A busy day on the mountain barangay of Pintong Bukawe roused the barangay residents as the financial aid that they were expecting on the past three weeks was finally there to be distributed, with plastic chairs lying in anticipation for their turn to receive the relief packs (plus the social amelioration) at front of their homes. On the other hand, not bothering that no chair stood in front of the place that I was staying in, my mind was not on the amelioration nor the relief packs as a different expectation was giving boost to my optimism on the past few days.
My days of being stranded here were getting numbered. Only eight days remained till the Enhanced Community Quarantine would be lifted. I still had ten days’ worth of cash and water, so I had nothing to worry about thankfully. Knowing the privilege that I was having, I was more than grateful to the people who’d be receiving aid. My situation of being stranded was trivial compared to their plight of making their daily ends meet.
Even after adjusting to my home over the past three weeks, the perks of the two-storey house that I was staying in still haven’t made the comfort nestled within my mind. Indeed, there was optimism that only eight days remained before the Enhanced Community Quarantine would be lifted. But that eight-day window also reminded me that it was a sort of a deadline to finish the work that I left behind. After the Enhanced Community Quarantine, from being stranded on the remote mountains of Pintong Bukawe, I would return in being a Science Research Specialist who was spearheading the simulations and a MS Civil Engineering student who was preparing the requirements for the final defense of the graduate thesis.
The physical comfort that this two-storey house was bringing backfired, giving me discomfort within my mind as I frequently succumbed to the siesta brought by the Spanish indolence. The fact that I was comforting myself that I still had eight days to accomplish everything meant that I have not done much.
I had every reason to still work even though stranded. I had my laptop which has computational fluid dynamics software – both commercial and open-source – and structural analysis software. I had soft-copies of the manuscripts of my thesis advisees back then on which our current research project was referring to. I had brought with me the hard drive carrying the simulation files. My only limitation actually was that I wasn’t able to participate in the online meetings since the barangay disallowed going to the signalan which had a stable internet connection. I had to work to deserve that paycheck that I had received in advance. And more than anything, I hated having backlogs on my scheduled tasks.
Despite my efforts of catching up, setback upon setback plagued me in the simulation. For me to check whether the code that I was developing was indeed working, I needed to perform the wind simulations first in order to obtain the wind pressures. At that first step alone, I was already facing difficulties as the computational demand for the wind simulation often caused my laptop to clock out at some times.
Sometimes, having to care too much proved to be detrimental as those setbacks often discouraged me to put on effort. In the first place, I was a guy who was easily discouraged and distracted by even the slightest of boors. I may have indeed that disposition of a writer. And being a perfectionist writer, I often find it hard to encourage myself to start writing…in extension, start doing anything.
The situation outside had distracted me. Residents were discontented on the selection process made by the social workers from DSWD. Signs of inefficiencies on the National Government’s implementation of the social amelioration program began to unravel. The municipality of San Mateo only received a part of the budget that was allotted to them, and yet the local government was the one being blamed by the residence.
Voices of dissatisfaction dominated the streets. Residents were making their complaints to the barangay, with the resentment that was supposed to be for the inefficient national government being directed unjustly towards the barangay officials. Some could not hold their tempers as they became shouty on the phones as they learned on how also convoluted the process for the claiming of employment/unemployment amelioration from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) was, which was also prone to abuse by the employers.
In the end, I ended up joining the fray of confusion and dissatisfaction as I learned that the entire Rizal Province would be put on a total lockdown the next day. The total lockdown was being put into effect as the governor, who was confirmed to be infected by Covid-19, evaluated that the efforts of the Local Government Units were not enough to contain the outbreak.
Perhaps I realized that the main reason that I kept my sanity was the phone calls that I was making in the morning and the afternoon every time we were allowed to take strolls (while practicing social distancing, of course) outside. I ended up having a panic attack as I knew that I would lose it if I were to lose that liberty.
Being reduced into tears, near the point of a breakdown, I hurriedly went to the barangay hall to ask for a one-day pass. I knew that it was my shot to escape the total lockdown. I hurriedly asked my superior for a copy of my certificate of employment which he promptly sent right after. It was 3:30 in the afternoon, and I still had two-and-a-half hours to go to reach Quezon City.
Kagawad Ryan’s wife brought me to meet Barangay Captain Policarpio, the barangay captain of Pintong Bukawe, whom the barangay residents affectionately referred to as “Kapitana”. Having learned about my limitations of work and my situation of being stranded, Kapitana was more than welcome to give me a 1-day pass. However, she was worrying whether the neighboring towns would allow me through. The risk was that if I were to depart only to be not allowed to go through, I could not return to Pintong Bukawe, as all barangay checkpoints required proofs of residence. Kapitana instead encouraged me to just stay at Pintong Bukawe for the rest of the period of community quarantine. Finding my reasons of my panic, she then clarified that nothing would actually change within Pintong Bukawe amidst the total lockdown. The only change would be that the quarantine passes would not be merited for the residents wanting to go to Antipolo’s commercial center at Cogeo, which was nearer than that of San Mateo’s. She then offered to have the barangay police allow me to go to the signalan.
I ended up having my moment of relief in the form of Kapitana’s clarification and assurance. Ironically, it was I who ended up showing them tears of joy.
Kagawad Ryan, having learned of my visit to the barangay hall, visited me later that evening. Being grateful to what happened earlier, I gave him my ATM card and requested him to withdraw more cash, with some of it being intended to help them purchase relief goods. Lucky for me, Kagawad Ryan had an appointment to the Provincial Capitol the following day, so he could promptly do what I requested. Knowing that I have gratefully offered my helping hand, Kagawad Ryan then invited me to help him deliver some relief packs to Dumagat people on which I happily accepted.
I woke up the following morning feeling relieved and tranquil, even though I learned that Duterte, in his midnight speech, had just extended the Enhanced Community Quarantine till the 30th of April. Perhaps, my breakdown yesterday helped me remove some of the burden that I was carrying. I carried on my usual routine and went to Aling Susan’s eatery in the morning to have breakfast.
Also taking breakfast was that time was a grandma from the neighboring purok whom I often saw insisting to hang out to the shed near the barangay hall to ask for alms. Grandma was often instructed by the barangay officials to stay indoors but she insisted on going out wanting to find ways to fill the growling tummy of her family. Empathy, coupled with the helping mood since the previous day, compelled me to treat her for breakfast.
After being visited by Kagawad Ryan around lunchtime, I then learned of grandma’s situation. Her children who were living in Antipolo were already picking her up to stay with them even before the quarantine. However, perhaps due to her hazy memories brought by her epileptic condition, she kept on running away to her in-laws. She insisted on staying with her indolent in-laws even though they were maltreating her, not letting her stay in their house as long as she didn’t bring them food. Kagawad Ryan was teary when he detailed me grandma’s condition. He, among the other barangay officials, always tried convincing her to stay at home in order to not put herself at risk of the ongoing pandemic.
Grandma was one of the unfortunate people amidst the total lockdown that was put into place. We set off on board the motorcycle to the other people who would for sure be affected by the lockdown: the indigenous Dumagats living downstream.
We made our way down the mountain road which ended at the house near the river. That house was the place where a father decided to hang himself out of hopelessness of the Enhanced Community Quarantine. The help arrived too late.