Making it a habit | Inquirer Opinion
Pinoy Kasi

Making it a habit

All over the world, we’ve seen how a reopening of societies after a lockdown creates a surge in COVID-19 cases.

A surge always leads governments to scold people for being reckless and, in the Philippines, for being pasaway (recalcitrant, defiant). In our case, the scolding comes with punitive measures like declaring a total lockdown (I call it a lock-in), with soldiers and police to enforce the lockdown.


Somewhat milder was the massive crackdown in Quezon City on people not using masks (or not having them on properly), resulting in more than 800 people hauled off to the Amoranto Stadium for a seminar, including journalist Howie Severino, who had happened to lower his mask to drink a beverage.

What our authorities (and those of other countries) fail to recognize is that an effective lockdown is one of the main reasons why you have problems in the reopening. It’s not so much people going crazy with new-found freedom; rather, the messages about masks and physical distancing were not very meaningful for many people who pretty much stayed home during the lockdown.


In fact, the more “obedient” a person was in “home lockdown mode,” the more likely the person would be unprepared when moving out to the dangerous world outside.

I know that from my own and my friends’ experiences, exemplified by our leaving the house and, sometimes, already walking out in the street or, already having driven off in a private vehicle for some distance, suddenly remembering, “Oh no, I forgot the mask again”. And then you have to go back home, sometimes not even remembering where you kept the masks.

It’s similar with physical distancing. At home, during the lockdown, we practically never practice physical distancing except when there are visitors. Now we’re expected to think of being one meter apart from the next person, wherever we might be. Yes, the signs are important to remind us, but even there, I see many lapses.

Take the toilets as an example. I actually avoid public toilets because of some evidence suggesting the flushing sends up a viral plume (you know, like Taal’s eruption) from the feces of someone infected. The two times that I did have to go, it wasn’t the plumes to worry about, but someone coming up to the next stall, even with a big “X” in front of the urinal saying you’re not supposed to use it because of physical distancing. To make things worse, one guy just had to multi-task, expectorating (getting phlegm out of the throat) while urinating. That’s where I felt I should have used a face shield in addition to a mask.

One of the Filipino terms for culture is “kaugalian” or habits, which is most appropriate. Culture is in our subconscious, making us do things automatically without having to think. Even our bodies become primed — the kaugalian part of our muscle memory to offer a handshake, for example. Now we have to retrain ourselves not to offer that handshake.

For anti-COVID-19 habits, we are at a disadvantage because there’s very little to build on for masks and physical distancing. In contrast, the East Asian cultures (Korean, Japanese, Chinese) have been using masks for decades, seeing it as a civic duty. If you have a cold, it’s considered a civic duty to use a mask so you don’t infect others.

I like the “Wais Pinoy” infographics produced by the Department of Health (, some of which help to build the needed life-saving habits in our COVID-19 times.


There’s a “Wais Pinoy Errands Checklist” with a nice subtitle: “The virus is still out there! We need to remain vigilant.” Not to be overacting, but we could do something similar by posting a “Danger” sign that you can see as you leave the house, together with the errands checklist on what to do before leaving the house, while outside, and coming back home.

It’s a lot of stuff on the list, so pick what’s most important for you. Besides the “Danger” sign, you could tack on cards with messages like “MASKS,” “DISTANSYA,” “SANITIZER.”

With time, you won’t need those reminders — you’ll actually feel naked (!) without a face covering, and really feel offended when someone pees (and expectorates) next to you!

I saw two posters recently in a barangay. One read “Ugaliing magsuot ng FACE MASK” (Make it a habit to use a face mask.) Right next to it was one that read “Bawal ang walang FACE MASK” (It is forbidden not have a face mask.) Now which do you think might be more effective?

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, Filipino culture, Filipino habits, Michael L. Tan, Pinoy Kasi
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