[IRL] TEATRO COVID PILIPINO
By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
The national stage is the lockdown setting—the longest and among the most brutal in the world, with hapless sidewalk vendors and those without masks, mercilessly beaten by yantok-wielding police and MMDA enforcers. Forcibly idled jeepney drivers, begging to be allowed back on the streets so they can earn a living with dignity, were thrown into jail and made to pay onerous fines. An ordinary citizen who violated the curfew to buy drinking water, surely a necessity anytime, died from the cruel and unusual punishment of being made to perform 300 squats while detained by his barangay tanod. Those are examples of the Covid Theater of Cruelty, basically useless in containing the virus, but quite effective as instruments of state terror.
Despite the paranoia throughout this pandemic, about getting the virus from the unwashed masses and from possibly infected surfaces or food packaging, there is no serious widespread government effort to make clean water more available to the millions of urban poor, or to improve slum sanitation and sewage facilities. Upon entering the Mega Q Mart, a teeming bagsakan in Quezon City, one is automatically sprayed with an unidentified disinfectant. The liquid runoff from this continuous spraying, falls to the ground and mixes with the eternal slime of rotting vegetable, fish and animal matter which all combine to form putrid puddles in the filthy rutted aisles winding throughout the market.
Meanwhile, even as public dining restrictions are relaxed, food courts in malls like Robinson’s Magnolia don’t have working heat sterilizers for their stainless steel flatware caddies or the common china plates, making infection by typhoid or hepatitis B, just as likely as by the coronavirus. Using disposable plastic utensils and Styrofoam plates just worsens our garbage problem. Add to these, the tons of tiny slips of paper and ledgers with scribbled names, addresses, body temperatures, etc. While our ASEAN neighbors mainly used apps for contact tracing, most of us still grudgingly fill these up at the mall entrance, and subsequently at every store we enter in the mall. Even those with smart phones are loath to use their data to download those sketchy QR Codes. The security guards taking our temperatures and spraying us with ethyl or isopropyl alcohol are stock performers in the long-running Teatro Covid Pilipino.
The more absurd, senseless and distinctively Pinoy Hygiene Theater measures such as requiring dangerous, makeshift motorcycle barriers between those riding in tandem, were done away with, but only after much lengthy debate and many pesos wasted on their purchase. Also set aside were requirements for men and women riding in tandem to show documentary proof that they were legally married. That would have meant even Honeylet A. couldn’t ride behind her man. That kind of directive showed a hypocritical prudery and judgmental prejudice (mata pobre) against the supposedly unvirtuous, ie., those living in sin and too poor to afford a ride other than a motorcycle, as more likely to spread disease. A government COVID Task Force official even wanted to invade the privacy of the bedroom by requiring spouses or other intimate partners to wear masks during their heavy breathing moments.
Now, the clamor is growing for doing away with the uncomfortable face shields which also obstruct vision. In one Viber Chat Group, an alert pediatrician dissuaded a young Chinoy mom from making her months old baby wear a face mask and shield at home. She was actualizing her fear that their socially inferior kasambahay were vectors of disease whom her child must be protected against. In so many middle-class households, the ordeal of being subjected to painful swab tests upon their every return from each day-off has caused many kasambahay to be virtual prisoners or aliping namamahay.
Just as helpless as the suspect kasambahay and the overprotected child whose every toy and article of clothing is sprayed with 70% isopropyl or ethyl alcohol, are the fur babies of paranoid pet parents. Whenever her cat returns from an outdoor escapade, my friend sprays the plump pink pads of her tiny paws with alcohol, even as the poor kitty writhes and screeches in pain. That stuff stings. The more docile dog’s feet are not even allowed to touch the ground outside her townhouse. For exercise, my friend carries the little beast around in her arms, while she walks up and down the driveway, as if the benefits of exercise could be vicariously enjoyed. When she feels affectionate, this dog-owner gets a Clorox wipe and rubs it all over her dog’s maw. That’s so she can smooch with her pooch. It’s ignorance and cruelty masquerading as kindness. Thankfully, she doesn’t make her boyfriend go through the same.
Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.