In bedrooms and living rooms and in private spaces, time has lost meaning under the weight of the COVID-19 lockdown. For the Lantin household, their ‘new normal’ is rife with quiet anxiety.
The Philippine government declared a nationwide lockdown on the 16th of March in response to rising cases of COVID-19 throughout the country. The nation’s capital and major urban areas across the country remained under Extended Community Quarantine (ECQ), as the administration had coined the lockdown, until the 1st of June, making the two-and-a-half-month quarantine one of the longest in recent history.
Communities under ECQ transitioned to Modified Extended Community Quarantine (MECQ), followed by General Community Quarantine (GCQ) at the start of June. The government hopes to ease the country into Modified General Community Quarantine soon. With a smorgasbord of unhelpful, unclear terms, with confusing case data coming in from the Department of Health, with the shutdown of media giant ABS-CBN and with many city functions still unavailable, millions of Filipinos remain stuck and confused within their homes.
Angelito Lantin takes a nap on the couch. Unable to go to work and with little to do at home beyond housework, he finds plenty of time to rest. His wife, Rosemarie, and his daughter, Maria Angela, retreat to their own quiet spaces to work.
Rosemarie, a small business owner, runs her bakery out of the family kitchen. Raya, a fresh graduate, studies stocks on her laptop. Throughout the day, each person retreats to their own private space so as not to disturb or be disturbed. They grasp at a sense of normalcy despite the current circumstances. News comes to us through the TV and the internet but other than that, we know very little about what’s going on outside.
Everyday rituals have evolved into new, seemingly-permanent forms. Grocery runs require face masks and all other considerations, though no one seems to mind them anymore. Masses and religious rituals occur entirely online. Where churches once filled with thousands of faithful, now small families huddle around laptops on Sunday evenings as the live masses come in janky and stuttering. Offerings of peace are given with nods of the head where once they were kisses on the cheek.
Dinner is quiet. With little happening in their personal lives, there is little to talk about. Forks and spoons clank against ceramic plates.
Eventually, Angelito speaks up. “Are you hanging in there?” he asks. No one answers. “Do you like the food?” asks Rosemarie. Maria Angela nods, and they return to trivial matters, such as the weather, the news, Rosemarie’s latest cake recipe, Maria Angela’s latest Coursera revelation.
Night time settles in. Angelito and Rosemarie return to their bedroom. Rosemarie’s shop staff Ruella and Gladys call their families in their province. They’d been unable to return home before the country fell under lockdown, and the only way for them to communicate with their relatives is over the phone. Provincial routes remain closed off under GCQ, and hundreds of thousands of Filipino workers remain stranded in the Metro. Ruella calls her son and asks him if he’s been eating well.
In her own bed, Maria Angela flicks through her social media. “I miss my friends,” she cries. “When is this going to end?” she asks me. I don’t know what to tell her. With the data they were putting out, it seems even the government had no clue of what the future may hold.
A cloud of uncertainty rests heavy upon everything. In the night, the anxiety is more palpable. My own nights are restless and uncomfortable, even if I spend them in my own bed. I end up asleep at four in the morning and awake by six thirty.
Day breaks. I get ready for work. A collared shirt and basketball shorts, as I’d been doing since the start of lockdown. Angelito leafs through the daily paper. COVID-19 cases appear to be down, he points out. Rosemarie sighs and says she doesn’t trust DOH data anymore. She flicks through her phone and reports that Rappler CEO Maria Ressa has been convicted of cyber libel, the latest victim in the crusade against Philippine media.
“What’s going to happen to us?” Rosemarie sighs. Angelito shrugs. I do too. We’d gotten used to asking the same question to one another, day in and day out.