AS COMMUNITIES all over the world wobble towards what idealists would describe as a "new normal," one may have to ask how new and how beneficial that normal would be. Even now people, and that includes leaders, are starting to forget the lessons made easy to discern when the Covid 19 pandemic hit.
I have already mentioned one reality in the metro that the pandemic exposed: the sad state of housing in villages in urban areas. That, I should say was one of the reasons the police, using armed personnel carriers, had to be called in to "intimidate" villagers into following the protocols the government imposed.
I grew up in one of the villages built by informal settlers in Cebu City at the back of the now closed Cebu TB Pavillon. We used to rent a house in nearby Waling-waling St., but my parents grabbed a chance to "squat" in a then empty government property. That meant savings for house rental, money that was used for other family expenses, like "bawon" and later tuition. We are nine siblings.
There weren't many of us "pioneers." The TB Pavillon administration fenced a big chunk of the land at the back, allowing only one family in as caretaker and to manage the planting of the vacant lot with corn. A clinic for those sick with palsy took another big chunk of the land and fenced a portion of the property, which was then largely vacant. A private property owner also fenced a wide swath of land near the Aznar Coliseum. The property of the Aznars was also well fenced.
A visit to our place now would show a vastly different place from the one where we grew up. The old TB Pavillon structure is now being used by the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center. The building used as a clinic by children sick with palsy is crumbling. And because the TB Pavillon face had crumbled, the old corn farm is now cramped with informal settlers.
How can a "new normal" that involves mostly staying at home and practicing physical distancing be practiced in places like this? I am not even talking about the wearing of face masks and the use of alcohol, which involves money. How can the regular washing of hands be done in houses that do not have water connections?
Frankly, I would say that this "new normal" talk is mostly "elite-speak," meaning only for those who can afford the cost. For the many, everything would soon be back to the "old normal." It would be as if the pandemic hasn't told us, our leaders especially, a lesson.
It's not that we haven't seen glimpses of what a new normal would be like. I remember former mayor Michael Rama talked about what his plans would be for communities hit by fire. He popularized the term "reblocking" and mentioned something about building structures for informal settlers that would allow for the freeing of spaces that could be use to widen roads, even build plazas in villages.
Last year, Mayor Edgardo Labella led the groundbreaking for two "tenement buildings" for informal settlers in Barangay Lorega. The hope is that the new normal would mean giving prime attention to such projects.