.

That said, I'm kind of glad nobody has come forward and claimed the COVID-19 crisis is a dilawan plot to overthrow this government. Or am I speaking too soon?

20 May, Wednesday

Working from home means overhearing Zoom meetings, although this mostly applies to Shalla's, because I always have earphones on when I have my Zoom meetings, because she was on the night shift and would be asleep by then. (Also, it is a, err, best practice to have earphones on, if only to prevent everything from echoing. Ask your friendly radio DJ.)

That means I can't help but hear the stuff they're talking about on their meetings, and I shouldn't, because that feels particularly intrusive. This, again, is where earphones come in handy. I'd plug them in my ears and listen to something, although at some point I'll probably get sleepy and actually fall asleep to whatever they're talking about.

Yesterday was different, for I was doing some laundry. (Despite the fact that the government has allowed laundry shops to reopen at the beginning of this month, the one downstairs has remained closed.) So, no chance to cover my ears, although I did have my speaker in the bathroom, playing a Belgian radio station (the Dutch side), making me wonder why I can still turn to foreign languages to keep me company. I guess there's the comfort in knowing you won't understand a thing, both because of the language, and because of speech patterns. There's little familiar about it, although I've always wondered why Dutch radio presenters sound... smooth.

What I overheard from the Zoom meeting was not something work-related. It was small talk. They were talking about the spike in Meralco bills (something we don't experience, because everybody in this building is on prepaid) and other minutiae. But the patterns were familiar. There's a terse, assured female. There's a somewhat chirpy female. There's a guy who definitely is gay, or at least speaks like it. My head went back to my first ever job, to the bitches at the back row, and how, throughout my two years there, they never bothered to include me in their conversations. Of course, right now you'll say it's really my fault for not opening up to them, for not making myself worthy of being included in their conversation. I don't want to get into that. I hated those two years (and I hated that I had a crush on the chirpy female more). I got sad.

21 May, Thursday

It's been half a week since restrictions were loosened, and EDSA already feels a little more different. There are a lot more vehicles now, but not that much. It's like the traffic you encounter when you're driving that road just before sunrise, only without the fear of being hit by a bus who refuses to give way, because there are still no buses.

To be honest, I forgot about the buses, and that realization jolted me back to the thinking that this is all still weird.

The city government has lifted the liquor ban, so the 7-Eleven downstairs has been reorganizing their shelves again. There was a lot of fresh milk where the beers used to be, but now it will be filled with, well, beers again. I have to get used to it, even if that's how things were in the old days. But then you realize they're still selling ready-to-cook ulam packs, much like Jollibee is selling frozen Chickenjoy at supermarkets. One way to address a supply chain problem, and also, a reminder that things aren't back to normal, or what some claim is a bad kind of normal.

There's still plastic sheeting between me and the cashier, although that hasn't stopped us from doing small talk. And then you get out of the store and you hear a guy yell "kuya, kuya, kuya!" at you, wanting to grab your attention so you can give him spare change. That's new to the lockdown-not-lockdown - although it isn't, come to think of it - and that, I fear, will never go away.

And your responses...

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