[OPINION] 'Pasaway' commuters amid lockdown? These people don't have a choice

If you think these people willfully leave their homes amid a deadly pandemic, think again.

On Monday evening, March 16, President Rodrigo Duterte announced that he would put the entire island of Luzon under enhanced community quarantine. A day prior, community quarantine in Metro Manila had already begun, which involved a ban on land, domestic air, and domestic sea travels in and out of the region. (READ: What is 'enhanced community quarantine' and will it work?)

Under enhanced community quarantine, however, all forms of public transportation are suspended, and people are discouraged from leaving their homes, except to buy food, medicine, and other necessities. (READ: Mass transportation suspended in Luzon)

Disaster met the new measure right on its first hour. Workers heading home were stranded – right on the streets – as uniformed personnel banned any more travel. The commuters, probably hundreds of them, were locked in by traffic barricades, crowded within a limited space.

It was evidently a poorly managed situation. The effort to strictly implement the lockdown compromised the core measure upon which it was based: social distancing. This, by all means, easily put all these people at risk of contracting the virus, and worse comes to worst, each one of them could spread the virus to their families.

As the first day of the Luzon-wide lockdown progressed, netizens shared their dismal stories of struggle over having no means of transportation, with the lockdown only allowing for private vehicles on the road. Many commuters had no choice but to endure walking all the way to work.

One netizen even took a video showing commuters scrambling to hitch a ride on passing pickup trucks – with no regard for social distance anymore – just to get to where they needed to be.

Some were quick to call these people “pasaway” (stubborn) and “matigas ang ulo” (hard-headed). Others lamented that they should “just follow the rules” and stop jeopardizing everyone else’s safety. An influencer even angrily, and dare I say, ignorantly, ranted her fill on Instagram Stories, saying, "God, why don't you motherf*ckers just stay at home?" (Yikes.)

Sumunod na lang kayo, imbis na magreklamo (Just follow the rules and stop complaining),” a handful of comments said in response to people who openly critiqued the poor implementation of the lockdown. They then gave suggested solutions which were hardly a choice for many of these commuters.

Work from home? That’s not a choice for minimum wage workers who barely have enough to feed their families twice a day, much less afford an internet connection at home. That’s not a choice for employees bound by “no work, no pay” contracts and whose nature of work does not fit a remote work setup.

Avoid public transport? I cannot even fathom how they find this a viable option. The commuting public, which comprises a good fraction of the population, is essentially the working class. Despite terrible traffic, these people still heavily rely on buses, public utility vehicles (PUVs), and trains prone to technical problems. That’s not a choice for people whose budget can only allow for so much. Asking them to avoid public transport is literally asking them to walk to work – and walk they did.

Obey the rules? That’s not a choice when the rules themselves disregard the best interests of these people, let alone address them. Rules are supposed to protect everyone, not just some.

Crisis strikes the poor twice as hard

We've seen it before – in a more recent instance, the Taal unrest – and we're still seeing it now: in times of crises, the poor always suffer double the damage.

And I guess it's what people born of privilege fail to realize. For vulnerable sectors, crisis is a gun to the head: they always have to bear the full severity of the consequences. At this point, it is not only a matter of surviving pandemic pandemonium for them; it’s fundamentally a matter of surviving the day. It's about having food on the table and taking things day by day. If they refused to leave the house and earn the money they needed to buy food, medicine, and other necessities, getting by the remaining weeks of lockdown would be wishful thinking at best.

When these are the problems one has to face every single day, a looming pandemic doesn’t seem so big a monster after all.

Consequently, with the deadly virus being the least of their concerns, these people continue to resort to measures, sometimes desperate, to make ends meet, making them all the more vulnerable to virus exposure. It only goes south from there. Next thing they know, it’s already too late.

So trust me when I say these pasaway workers would take the option to stay home the first good chance they get. We all want to get through this crisis alive and well, but with the inadequate measures in place, the choice to confine themselves in their own homes is but a luxury they simply cannot afford.

They say a crisis brings out the ugly in everyone. In the end, it all zeroes in on how a government grossly disregards the interests of the poor and hardly addresses their plight, which sadly isn't so surprising anymore. It tells of the private sector prioritizing its capitalist interests over the welfare of its constituents, all amid a global emergency. It speaks of how privilege can make one incapable of empathy and blind from reality.

If pointing fingers is the game, you better be pointing at the top of this power hierarchy – if not at yourself. – Rappler.com

Sofia Virtudes

Sofia Virtudes is a digital communications specialist for Rappler. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Development Communication from the University of the Philippines Los Baños. She tweets at @fiavirtudes.

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