"This is war, except that the enemy is unseen."
The recent Enhanced Community Quarantine in Luzon caused by the sharp increase of COVID-19 cases has caught us by surprise. I never stopped to think that I would see a pandemic of this nature in my lifetime. To me, transmission of a disease by direct or indirect contact is a plot for movies like Contagion or Outbreak; it was fictional and not real. I was wrong. I never imagined that I would wake up one day to restricted transportation and not being allowed to leave home except to withdraw money, and purchase food or medicine.
To me, this is war; except that the enemy is not seen by the naked eye. Though admittedly I have never been to war, I have heard a lot of stories from elderly friends, about the hellacious conditions of war. Even the pervading stories of the martial law conditions of curfew, excessive governmental restrictions, and militarization are characterizations of a regime which I heard of as a growing boy.
This COVID-19 pandemic is different. It has prompted the Philippine government to declare a state of public health emergency and impose an Enhanced Community Quarantine pursuant to Proclamation Nos. 929, 922 and Republic Act 11332. It has changed the way we work, how we deal with people, plan our lives, do business and even the way we travel. Its impact is so pronounced that most, if not all, of what we do is at a standstill. We want everything to return to as it was before the pandemic, but everything seems uncertain at this time.
We have to work from home. For lawyers like myself who have to attend court hearings, comply with court submissions, meet with clients, and secure government permits or approvals, this new work arrangement is unique, if not unusual. As a result, the Philippine Supreme Court had acted swiftly when it suspended all court hearings nationwide and gave 30 calendar days of extensions for all court submissions that fall within the period of the community quarantine. Lawyering does not end there; clients here and abroad had to be briefed with the recent health developments as to what will happen to the pressing work assigned to us, pending issues and various applications and submissions in government agencies. We need to shift to online meetings using Zoom Outlook, and Google Meet, just to name a few of these electronic platforms. We receive separate individual calls from clients, as well as need to review and circulate work electronically in anticipation of on-site work resumption and submission of various compliance to government agencies.
Classes in all levels are suspended for the duration of the enhanced community quarantine. For primary, secondary and tertiary level education students with school calendars that end sometime in March have decided to end the school year and rely on their students’ class standing for the final grades. However, for schools with calendars ending in May, they may opt to extend their classes to the summer break in June or possibly July. For those in graduate schools such as Law or Medicine, the decisions of the school administrations will be a bit sensitive since they have to ascertain the competence and readiness of their students to hurdle the different government exams. This will only be possible if the students can continue to attend their classes with directed learning and be tested orally or in writing. At the start of the community quarantine, online classes for these students were available, accessible and prioritized by the teachers themselves. However, as the days moved and the conceivable adverse results became more apparent, the schools were left with no choice but to suspend online classes. They had to consider the imminent danger of spreading the illness to the students and their immediate household once they scout for areas with strong Wi-Fi just to be able to attend online classes, and the reality of the intermittent signal at this time when the internet lines are flooded. Truly, extraordinary times.
Health workers like doctors, nurses, medical technologists and support staff are at the frontlines. Just like in wars and armed conflict where they sacrifice life and limb, they sacrifice their life, health, and time with and the safety of their families as well. All because of the invisible and aggressive COVID-19. Some hospitals and communities have even been locked down except for entries of authorized health workers and government representatives to bring basic necessities to reduce the further spread of the virus. The University of the Philippines medical interns, who are students, have selflessly volunteered to support the medical work force who are starting to feel fatigue and may be quite possibly infected with the virus.
We Filipinos have been known to be resilient and lighthearted, able to stand every time we experience natural calamities, disasters, or acts of God. In my mind, our ability to spring back when we fall, this time, should be with self-discipline, compliance with the law, and trust in those who lead us at this time of uncertainty.