March 12, 2020 was the last normal day. It was a Thursday, a strange one. I had been cocooned in my apartment for four days, following the suspension of classes in the whole of Metro Manila because of the spread of COVID-19. I stayed, quite confident that the suspension would last only a week. But that Thursday morning, I called up my father and told him I would go home later that day. After packing with a short weekend stay at home in mind, I booked a ride instead of taking public transport since I did not have a mask then, following the shortage of supply due to panic buying.
Upon arriving at the bus station, I was greeted by a few drivers and a fence of streamers and placards demanding better pay, restored benefits, and a string of other labor demands. I talked to the drivers to know more. Before bidding them goodbye, I asked if I could take a picture of their streamers so that more people could learn of their plight. A year on, I do not know what had happened to them.
The ride home was nothing out of the ordinary. The bus was quite packed, with passengers standing in the middle of the aisle. As I was scrolling through my social media feeds, I saw news reports that justified my decision to go back home. Less than half an hour before trading ended, the Philippine Stock Market had crashed so hard that some market sectors plunged by double-digit percentages. The Philippine Stock Exchange Index was at a halt – something that market watchers said happened last during the financial crisis of 2008. Then, scrolling further, snapshots of a document reading that a lockdown would be implemented for a month – until April 12, or so I thought. Or so we thought. I would not see the Metro Manila skyline for the next nine months.
Being skeptical, I did not believe the leaked snapshots at first, until official word came out of the Palace. Later that day, minutes before nine o’clock in the evening, the President, surrounded by men in uniform and members of the Cabinet, announced that Metro Manila really would be under lockdown. The words of the emperor kept echoing then, and we would continue to hear his noise a year on.
The days and months that followed were nothing short of apocalyptic. Streets were empty. Borders mimicked a flock of sheep passing through a single gate. Food was rationed. People abruptly lost their livelihoods. Hospitals were inundated with coronavirus patients. Everyone was anxious and hopeless. There was no time to mourn the dead. We wept without tears. We kept our composure, though we barely had a leg to stand on. We slapped our faces while making Dalgona coffee, hoping we would wake up from a nightmare that was not of our making.
A year on, and it is all coming back, not in our imagination or in spliced video clips, but in a more realistic and harrowing way. And this administration's official mouthpiece said that ours was an excellent response to the pandemic.
There is nothing excellent about 12,800+ dead, most of whom were not given a proper farewell by their family and friends. There is nothing excellent about our healthcare workers still seeking just compensation. There is nothing excellent about our economic figures, with the country in recession and unemployment at a record-high. There is nothing excellent about the fact that, weeks ago, news reports had to point out that we had our first legal vaccination, because some people thought they were the sons of God and jumped the queue months prior. There is nothing excellent about a government that seems hell-bent on crushing dissent and silencing critical voices. There is nothing excellent about the way classes are still being held at a distance. There is nothing excellent about the twisted pronouncements of the President and his officials, which often expose their lack of coordination and communication. There is nothing excellent about the fact that we are still using a militaristic and punitive approach to curbing the spread of the coronavirus, while high-ranking officials get away with breaching the very protocols they preach from the pulpit.
And amid activists getting arrested, the administration had to rub salt into the wound and say that impunity has no place in this nation. This government wants us sitting down, believing in their lies and spin. This government wants us agree to their version of truth.
A year on, we have to call a spade a spade, to be enraged and demand more and better — starting from the top brass.
But we cannot expect different results without changing what had long been wrong even before the pandemic. Enough of the doublespeak. Enough with the dilly-dallying. Enough with the discombobulated narrative. This administration has proven its incompetence day after day after day, way beyond what we could ever imagine, their supporters willfully turning a blind eye and bickering with so-called "dilawans" and "komunistas."
The year 2020 was a lesson — not a vacation, as the mouthpiece would want us to believe. And 2021 should not be a repeat of 2020. More and more have realized the mistake they made in 2016, and have regretted this mistake. This should lead us to make good decisions in 2022.
Palawan made the right choice in 2021. The rest of us can, too, in 2022. – Rappler.com
Edward Joseph H. Maguindayao is a graduate student at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He watches/reads/listens to the news for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.