Maybe I shouldn’t have expressed my satisfaction to how this remote barangay was handling its community quarantine the time that I wrote the previous write-up. It was like one of the episodes of Top Gear – featuring Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May – where Clarkson often narrated that things were going good only for misfortune to befall upon James May.
The optimism of the situation turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg, or rather the situation was the whole iceberg all along and that I was rather seeing the its 30% that was above water. I only became aware of the bottom 70% as it rammed my outlook back to harsh reality, as I was instructed by the barangay police to return indoors as they would be implementing a stricter lockdown. Just like the iceberg managing to puncture a hole below the waterline, the lockdown deflated my enthusiasm as my hopes went underwater.
The decision of the barangay to impose a stricter lockdown was not welcomed by the already-weary residents. Businesses like Aling Susan’s eatery that I often frequented began voicing out their dissent as the lockdown would strip them of their livelihood especially that they were earning just enough to make their ends meet. Parallel to that of the Duterte and his cabinet caving to the outrage that they earned from the people for their temerity of seeking excess of power (although his administration was already underperforming in addressing the pandemic) with the ruse of Bayanihan-as-One Law, the barangay officials also caved in as they made 6-AM-to-10-AM and 2-PM-to-6-PM windows, although they were still requiring people to practice social distancing.
Just in case a total lockdown was to take effect, I went over the next purok to buy some groceries. It was my first time in two weeks that I ventured outside of Purok 2 (where the Barangay Hall was situated). It was a 5-minute walk from the place that I was staying in. During my walk to the neighboring purok, my phone suddenly received a text message which renewed my hopes of contacting the outside world.
The place where the phone signals were existent was on the portion of the road lying on top of a ridge. In order to loiter in that specific place to enjoy a phone signal, I had to sit behind some trees while just a meter away from 30-meter drop. All of that was for a glimmer of hope symbolized by the weak phone signal. I haven’t been attending the online meetings with my workmates since I was stuck here, and the weakness of the phone signal indicated that I would not be able to attend the online Friday meetings for the rest of the period of the Enhanced Community Quarantine.
I tried the riskier option: getting back to the signalan (although both places were just situated at the edge of the cell sites situated at Antipolo). However, the option required me going past the checkpoint that was put up in front of the barangay hall. That damned checkpoint desisted many residents attempting to pass through with the barangay police reprimanding them of the following no-no’s: not wearing helmet, not having quarantine passes, not wearing face masks, and not following social distancing as the vehicles, mostly motorcycles, were already considered packed if they featured a passenger.
The sight of an unfortunate couple who were bringing their baby to the hospital being asked to turn back as they violated the guidelines of the community quarantine had me abandoning my attempt to get back to the signalan. Communications, especially for a person like me who was living in solitude during this period of being stranded up in the mountains, were my only reasons of even venturing out of the place that I was staying in.
If only there was a cellsite in Pintong Bukawe, then many of the residents of the mountain barangay would not stubbornly go outdoors. Kagawad Ryan, who then visited me in my place, explained the unfortunate timing of the community quarantine which halted the placement of the cellsite at Pintong Bukawe.
Whilst Kagawad Ryan understood the insistence into living life as normal in order to counter the growing worries of their community which was the main driving force behind their stubborness, he, along with the other local officials who were pressured by the National government to do thing on their behalf to cover up their incompetence, had to instill to the people the sense of urgency and caution to the ongoing pandemic, since the barangay had already 28 persons under monitoring (PUM).
With all of the PUMs being residents working downtown, Kagawad Ryan humorously remarked that I, who was also an outsider, should have been also considered a PUM. But since neither I nor he – who was the only person that I interacted with – exhibited any symptoms during the last two weeks that elapsed, I was already off the hook.
It has been two weeks since I came into this barangay. Kagawad Ryan recalled his first impressions of me when he first hosted me two weeks ago. He never thought back then that physically spent youngster like me was not a nobody. After admittedly stalking my Facebook profile, he was thrilled to have me as his guest as he invited me to volunteer for the barangay’s distribution of food packages and financial assistance to the Dumagat tribes living in ever remoter areas. Wanting to stretch my legs and restart the stale blood of mine in hiking, I accepted his request.
Well, it was a request that was accessible for me to accept, unlike the previous request that I received which involved designing the makeshift quarantine quarters being put up by the Philippine Army General Hospital in Fort Bonifacio (Taguig City). It could have been my shot into being brought back to Metro Manila to rejoin the civilization, however, with limited internet connection and limited time for communication, it was near impossible for me to fulfill such request, although I have my tools to perform the structural analysis even here in this remote barangay. Plus, I would be fuming if I were to deal with that pretentious architect who claimed that his experience in designing hospitals could override provisions on providing ventilation on the quarantine facility that they were about to build.
Such initiative by a hospital being ran by the army exuded a duality with the policies of the Enhanced Community Quarantine being enforced by the former top brass of the army (MGen. Delfin Lorenzana [DND] and Gen. Eduardo Año [DILG; Covid-19 positive]). With the health crisis being dealt with militaristic solutions like as if a peace and order issue instead of medical ones, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases ballooned.
Deaths among the ranks of the medical staff indicated harder times for the overwhelmed yet understaffed and underfunded health sector. Deaths that Duterte dismissed as patriotic sacrifices were really results of his administration’s underperformance. And to further put insult to the wound, the emergency powers which were granted to his administration were nowhere to be felt by the residents who grew edgier as the help that they were expecting for a week was nowhere to be found.
The edgier constituents have Kagawad Ryan feel conflicted since conflict and confrontation seemed imminent and necessary to counter the growing unrest among their constituents. Both Pintong Bukawe and the entirety of San Mateo are wondering where their part of the 275-billion-peso emergency fund is. Their people are growing hungrier and angrier as they feel that their hopes with the sketchy Bayanihan-as-One law are being betrayed.
As I was sweeping the front yard and feeding the dog, I happened to have conversations with my neighbors. Indeed, their patience grows thinner as they have been waiting for a week now just to have a bit of the tangibility of the emergency fund. Apart from that, those neighbors of mine have told me that the barangay has relaxed their implementation of their community quarantine. They have realized of the trueness of the clamor for medical solution at the expense of life of the baby that I saw earlier. The baby succumbed to the acute asthma as her parents were deprived a chance to bring her to the hospital as they were instructed to go back earlier. Being situated at a remote barangay with no phone signal, the ambulance arrived too late as she was pronounced dead-on-arrival.
It was a wake-up call for the neighborhood.
My neighbors’ patience is growing thin as the pangs of hunger – which already claimed a life of another resident who ended his life in despair in looking for ways to raise his children – brought uncertain times amidst the community quarantine. Coincidentally, the dog that I was feeding grew impatient as his hunger compelled him to snatch the bread – that I was holding the time I was talking with my neighbors – biting my hand in the process.
Well, perhaps, it was indeed a sign that with hunger, impatience, and deprivation of such needs, the dog would have no choice but to bite his owner.