Our people need a hefty dose of kindness
One highly overlooked aspect of this COVID-19 pandemic is that, while the solution of community quarantine is suited for the upper middle class and the rich, it has been made applicable to our entire population. The quarantine is premised on a community of people with ample provisions to stay home even without working.
There’s no issue on the correctness of the solution, because quarantine is our only weapon to fight the virus at this time. But the attitude of our government toward the ordinary masses who are perceived to be in constant violation of quarantine rules, just because they are disproportionately out in the streets more often, is creating an atmosphere of hostility and resentment in our country.
This attitude is most evident among our policemen who man checkpoints or who roam the streets in search of quarantine violators. The tone is immediately accusatory, and there’s a ready resort to prejudgment of quarantine violations when policemen confront ordinary people walking in the streets, or onboard bicycles or motorcycles.
The same attitude afflicts those of us who can afford to comply with quarantine rules, when we see pictures of ordinary people out in the streets or who throng the wet markets in urban poor areas. Criticisms against such throngs of people abound in comments online.
The poor are different from you and me, and the gaping dissimilarities are amplified in this time of quarantine.
Every single day, the poor go to the market for their daily food because they don’t have refrigerators and freezers for them to stock up on several days of food supply. And the saying “Isang kahig, isang tuka” is true. Daily wage earners only have the funds for each day’s provisions. A constant stream of ordinary folk is in the streets daily, going to the wet markets in urban poor communities, not because they want to but because they need to.
Street and alleyway spaces are the poor’s virtual sala and veranda where they while away the time because their cramped shanties don’t have living rooms where they can lounge. If you wonder why they can’t sacrifice spending quarantine time inside their 15- to 20-square-meter shanties, imagine yourself doing so in this time of extreme summer heat.
Many of the poor scrounge for any gainful work they can get, or seek out people or institutions that distribute aid because the government has a limited quota of poor people it can support with survival assistance.
For those of us who have the means to ride out the quarantine period, the pandemic is only a health problem. But for the less fortunate, it is a health problem, a hunger problem, and a multitude of other troubles. These issues are pointed out not to espouse the exemption of the poor from quarantine rules, but to impel the government to direct police officers to remove their darkened lenses when it comes to the poor, which dim their view and make them immediately presume that people out in the streets are brazen lockdown violators. This leads them to talk down on and exhibit cruel behavior toward the masses. There are also increasing stories of people being apprehended and instantly punished, because their explanations of needed errands are hastily dismissed. The police should compassionately separate the overwhelming majority who are legitimately struggling for bare survival from the very few who are outright violators.
There are no places for people to go to at this time to indulge in prohibited activities. People who are out in the streets should be presumed to be doing legitimate errands, or that they’re engaging in allowable work that brings food to the table. Such presumption should be the default stance of policemen, instead of a sweeping posture of hostility. Just imagine: If the masses are provided the provisions and conveniences of the rich, they wouldn’t also choose to be out risking exposure to the deadly virus.
Our government should be shoring up the people’s spirit instead of fomenting a class war. The enemy is the virus, and not the people who are struggling, with the barest means, to fight the enemy in the community frontlines. Our people need a hefty dose of kindness in this time of great crisis.
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