Dispatches from quarantine, Week 1

04:02 AM March 24, 2020

Today is March 21, or five days since Luzon was shut down. There really is no way around it — euphemisms like “enhanced community quarantine” won’t mask the militarized nature of this lockdown. A real community quarantine means more health workers ready at the assist, mass testing to identify both the sick and the asymptomatic carriers, and a shared sense of communal responsibility to keep our social distances.

A real community quarantine, therefore, doesn’t have to compromise our personal liberties.


But instead, we were caught unprepared by the magnitude of this virus, though not in the same way China or South Korea or Vietnam was caught surprised. We were warned weeks ahead of the virus’ lethal scope, and saw how Italy’s health care system—one of the best in the world—all but collapsed under its weight.

But we were slow to pick up the hint. Precious epidemiological time bought for us by swifter, more careful Asian neighbors was squandered by late and lax travel restrictions. The lockdown might have actually sped up the outbreak’s spread across the country last week when Metro Manila residents, who would have otherwise stayed hunkered down in the city, rushed home to their provinces where tests and hospitals are even scarcer.


This is what happens when a government does not know how to solve problems without resorting to gun power.

Funnily enough, the only thing this quarantine has enhanced is the moral isolationism of this country. We are consistently unable to comprehend a crisis that hasn’t touched us even when it’s clearly ravaging the rest of the world. Wasn’t it the President himself who said the virus would likely not reach us?

Then when it does come, we withdraw even further into ourselves, driven in part because the state’s policies do not inspire solidarity.

What it does inspire instead is survivalism. There was no sense of “community” from people hoarding food and alcohol from the supermarkets, or calling the working class “motherfuckers” for making the hard choices that they, the wealthy, do not have to make.

Social distancing has instead magnified the widening gap between the rich and the poor. No wonder inequality manifests itself in space: The lesser you have of it, the lesser your power.

Ironically, this crisis has revealed who the truly essential workers are: the ones who cannot afford to work from home—grocery workers, cargo truck drivers, delivery workers, street sweepers, utility workers. They’re the lifeblood of an economy stripped to its barest. Lose them and social order will collapse, and yet nine times out of 10 they are the ones without security of tenure and safety nets.

Last Wednesday, I talked to a Grab driver, a 28-year-old father of two. He has been living in his car since March 16, a day before the police and military at the checkpoints barred him from returning to his hometown in Cavite.


The “enhanced community quarantine” took effect midnight of March 17; he had found out barely hours ahead. Not early enough to have sped along SLEx before the checkpoints appeared.

He told me he parked his car along a deserted avenue in Manila. An entire stretch of road that he isn’t even allowed to occupy. He was cut off from his family because he made the choice to go out and drive on Monday instead of simply staying home.

In short, one of those “fuckers,” as that disgraceful “social media influencer” would have you believe.

It’s for his sake and millions of other vulnerable Filipinos that we must rethink the many ways we took our way of life for granted. After this, we must start the long and hard discussions on massive health care and labor reforms that are needed to protect the working class, and how to abolish exploitative practices that benefit only the wealthy.

After all, the only true way to combat any pandemic, epidemiological or socioeconomic, is to make sure everyone else can.

* * *

Kathleen Solson (not her real name — after a character in Tom Rachman’s novel “The Imperfectionists”), 24, is a reporter.

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