Opinion

Check Your Privilege: What Clueless People Don’t Get About the COVID-19 Crisis

The next time you see people defying government orders to stay home, put yourselves in their shoes.
IMAGE NIH IMAGE GALLERY/PXFUEL/PIKREPO
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I had one eye on the TV while setting the table for dinner the other day. The early evening newscast was running a story on the plight of commuters insisting on going to work despite the enhanced community quarantine announced in the whole of Metro Manila. I had a plate in my hand while watching hordes of people trying to cross the checkpoints set up between the boundaries of the city and nearby provinces like Rizal, Cavite, and Bulacan. There goes social distancing, I remember thinking. 

Ang kulit kasi,” I suddenly heard my mom say. “Sinabi nang stay at home e.”

This was the point that I realized that it was a teachable moment, but instead of the usual parent-to-child, it was the other way around.

Gusto lang nilang kumita,” I patiently told my mom. “Nasa bahay nga sila, wala naman silang pang-kain.”

We’re far from rich, but my mom is an example of someone unaware of what other people are going through in these crazy times. We’re safe at home with a stocked fridge, functioning Internet, and everybody in relatively good health (I’m still getting these intense headaches, but it’s something I can live with for now knowing how other people are dying from the coronavirus).

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Unfortunately, in recent days, those in similar situations have taken it upon themselves to impose their privilege on everybody else. Celebrities may mean well when they make light of the situation and ask people to stay home, park themselves on the couch, and watch Netflix instead of going out, but they obviously have never needed to worry about where they’re going to get the money to buy food for their next meal. So-called “influencers” have the gall to berate and disparage citizens they see out in the streets on the news, but of course they can afford to yell at the TV from their yoga mats on the floor because they know exactly that dinner will be there on the table waiting for them after completing their downward-facing dog. Too bad guy-on-TV-out-in-the-street can’t say the same.

Even government officials seem to be out of touch. Granted they must be short on sleep and long on work, but that doesn’t excuse their tone-deaf responses to legitimate questions from the regular Juan. There are people trying to scrape by with daily wages from their factory jobs or selling lugaw or fishballs out in the street; it doesn’t help when all officials can tell them is that everybody needs to “sacrifice.” When a cabinet secretary tells employees to find a place to rent within Metro Manila instead of outlying provinces, how do you think that makes the person who spends six to eight hours or more on the road, commuting from house to office because she can’t afford places in the city, feel?

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I don’t know about you, but when I scroll through my social media feed, it is littered with posts from clueless people appealing to their followers to mindlessly follow government directives about the situation and JUST STAY HOME. That’s not a bad thing per se, but I take issue with their complete lack of empathy for those who just don’t have that luxury. I don’t think there’s anybody out there who would willingly leave the safety and comfort of their houses to play a potentially fatal game of will-I-get-exposed-to-the-virus-today, but here’s a reality check: They do it anyway because the alternative—the ACTUAL consequence of staying at home—is starvation, illness, and yes, presidential spokesperson Sal Panelo, even death.

I can only wish that was an exaggeration.

We get it. The only way to stave off the threat of this virus is to lock ourselves inside our homes and avoid contact with other people. Killing the virus is killing its chances of transferring to another host. But we cannot afford to discount the realities of everyday life. And a good first step is to realize that, when we see people on TV or on our social media feeds defying the government and insisting on going out to earn a livelihood, it’s because they literally have no other choice.

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Nick Aguila
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