Malasakit: panlaban natin sa COVID-19; former UP chancellor contextualizes pandemic for Filipinos

Press Release / 16 May 2020

The easing of the community quarantine across the Philippines is a huge breath of relief for many Filipinos whose lives and livelihoods have been displaced, but experts from the academic community caution that day-to-day behavior has to change until a vaccine is found.

In the May 16 media forum, medical anthropologist and University of the Philippines (UP) professor, Dr. Michael Tan, appealed to both the government and the public to practice healthy behaviors while the virus continues to pose risks. The former UP Chancellor also called on all Filipinos to be kinder and more understanding, highlighting the importance of social solidarity in the fight against COVID-19.

“Alam ko hirap na hirap din ang mga tao but this is something we are in together.” said Tan. “We know of course that the biggest fear is, kung na-lift na ang quarantine sa iba’t-ibang lugar, mangyayari ang tulad ng karanasan sa ibang bansa na nagsi-spike ulit [ang cases], minsan dahil lang sa maliit na bagay, katulad nung [sa] South Korea,” commenting on how the country’s opening of bars and nightclubs contributed to a resurgence of cases.

Tan expressed his confidence that the government’s measures, such as the quarantine, “made a difference” while the country ramps up its testing capacity and better prepares the healthcare system. He also called on government agencies to closely study urban housing programs as a long-term policy response to protect poor and other vulnerable individuals. Tan has also been impressed by the increase in small and micro-scale entrepreneurs, such as street-side sellers who have begun selling health-related products to prevent further transmission.

“Marami tayong napulot dito sa lockdown, nung nakakulong tayo sa bahay o na-limit ang movements natin — hindi pala kailangan na once a week ang supermarket, hindi kailangan araw-araw yung mall — we are learning to differentiate iba yung pangangailangan at iba yung gusto natin,” he said.

However, he also stressed that from a socio-cultural perspective, there are many common Filipino habits that could be revisited in response to the pandemic. According to Tan, the public needs to be reminded on the proper use of face masks.

“Nakita ko pa rin ang mga tao na humahawak sa face mask, at nakakatakot iyan ano kasi baka marumi ang kamay ninyo at pinapahid nyo pa sa mukha nyo,” said Tan. “We also know, 1 of 2 kasi Filipino nga tayo, kapag kausap tayo ng isang tao, at first may mask, pero after a short-while, naku po kung nakilala na natin, kababayan pala, naku, binababa na yung mask.”

He also reiterated the importance of proper cough etiquette to avoid droplet transmission and to avoid being, what he playfully dubs as a “durarista.” Public spitting is very common in the Philippines. Tan says that irresponsible spitting encourages the spread of the virus and assures the public that refraining from spitting will have no adverse effects on their health.

Recognizing that millions have been hit hard due to the disruption of livelihoods, Tan called on social solidarity and compassion by considering quarantine measures as “kanlungan, hindi kulungan.”

“Dito sa COVID-19, nagwarning ang mga doctor na vulnerable ang mga tao na may pre-existing conditions. Ang tingin ko ang bansa natin may pre-existing conditions din,” he said. “Maraming nawalan ng trabaho, we do not have figures yet, but I’m sure it’s in the millions. It’s very heartbreaking.”

“Hindi totoo na pasaway tayo, makukuha ang Pilipino sa pakiusap,” he furthered, referring to rising tensions caused by misunderstandings between the public and authorities. “Punong puno na din lang siguro. Sa US, punong puno ang beaches, yan ang pasaway.”

“Magisip muna bago bumanat,” added Tan. “Mahirap kung puro ranting lang gagawin.”

Tan also appealed to local government officials to be more compassionate about home quarantine and consider allowing the use of designated safe spaces for fresh air, sunlight, and exercise for the people’s immune systems and general health.

Under the Omnibus Guidelines on the Implementation of Community Quarantine in the Philippines recently issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force, individual outdoor exercises such as outdoor walks, jogging, running, or biking are allowed within MECQ areas provided that the minimum health standards and precautions such as the wearing of masks and the maintenance of ph discancing protocols are observed.

Absent any cure or vaccine, COVID-19 will not be going away anytime soon. The country will have to continue many of the current measures on expanded targeted testing, isolation and treatment of patients. Tan also emphasized that compassion should still be at the heart of everyone’s actions.

“We have to start with ourselves, start to learn to be more considerate, we have to start to be kinder,” said Tan. “Pagmamalasakit, yan ang panlaban natin sa COVID-19”