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If you’ve been watching the news lately, one regular fixture seems to make it in the story lineup each time – the number of quarantine violators caught each day. 

Just as a refresher, let us recall who were allowed to go out during Enhanced Community Quarantine in Metro Manila from August 6 to 20. In the IATF’s published list, it seemed like almost everyone was an Authorized Person Outside of Residence, or APOR. There were 41 classifications of APOR basically covering essential jobs and services allowed to commute, work and roam about during this latest ECQ. Also cleared to leave their houses were residents who intended to purchase essential goods, and those scheduled for vaccination. 

Prior to the start of this August’s ECQ lockdown, the Department of Transportation proposed to keep access to public transportation at the same level as before ECQ. It reckoned that those who were allowed to work, along with frontliners, needed transportation to get to their jobs. Also, with the ongoing vaccination drive, people needed buses and jeepneys to get around. 

But as with every previous iteration of the government mandated quarantine measures, count on the Filipino to find a way to abuse their privileges. 

Despite the 50% maximum capacity rule, jeepney drivers continued to fill their trips to the brim. Even letting passengers hang from the back. The drivers’ excuse? They needed the extra income to cover their boundaries and still have enough money to buy food to bring home. Consequently, people who were aware of the passenger capacity limits nonetheless hopped on the near-full jeepneys. Their reason? They had no choice, they needed to get to work on time. 

Meanwhile, those who rode motorcycles to work also contributed to the statistic. Some motorcycle riders continued to ply our roads without helmets. In a recent law enforcement operation, riders who were caught not wearing a helmet employed the usual “pity” plea.  And they even found support among netizens even slammed law enforcers for apprehending  violators instead of just letting them be as the pandemic has already become a financial burden for the poor. 

Some even claimed they only forgot to bring a helmet. “It was broken, that’s why I don’t bring it anymore,” explained another.  While others did not even have a barangay issued APOR pass, a necessary document for those heading out of their homes. To add insult to injury, many motorcycle riders continue to encroach on bicycle lanes depriving cyclists of a safe space on the road.

During ECQ, privileged private motorists with their cars also continued to roam about. They went for leisurely drives, met up with friends and hung out. As if there was no lockdown. Only the wearing of prerequisite face masks gave a hint that they were still living out 2021. 

And now that quarantine restrictions in the National Capital Region have been downgraded to MECQ, even more people will be heading out. Long lines at EDSA Carousel stations now complement the return of crawling traffic along EDSA, the north and south expressways, and other roads in various cities in Metro Manila. Also, retail shops and malls have reopened making them prime destinations for those fed up with the lockdown.

While the highly contagious Delta variant is fast becoming a  strain found in various parts of the country, it would seem that the loose compliance of people to health protocols may also be to blame for its spread. At this point we ask, is it still the government’s fault that we are experiencing this alarming spread of Covid-19? 

“The government failed to do proper contact tracing, hence the fast spread of the virus in the community,” points out Kat Kuan, a marketing professional who has been working from home since the first ECQ lockdown in March 2020. “The lack of proper and clear communication of the government’s plans left most people confused and hopeless. We had a lockdown last year, nothing good came out of it. What makes this third round any different,” she contends.
“This is the third ECQ since 2020 and not much has changed in our approach on dealing with the pandemic. People probably don’t trust the government with solving the problem – hence, to each his own.” She adds, “Some people are privileged enough to stay at home, some need to go out to look for food, and some think this is the new normal so we have to live with it.”

“Both are to blame, although the culpability is on the Local Government Units and the attached local barangays as the implementation of quarantine protocols are delegated to them by the IATF/RTF,” claims Veegee Cabugao, another concerned citizen. His contacts in the political scene have given him a unique perspective on the ongoing health crisis.
“Barangays, being the first level authorities and responders, are expected to strictly implement Community Quarantine regulations. But during the last few meetings of the Metro Manila Council, they said enforcement was not possible because it was a case of when the cat’s away, the mouse will play. Then there is the issue of barangay officers and staff being close to some of their constituents, so the former turn a blind eye to quarantine violations,” he shares. 
Despite the minimum health protocols – wearing of  face masks and face shields, social distancing, and washing of hands, all of which consider the need to balance the reopening of the economy and giving people the opportunity to work while managing the pandemic, daily Covid-19 case numbers continue to soar. Now, it is already a question of when, not if, the country’s daily new case numbers will hit 20,000.

Delta variant notwithstanding, it is our insatiable need to be out and about, to work and earn, to socialize and fraternize during this lockdown that seems to have fueled the ongoing community transmission. It is sad that our society needs the long arm of the law for many of us to be coerced to obey the rules. Even if these rules are for our own safety. 

“Our society is still immature when it comes to voluntarily following the law and related rules and regulations. At the end of the day, the people are to blame. It is impossible to keep an eye on people 24/7 for them to observe the protocols established for their own good,” Veegee concludes. “Everyone is partly to blame with the situation we are in but I think the government has the biggest influence to turn things around for us, Filipinos. It’s not yet too late,” believes Kat.

A society whose people do not have the capacity, nor the willingness, to follow what is mandated on them by law is not a viable society at all. People who will not do their role in keeping the larger community thriving and healthy do not deserve to share the benefits the state affords them.  

Yes, it is the duty of the government to protect the people and give them the opportunities they need to survive and have a better life. But people also must not abuse their rights and deny others their chance at a better life. More than a change in governance, this country needs a change in mindset as well. As Veegee bluntly puts it, “We reap what we sow.”

And that is why we can’t have nice things just yet. 

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