Week 27, May 3, Dasmariñas Lockdown Week 7
It was another quiet week in Dasma.
And it was another hot week. I’m actually getting quite used to it but by the middle of the day it is rather oppressive as the temp reaches 34 and the breeze drops. Carmen, the Filipina, hates it and retreats to the aircon confines of our room; I soon join her. Hence, close quarters get even closer for 6 hours of the day. Every day. Even I get tired of reading and writing and Carmen has this apartment so clean I imagine there is no possibility of any virus or bacterium able to live here. But after a while she has nothing to do, and she paces.
Our semi-weekly trip Monday to Robinson’s introduced a new element in our limited outings. As of Monday Security has become more stringent: people are no longer even to leave their own barangay, never mind their own city, and only one person per household. To enter Robinson’s we now have to present a certificate of residency in this barangay (San Palo). Of course we are not official residents of the barangay nor even Dasmariñas. Our plight was escalated up the chain of command: the entrance guard, to the Robinson supervisor, to the security supervisor who phoned the barangay captain [an official of the city appointed to administer affairs in the district (barangay is like a ward in Ottawa)]. The Barangay Captain happened to be in the building that morning, no doubt anticipating difficulties. He understood our situation and one look at me, the Canadian castaway, he granted an exception and let us enter, but he advised we get a letter of reference from the owner of Qubo Qabana for next time. As it happens, one of the owners of QQR is Vice Mayor of the City of Dasmariñas.
I heard back from the Canadian Immigration Office in Manila, some anonymous minion, and got some ambiguous advice to my inquiry:
Good day, Thank you for your inquiry. As an immediate family member of a Canadian citizen / Permanent Resident OR as someone travelling to Canada from the United States, you do not need a written authorization from the Government of Canada confirming that you are exempt from the travel restrictions or that you are travelling for a non-discretionary purpose. Upon your arrival to Canada, an officer from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) will determine whether you are permitted to enter Canada.
To which I replied:
Thank you very much for your response.
While I do not have evidence that my companion, the subject person Carmelita Balibalita Espino, is my Common-law spouse, I take your advice that I should accompany her to Canada and present our case that she is a close family member to a Canadian Citizen (me) to the intake CBSA officer, and let him or her decide she can be admitted for another six month term.
(For Your information, this is similar advice my daughter in Markham obtained from an Immigration Officer in Toronto with respect to this same case.)
I’m now investigating flights to Canada from Manila. Carmen is nervous, and who can blame her.
The end of the month came and so did the flurry of banking transactions. It also forces you to look at your financial situation. It’s scary to see my investments going down and my life intersection calculation shortening at the same time. On the other hand, you can’t take it with you. So money comes into my account, money goes out and you hope there will still be some left by the end of the month. The feel good thing about this cash flow is where a big chunk of it now goes: My extended Filipino family, now increased to at least 24 people. (I’m not even sure to whom it all goes as I send a lump sum to Carmen’s daughter Celca who in turn distributes to others. I send another small sum to family in Tacloban, another contribution to my young pastor’s mother.) I’m now thought of as a hero. (It’s not as dramatic as you might think – there are 12 million Filipino ex-pats and OFWs scattered around the world all of whom send money home and they are referred to as heroes. Or maybe it is heroic because many of these OFWs are exposed to serious risk and suffer many hardships to support families back home.) Carmen has been at pains to advise her family, and a whole lot of onlookers, that I am not a wealthy man, even if I am foreign, and my pensions and reserves are limited. This is an important distinction because if they think I’m merely rich they may take my contributions as expected, but if I am sacrificing, I am heroic. I don’t feel heroic, only that I am doing the right thing. And I am sorry I can’t help even more. Now if I could only get a tax receipt for this….
