“Makisama ka naman!”
How many times do we hear this? It can either be good or bad, depending on how it’s used. In today’s COVID-19 world though, it is easily negative. Social distancing is one of the main ways by which this virus is halted and pakikisama just skewers any chance of it being successful.
From childhood, Filipinos have always been forced to be part of a crowd. Makisama raw. Standing alone means being odd, even abnormal.
When you go to school, the first order of business is making friends. Not a negative on its own, surely, but some take it to an extreme and measure how good their lives are by the number of “friends” they have. It takes some challenge in life or even a scandal for them to realize that many are not friends. They leave. The few who stay are the true friends; those that leave are worthless. The usual idea is that for you to be considered normal, you should be with your buddies, and, the more buddies, the better.
Included here is the mindset that that the best way to end a work week is spending time with your buddies. It’s funny that some will spend their Friday evenings with friends (from work, the neighborhood, school, or whatever) instead of going home to their families. Young professionals are okay to do this, but not married men or women with a spouse and kids waiting at home. Once in a while is okay though.
It’s actually quite sad that there are numerous cases of domestic abuse cases now. What? Putting families together means exposing their inability to spend prolonged periods together? Sad.
Can social distancing work in the Philippines then? All over the world, social distancing is the primary way of dealing with COVID-19. Most countries started their lockdowns within the first quarter of the year, with the Philippines only getting into the act in March. Nope, it wasn’t one of the first. In fact, early on, the national leadership made it a point to belittle the situation and those who warned against it. Department of Health Secretary Duque even has this video of him holding up his two hands to symbolize the number zero. How far those days seem now, when the Philippines already leads the Association of South East Asian Nations in the number of cases even without the greater number of the population tested.
No, it is not like the flu. No, it will not go without us having a decent plan. No, it will not go out with the President’s bravado or his offer of PHP 50 million as a reward for anyone who comes out with a vaccine.
Will people actually follow social distancing? Simply put, doubtful. Sayang naman ang gimik ng barkada.
Being a Loner is Something Negative.
An integral part of the first point is this. There’s this notion that when one is part of a group, you always have to show it—by being with and manifesting unity. For example, there are organizations that hold it against you if you would rather eat alone or not want to join in a company shindig. They say that to show unity, all staff should always be together. That’s bunk. Companies that respect you respect that you may want to join once in a while but not all the time.
It’s not even about being self-absorbed. Introverts will tell you that they cannot be with many people all the time. It’s not that they don’t like others; it’s just that they’d rather be with themselves. What about non-introverts? It’s actually the same. There are people they would rather not be with, and that’s hardly abnormal.
There is a limit to being distant.
Even the most introverted introvert needs to reach out some time. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is staying for prolonged periods with one set of people (your family), with one set of opinions, voices, choices, preferences, etc. Sooner or later, you just want to reach out to others and have something different. It doesn’t mean not liking your family; it means you still like other people. Perfectly normal.
For people with big houses built on wide lots, it’s easy to say, “Just stay home.” Chances are, there’s a lot to do there—books to read, music to listen to, videos to watch, clothes to sort out, toys and computers to play with, and more. If you have a smallish house, maybe around 30 square meters perhaps or even less, it’s easy to feel cramped. Many in the Philippines go home to eat, sleep, and get dressed. They don’t like staying at home because there’s hardly any space there. Also, 30 square meters can even be generous. There are people in low-income areas that live in less space. Add to this the very real possibility of the extended Filipino household which can mean seven, 10, or even more people sharing that 30 square-meter space.
Besides the need to get out of one’s house because there’s too little space for everyone in a household, there’s also the reality that people need to work. While some can rely on savings, others cannot. This is the Philippines where the daily minimum wage barely provides for everyday needs, so many have to go out to make money for sustenance. It is overly callous and shortsighted to simply refer to them as pasaway. Many cannot afford to stay home. When they say hanapbuhay, they actually mean it.
With these, can we still hope to social distance and save ourselves? Yes, but it will take some effort.
Number one is the need for the basics: Masks and being smart enough to use them. Now, there are those that say these aren’t necessary. Singapore itself, for quite some time, asked all residents to not wear masks unless one was unwell. The ideas was to save the masks for those who needed them most—those in the frontlines.
What do we think though? Let’s go back to Singapore again: Now, no one is allowed to be in public unless one is wearing a mask. You wanna be safe? Best to follow this example.
Masks are simple. Yes, they aren’t all that comfortable, but it’s not time to be a spoiled brat. There was this Bulacan Mayor who wore a shawl as a mask and was caught on camera not even wearing it. Macho? No. Just phenomenally not smart. The right masks need to be available; proper social distancing needs to go hand in hand with masks. Without them, social distancing won’t work.
Next, there is the question of sustenance that has to be dealt with. There are numerous municipalities that have come out full force in giving food to constituents. The more this is done, the more people will have less reason to even think of going away from their homes. Also, this alleviates anxiety. Limited space already causes anxiety. Let’s not add to it by having the important question of, “Where do I get my next meal?” such an important issue.
Can it work then? Yes. People have to do their part, and government has to provide the leadership. Not bravado, just processes, solutions, and proper guidelines.