Two ladies entered the restaurant Shalla and I were in yesterday.
"May dine-in ba kayo?" one of them asked.
"Wala po, ma'am," the person behind the counter answered.
"Ayaw talaga tayo pakainin," the lady gestured to her companion, exasperated.
Two thoughts crossed my mind. First, were they living under a rock? How come they don't know that indoor dining is not yet allowed, not while we're under "modified enhanced community quarantine"?
Come to think of it, it's a bit funny that when Metro Manila and surrounding provinces returned to the strictest form of lockdown at the beginning of April, the question on most people's minds were "what does that mean?" Like, does that still need to be spelled out? We've been through this before this time last year. We should have had this figured out, more or less.
Except we haven't, and it's not our fault. The second thought: I can't blame those two ladies for not knowing. It has been difficult keeping track of what is and isn't allowed under which kind of lockdown. This time last year it was my task at work to keep tabs on all these rules and summarize them for our members. The "master document", so to speak - the IATF's omnibus guidelines - is roughly thirty pages long and is, frankly, a pain to read through, as is typical of government releases. My summary, which integrates pronouncements from other government agencies and is formatted for readability, hit sixteen pages at one point. I'm not sure it's because I'm terrible at summarizing (although, yes, I do write long).
So, no, you can't blame people for not knowing what the rules are, even if we've been through "enhanced community quarantine" for three months last year. Even at the thick of it, the rules were complicated and complex, and left a lot to interpretation. For one, who counted as an "authorized person outside of residence"? I had the quarantine pass - a level of bureaucracy only the Philippine government can think of as necessary - and yet my application for a digitized one was denied because I wasn't working as an essential worker. And then that system of digitized passes was scrapped altogether, or so it seemed, rendered unnecessary by some other rule that came up at some point since.
Then you consider that that "master document" was amended just before we returned to the strictest lockdowns, and yet again a few days into April. No wonder we can be clueless.
And yet we are expected to have to know all of these by heart. The past twelve months has transformed us into automatons, who can only go out when it's necessary, and even then must gear up for "protection". (Can the government still justify those fucking face shields in light of the continuing spike in COVID-19 cases we've seen in the past few weeks? I mean, we're the only ones fucking doing it!) Somehow it's been drilled in our heads that we can only do what is deemed as "essential", and even that seems to change every other week or so. We're not allowed to have fun, to let off some steam, to lose ourselves in the moment, whatever that means. We're just surviving, not living - and we're not even doing a good job at it, considering how we all now seem to know someone who's died from the disease.
The government's response to the pandemic has reduced us into mere cogs in a machine. Their cynical mindset, forged in those shock television ads showing CCTV footage of petty crimes - that we are undisciplined, that we have to be disciplined, that a lot of rules and restrictions in place is the only way we can be disciplined - has not really worked, at least not to reduce the impact of the pandemic. All we ended up doing is strip everyone of their humanity. We know this shouldn't be the case, and yet when we look for that missing element, we are tagged as miscreants and deviants, the reason why we could never move forward.
It's no surprise certain circles are still really pushing for an approach like Leni Robredo's. Her initiatives have shown a sensitivity that many have craved for the past twelve months. They all just seem to be done in a human scale. Of course, it doesn't mean she can do it on a larger scale if, in some admittedly fantastic scenario, she ends up leading the country - is it government being government, or is it our leaders being who they are? - but it doesn't mean they can't hope for it.
We don't even have to involve the politicians. The past few days has seen an explosion in "community pantries" - of people coming together to provide whatever they can give to those who need it more. The narrative risks romanticizing "bayanihan" at the expense of demanding real resilience through structures and systems that provide actual safety nets - long term goals giving way for a quick shot of serotonin, which our social media feeds do badly need - but we take what we can get.
One key takeaway from the past few days is that, in the end - and certainly in these circumstances - we can only rely on each other, and not from whoever gets to call the shots, thirty-page master documents aside. Says a lot about how we have been ground down to bits, and yet somehow manage to at least want to be something bigger. If only that could go further. Alas, feeling hopeless is the path of least resistance.