Updated: Nov 21, 2021
It's June 14, 2021. The ground is still glistening from the rain that just poured. I carry my camera slung across my shoulder as I get into a mid 2000's Toyota Avanza. I'm tagging along with my friend and his dad as they head off to the local grocery to pick up supplies for food packages that will be distributed throughout Barangay Riverside (A Barangay is a small territorial district forming the lowest level of local government). Their small church has been running feeding programs in this Barangay for years. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, they've been handing out food packages. A big portion of this community has been unemployed because of the pandemic. Many of the fathers work as construction workers - a field of business that's suffered from continuous lockdowns. Others work as vendors, selling items in a local sari-sari store - a one-stop shop that sells everything from food to cleaning supplies. A stable and high-paying job is not a common thing to have, as most corporations that offer those opportunities require a certain standard of education, which is not attainable for everyone. The food packages mean that families don't need to panic too much about if they'll be able to feed their child who's currently stressing over needing to do online classes with a public school system that's frankly under-equipped.
We get all the essential items to be given and individually pack each one into different bags in the back of the SUV. Once the car turns into the streets of the barangay, you're transferred into another world. The Philippine protocols around COVID-19 of wearing face masks, a face shield and socially distancing out in public is not as obvious as it is outside the invisible borders of this community. Life sort of operates like it always has. The palengke (market) and sari-sari stores are operating as usual, just now advertising that they have face masks for sale. The street food stalls are still active. We stop the car and get off on an intersection where people are clustered around the corner of the street, masks worn right below their noses. Some of them see my camera, some pose, some hide their faces. Probably one of the reasons for the spike of COVID cases in the area. The COVID protocols aren't broken in the same way it is in the US. This isn't because of some right-wing belief that the virus is a hoax and isn't real. Truth is, social distancing just isn't doable here. The streets are narrow, homes crammed so close together. An overly populated area, without the financial access to things that made isolating during the pandemic bearable to others.
This isn't a story that's unique to Riverside. It's a story all too common throughout Metro Manila, and throughout the country. It's the result of poor urban planning, lack of access to quality education which leads to the lack of access to well paying stable sources of income. This is the result of a society that hasn't been taking care of its' people. There's been a lot of talk about Filipino resilience, that we smile even when catastrophes hit, but we need to stop romanticizing it. If no steps are made in improving the quality of life for every citizen, then the story never changes. Nothing gets better. They deserve better.