COMMENT: The urban poor have the right to self-care, too

·Contributor
·5 min read
People trooping to the Manila baywalk dolomite beach along Roxas boulevard  in Manila city on October 17, 2021, a day after authorities eased its quarantine restrictions in the nation's capital.  / AFP / Ted ALJIBE
People trooping to the Manila baywalk dolomite beach along Roxas boulevard in Manila city on October 17, 2021, a day after authorities eased its quarantine restrictions in the nation's capital. / AFP / Ted ALJIBE

When the government lifted the Alert Level 4 status of the National Capital Region last week, which now means that some leisure activities will already be allowed with some limitations, the infamous Manila Dolomite Beach and Marikina River Park were among the urban public spaces that opened to the public.

Imagine the excitement of the people to finally be able to get out of their tiny spaces for some outdoor breeze! It was a mutual feeling among all people, regardless of status, living in the country that has been under the world’s longest lockdown. To finally be allowed to go out was, literally, a breath of fresh air.

To finally be allowed to go out was, literally, a breath of fresh air.

But when news agencies posted photos of the said urban public spaces swarmed by people (which, again, should have been an understandable behavior), in which you could see people sunbathing, swimming, or sunset-viewing at the Manila Dolomite Beach; or strolling or biking at Marikina River Park, many netizens were quick to comment against the people in the photos.

One comment on a photo set on Rappler’s Instagram account read: “Grabe talaga ang mga Pinoy ‘no? Sige lang, nandito pa ang COVID-19. Parang walang pandemic. Naku, super tigas talaga ng mga ulo. Tapos magko-complain kapag nag-lockdown ulit” (Filipinos are unbelievable. Go ahead, COVID-19 is still here. You are going out like we are not in a pandemic. You are very stubborn and yet you will complain when the government hardens the lockdown once again). Another comment said: “Naku naman! May pandemic pa, mga kababayan. Kaunting disiplina naman at sakripisyo” (Oh no! We are still in a pandemic. May you have a little amount of discipline and sacrifice) – as though these people have not yet sacrificed enough.

People trooping to the Manila baywalk dolomite beach along Roxas boulevard  in Manila city on October 17, 2021, a day after authorities eased its quarantine restrictions in the nation's capital.   / AFP / Ted ALJIBE
People trooping to the Manila baywalk dolomite beach along Roxas boulevard in Manila city on October 17, 2021, a day after authorities eased its quarantine restrictions in the nation's capital. / AFP / Ted ALJIBE

There are two ideas that these comments entail: First, there is the sound of alarm and concern, and they may just be right – after all, we are still recording thousands of new cases every day. They may just be the people who are genuinely concerned that cases may rise once again because, according to their comments, of the people who flock in crowds as the government eases lockdowns.

Why are they calling out the poor people for going to urban public spaces when they are allowed by the government to do so?

But second, there is the sound of being anti-poor. Why are they calling out the poor people for going to urban public spaces when, technically, they are allowed by the government to do so?

The thing with these anti-poor callouts is that they unfairly single out the poor people. They easily call them stubborn for going out for some breath of fresh air (although the air in Manila Bay does not seem to be so fresh at all, but that is another discussion). It is as though it is only the poor people who are to blame for superspreader events.

Are we not going to call out the rich people who are holding private parties?

Are we not going to call out the rich people who are holding private parties? Go to Instagram and see how privileged people (celebrities, socialites, and influencers, among others, including even your very own families and friends) are doing exactly what the poor people are doing in Manila Dolomite Beach and Marikina River Park, although in a more glamorous fashion. They are also going out because they also feel trapped being put on a lockdown, they also miss going out with their families and friends, and they are also longing for self-care that they can afford. It is a perfectly natural human behavior to want to return to normalcy, again, regardless of status.

Residents have their photos taken at a footbridge overlooking the Manila baywalk dolomite beach along Roxas boulevard in Manila city on October 17, 2021, a day after authorities eased its quarantine restrictions in the nation's capital.  / AFP / Ted ALJIBE
Residents have their photos taken at a footbridge overlooking the Manila baywalk dolomite beach along Roxas boulevard in Manila city on October 17, 2021, a day after authorities eased its quarantine restrictions in the nation's capital. / AFP / Ted ALJIBE

Metro Manila does not have a lot of open spaces, and Manila Dolomite Beach and Marikina River Park are just some of the few that have recently opened for visitors. Naturally, the urban poor will go to these places now that they are already allowed to do so because these are just the places that they can afford to go to. Would we call them out the same way had they gone to more posh places like La Union, Boracay, or Siargao, where your family and friends most likely have already gone to in the past few months for some “self-care”?

We are forgetting why we are even having this discussion in the first place – the government, for without their incompetent and incapable hands in managing the pandemic, we would not have gone this far. Why are we always calling out the bad apples and not the bad tree? Why are we always so scared to look at the bigger problem?

It is always the poor who are on the receiving end of blames, and that is just unfair.

Much has already been said about how the government should have imposed lockdowns earlier, prioritized mass testing, put more budget on public healthcare, and bought more vaccines instead of having relied on donations. We could have a separate article about that and still we would arrive at the same conclusion: the government is failing so badly not only in saving the people from COVID-19 but also in giving us back the “normal” life that other people in other nations have already gotten back.

The government has put us on a limbo: they are reopening portions of the nation supposedly to save the economy — and yes, they should do that to save especially the businesses that are losing out so much by being on a lockdown. But at the same time, any thinking human being knows that doing so without concrete pandemic response will result in superspreader events that netizens are quick to blame on the poor people.

In the end, it is always the poor who are on the receiving end of blames, and that is just unfair.

Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who has written in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications in the Philippines. He covers cultures, media, and gender. The views expressed are his own.

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