Not to put a too fine a point to this for my Canadian readers: Philippines is a poor country; It simply does not have the capacity to run up a $250B deficit to shore up its citizens. There are no CERBs, CERAs, or CEWAs here; $9 Billion for students is jaw-dropping. The Philippines National Budget has provision for calamities but this Covid crisis is far beyond those provisions and has to be funded by The World Bank, which we know is mostly The USA. What the National and Provincial Governments are doing here in The Philippines, through the barangays, is distributing 5 kilos of rice and a few cans of sardines a week to residents in squatters quarters and small neighbourhoods like Capital Hills where Carmen’s house and extended family live. And it’s not nearly enough. The Provinces, funded by the federal government, began a program of distributing a one-time cash payment in many of these small poor districts: 6500 PHP. (This well meaning program has proven very divisive because many ‘middle class people’, even though no longer have income, do not qualify. This includes all the people in Carmen’s extended family I am now supporting.) The cash is carried in armed cars accompanied by an army detachment. One of the deliveries was hijacked by the NPA (New People’s Army, a revolutionary group in Luzon north of Manila). Two solders were killed and some injured. To this President Duterte threatened martial law and a shoot to kill order. You see, Lockdown means something write a bit different here than in Canada. At least my cash delivery is via Western Union.
And now another tale of bureaucracy run amok: as I previously reported, Robinson’s Supermarket, obviously acting under instructions from officialdom, would not allow Carmen and I passage without a pass. This was the new regulation announced on the previous Friday. The Barangay Captain was on the scene Monday morning and allowed us to enter the store to get our groceries. We subsequently asked Qubo Qabana to provide documents indicating we were residents of the hotel and therefore residents of this barangay, San Pala. The next day QQR provided us with letters of authorization: Travel Certificates. So today, Friday, needing more stock than Carmen can get at the local tale papa (‘corner store’), we walked up to Robinsons. The guard at the entrance was taking more than temperatures this time. He was inspecting documents. Ours were found to be inadequate. We needed Quarantine Certificates, not Travel Certificates. I was not happy with this petty bureaucrat but held my piece. The guard escalated our request to the Store Manager, and I explained to him in English, and Carmen in Tagalog, what the Barangay Captain had told us on Monday. If the store manager did not feel he had the authority to let us into his store he should contact the BC. No sir. We needed to go to the Barangay Office (where is that?) and get a certificate, which we could now do because we have a Travel Certificate. But no car. Is this beginning to sound a bit like Kafka to you? Or Heller?
We walked back to QQR without our groceries and met one of the QQR owners, Arnold, and the day staff, Bor, at the gate. They were unhappy with our treatment and met our distress with more than the usual Filipino shrug. Arnold would contact the Vice Mayor of Dasmariñas, another of the partners of QQR, and arrange the certificates. Bor took our documents. Arnold then said we could probably get everything we needed at the 7Eleven across the street from Robinsons. No certificate required! He would drive us there.
Not to be defeated by bureaucrats we made a trip to the local tindahan and picked up fish and veg and coffee. We’ve become regulars now and this will only increase as they don’t need Certificates.
But Saturday a new story twist, and not for the better. Carmen and I do not qualify for a Quarantine Certificate; or least I do not, it’s not clear about Carmen. Seems even Vice Mayors have limited authority when it comes to this massive societal shutdown. Seniors, i.e., anyone over 65, may not leave their premises. Carmen is 64 but she technically is a resident of Trece Martires not Dasmariñas. Anyway it’s for our own good, you know, we do not want anyone in a vulnerable demographic to be exposed to this deadly virus. We young bureaucrats know best; you old people need to be taken care of; why would you worry about liberty and personal freedom at your age. Better you stay in your residence and be safe; and starve.
Ah, but there is a silver lining. QQR management is now making available a staff member to scoot on his scooter to the local Waltermart, not Robinsons, on our behalf with a shopping list in hand and pick up what we need. This doesn’t assuage my inner William Wallace outrage but it does save me the semi-weekly walk. Carmen on the other hand feels even more confined than ever.
Stay safe. Stay sane. And stay tuned for the next edition of The Dasma Diary.
Doug Jordan Reporting to you from Dasma, Philippines
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