3/15/2021
Up to you/Down to you

In a sign of just how long we've been in this lockdown-not-lockdown-really-lockdown, we can't seem to agree on just when the anniversary is.

I personally mark it on the 13th. The day before, the president announced an imposition of "community quarantine" across Luzon. I spent the night packing my bag to head to the flat, and also chatting with a lot of people on Viber groups. "How does this impact logistics providers?" was the question I asked a high-ranking bureaucrat. It was all in a day's work.

Some are marking it today. Or should that be tomorrow? Wasn't it that, on the first day of quarantine, which was the 13th, everyone was so confused, and everything was so chaotic, that it seemingly compelled the president to make restrictions stricter? Suddenly, we were all working from home, and everything else that screamed "leisure" was closed.

Whatever. Doesn't matter. It's all a blur now, one year in.

And yet, it isn't. In what pretty much is history repeating, cases are spiking, with new variants - including potentially a more transmissible "homegrown" one - at play. The response from Metro Manila's mayors: a nighttime curfew. So, yeah, you know the adjectives that would go with that.

Honestly, I'm tired of having to articulate all these things about the government's response to COVID-19. I've written a lot about it, on this blog and on a newspaper column, and I end up saying the same things over and over again. As a so-called writer, that gets pretty tiring. You can only approach how the government has effectively passed all responsibility to confused citizens - all the rules you have to keep track of, all the non-working apps you have to download, all the fucking face shields you have to wear - in so many ways.

And then I remembered how the government initially planned for a four-week let's-just-call-it-a-lockdown. Granted, every government thought it would all go away in that short a time, especially with such drastic and knee-jerk (so knee-jerk the rules were still being made up weeks into the initial run) a measure. But the government's failure to imagine this pandemic as something that would last for months - years, as it now stands - is biting back, repeatedly, at us. I truly believe they thought it would end pretty quickly, and so failed to really plan for the medium-term deliverables, like a proper testing and tracing system, or the distribution networks for a vaccine - as well as the long-term deliverables, like financial support for those who lost a job, or a loved one, or both.

But then, nope, this isn't going to end in a month. This isn't going to blow over. So, the government had to recalibrate... by passing on even more of the responsibility to us. It is up to us to adjust to the new normal. It is up to us to continue following basic health guidelines. It is up to us to help the economy back up. Sure, they allowed the resumption of more economic activities - no doubt spooked by the worst economic numbers since the end of the war, and just slightly better than the heyday of Marcos - but it's up to us to spend the money and keep it moving, even if the thing we want to buy is out of reach, even if we don't really have the money to begin with.

The government was just making it up as it went along. For one, they haven't thought of how to distribute a vaccine until it was clear that one is coming. Here, its other long-term shortcomings come to the fore. It tends to defer to the private sector. It tends to go for quick wins. (It is difficult to sell long-term thinking to a public that wants instant gratification, after all.) It doesn't quite know what to do when faced with something it hasn't planned for. The StaySafe contact tracing system has been in place for months, for example, but I've only seen it required in every McDonald's branch, as well as the city of Muntinlupa. Only now is the government exerting some effort in requiring everyone to at least connect their own systems with it, now that we're averaging 5,000 cases a day again.

In the end, it was all really up to us, to figure out how not to get sick, to figure out how to survive, to figure out how to navigate a "new normal" that was hoisted upon us for the sake of looking like things are being done. And the success of whatever it is we are collectively doing is also down to us. Are we going to suck up our pent-up desires, or are we going to fake our negative tests so we can fly to Boracay? Are we going to get vaccinated, or are we going to whine about being given a Chinese shot? Are we going to give our full support to a government that is trying its best to get us out of this mess, or are we going to just complain about a government that can never get its shit right, and even is taking advantage to get its other interests going?

Worse, there will be people who will find shortcuts to get what they want. I mean, we've been here a year. We can't hold on any longer. Shortcuts will be made. Rules will be flouted. People will be caught. That makes it so much easier for the government to say that it's our fault we're not getting out of this mess sooner. More responsibility for us.

(Now, I must say that I don't think things will be that different if we had different leaders. It might be marginally better, but we never really had the systems in place to weather this storm. Taiwan didn't start from scratch. New Zealand didn't start from scratch. Even the United States, as bungled as it started its response, didn't start from scratch. But, sure, give me your hyperpartisan opinions and treat it as proven fact.)

So, here we are again. Another spike in cases. All these new variants, including a potentially more transmissible "homegrown" one. And all we get is another curfew, and a reiteration that what should've worked before should work now - because it's our fault, as always - and, well, isn't it discriminatory to call it a "Philippine variant"? The saddest thing is, in the end, it's really all up to us. It's the society we live in. You have to be deserving of help. Otherwise, you're on your own, kid.

And your responses...

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