It's been a week since Manila was brought back under a slightly more severe form of lockdown. Or should I say strict? I don't know. Do words even matter?
We did see it coming, of course. When medical professionals made a public plea for a "time out" to allow them to cope with the rising number of cases, it was just a matter of time before the government said yes. It was supposed to just be a matter of how many letters the quarantine will have, and for how long. We got four letters, at least two weeks, and the president lashing out at those medical professionals for daring to use the word "revolution".
Of course, people got angry. I woke up on Monday seeing an anger that had never been this palpable. For a moment, I thought, foolishly, that this would be the moment things will shift more visibly. Of course it wasn't. People - at least those who share the same echo chamber as I do - seemed quick to move to trying to remember what those four letters mean again. MECQ? What are we not allowed to do under MECQ?
I found it a bit funny that we're all trying to remember, and relearn, all the restrictions we had just gone through a month prior. But then, one, it's my job to know these things. Two, we're just tired and want a break. It took a while for people to get comfortable again with eating out when restaurants were allowed to have folks eat in, but soon they did, and while you can't be a group of three and you'll have to face some sort of plastic barrier or something, man, we missed this, didn't we? Something close to normal, for once.
And then you remember, no, this isn't really normal. No matter how hard the government tries to sell all this as the "new normal", it won't be normal. Yes, we'll keep ourselves safe as much as we can, but eating one seat apart from your date will never be normal, the same way living with the fear of being struck down by an unknown disease knowing nobody else has your back will never be normal. Not now. Maybe not ever.
The anger swelled again when it was revealed that PhilHealth is close to running out of money because its leaders decided to pretty much abscond with billions of pesos. I was foolish again. Maybe now things will shift more visibly. I mean, it's billions of pesos that could've gone to making us feel secure despite this virus lurking around. But then, I remembered that conversation I had with someone about how much taking an RT-PCR test costs.
"Seven thousand na ang pinakamura," I said.
"'Yan ang worth ng buhay natin sa gobyerno," he answered. "Seven thousand lang."
It pales in comparison to allegations our public health insurance firm bought outdated graphics software for millions of pesos per unit. Clearly our lives are worth even less.
I think we've conceded to those facts, that our lives are worth little to the people that are supposed to have our backs, and that, ultimately, only we can watch after ourselves. But we aren't exactly in the best position to do so, especially not right now. We could only be shocked to see the country's economy lose almost a fifth of its value in three months, and connect it to our anxieties about our present and our future. We've probably read enough to understand that this is the worst performance our economy has showed in roughly 35 years - and that time we also had an authoritarian in power. We know that this pandemic is not just our problem, but somehow - scratch that, we know why - we're doing worse.
Once again, the anger is palpable, perhaps even more so than at the beginning of the week. And then, nothing. Why spend your time being angry after all, they say? It wouldn't change anything. Just... focus on yourself. Lift yourself up and try to survive. I'm seeing that daily with the many people I have known from years in high school, college and the labor force who have lost their jobs in the past few months. I mean, I graduated in communication, and I know a lot of people who worked for ABS-CBN, who had to be laid off when our supposed representatives voted down their franchise to appease, well, authoritarians in power.
"Life has been more exhausting than usual," another friend told me. "I feel na kahit wala kang gawin, napapagod ka pa rin just trying to deal with the world. We can never win."
I myself have been anxious. I'm quietly preparing myself - resigning myself, perhaps - for the probability that this time next year I'll be out of a job, victim of the ripple effects of excised marketing budgets and continuing viability, or lack thereof, of physical events. But, for now, it feels like I can do something about what's going on, because it's my job to be able to do something. It's my job to make sense of things and to tell people who are also able to keep going what that means.
I can't say the same for everyone else. Sure, they're trying, but deep inside I'm sure they know selling cookies can only get them so far, especially when everybody else is doing it just to survive, while the people we have no choice but to trust instead abscond with our billions. Much like getting angry can only get us so far, at least until we realize that our hands are tied, our mouths are gagged, and we have to live.