Welcome to the 6th Floor!
Delta Has Arrived
The Delta variant has now been detected in 216 Covid cases in Metro Manila, and while the Department of Health here has not formally declared community spread of the variant, an undersecretary at the Department has informed reporters that they are operating under the assumption that community transmission has taken place. A marked uptick in the number of new coronavirus cases since the middle of July suggests this is a good assumption. Yes, it took a while, but the Covid bug as transmissible as chickenpox is now setting up house in the Philippines.
All of Metro Manila, population 14 million, will be returned to lockdown for a period of two weeks starting August 6, with the possibility of an extension at the end of this period. ("Lockdown" in the Philippines is ECQ, the government's strictest level of community quarantine.)
In addition, the government is allowing everyone 18 and older in Metro Manila access to the vaccination -- jabs in the rest of the country are still limited to those on the "priorities list," which I describe in the second posting below. A Manila drive to get as many people vaccinated as possible in the metro area is on, and I'm guessing that this will lead to reductions in the vaccine supply in the rest of the country -- but Manila is the place where Delta currently resides, and the DOH, it seems, has some hope of putting an end to the variant there in order to prevent outbreaks across the country. Manila's energetic mayor Isko Moreno (the literature he holds in the photo above is titled "Manila's Community Endeavor") plans to institute a 24/7 vaccination program and is calling on all people qualified to vaccinate others, as well as computer-literate college grads, to volunteer for the effort. A massive drive-thru vaccination center (with several lanes) has sprung up, and a door-to-door vaccination service is in the works. This period of EC Quarantine will allow citizens to venture outside of homes in order to receive the vaccine. Your only other reason to be outside will be to purchase food and medicine on your barangay's designated day of the week as a representative of your family.
Mayor Moreno and the 15 other mayors of the metro region are following the marching orders of President Duterte, sure, but their hearts are evidently in this effort; their pronouncements and the media coverage of the upcoming lockdown are creating the aura of a crusade.
But in the end, I just don't think the numbers are there. All 216 discovered cases of the Delta variant have been the focus of rigorous tracing and sequestering, but how many cases remain undiscovered, and how many of those undiscovered cases are already responsible for transmission beyond the metro region's border? Probably hundreds, at the very least quite a few, and as one travels away from Manila, the capacity of medical authorities to do adequate tracing diminishes considerably. And right now just a little more than 20 million Filipinos are at least partially vaccinated: that is just 18% of the population, a proportion inadequate to serve as a meaningful buffer to the spread of a variant as communicable as chickenpox, no?
Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez is arguing that the region-wide lockdown over a two-week period will result in the loss of more than P30 billion in workers' wages, will bring financial ruin to many small and medium-sized businesses, will exacerbate the "hunger situation" among the region's poor, too; according to Lopez, the government should be devoting all of its resources toward procuring and distributing the vaccine, and enforcing public health measures already in place. It should not be involved in making a bad economic situation worse.
I'm very receptive to what Mr. Lopez has to say, because this genie is almost certainly already out of the bottle. As it has in many countries already, the Delta variant is on its way to becoming the dominant form of the virus here: the lockdown won't stop it, nor is it likely to buy the authorities much in the way of time. More vaccine, please.
On a more personal note. Drove over to the duplex this morning and picked up Jheng, who took over the driving. We were headed for the provincial capital, Palayan, about a half hour away, where at the immigration office Jheng would assist me in getting me signed up for another 6-month visa. Provincial capital? Its population is one seventh that of Cabanatuan, and it has no restaurant worthier of the status of curbside eatery. If, back in the 50's and 60's, government planners thought they would grow another teeming metropolis for the province by moving the capital from Cab City to the site of a government stock farm, they were, uh, mistaken.
The government offices are nice, as well as efficiently run, though. In re-upping one's visa, one must offer a reason or two for wishing to remain; on our previous two visits I had written that I wanted to stay close to my fiancee, but a couple of days ago Jheng said she wanted to end the engagement, so I simply entered "girlfriend" instead of fiancee, and that worked for the immigration officials.
Well over a year ago I offered marriage to Jheng at the mall's Zark's hamburger joint, while her sister was using the bathroom. After about a week's hesitation, she agreed. And then Covid happened. Jheng had to throw herself into what essentially was (and still is) full-time teaching, and keep her longganisa business moving along as well. It was no time to hurry along a wedding. . . . I brought it up in a way that was indirect and oblique even for me two days ago, and discovered that she'd been giving it a lot of thought, and that she didn't want to go ahead with the marriage.
. . . . I'm old and I'm a foreigner, I told her. I'd said as much before, but the situation was new. I inderstand, I told her. No, she said. I've decided that I don't want a man. I need independence, I realize. It's something I haven't had since I started caring for Mariel while Mama Luz was away working, then after that marrying so young. . . . There were many I's in this conversation. Tears, too.
Was hit pretty hard, but I'm already in recovery mode, I think. Maybe because I was half expecting this? Am thankful that she wants to remain my friend: she's one of the truest people I've ever known. The family learned of it the same day and they've acted very considerately toward me, whether it be in the form of Mama Luz's sad smile or Aunt Des's text to me yesterday: you're always welcome here, Brad.
This is starting to get a little maudlin, isn't it? Shittles. But there's something else: in addition to keeping me as a friend, Jheng wants to retain her position as my "personal assistant and bodyguard" (this is no lah-di-dah post: in the last three days she's helped me get a cat castrated, made my room spic and span with the help of her sister, and greased the wheels toward my new visa). Of course I can't help feeling a bit strung along, on top of the heartache, but Mary Jane Aldonza Academia, I want you to know this: no matter the anxiety and angst we've gone through recently, I'm glad that the compensation you get from me will help you keep that independence you cherish so darn much.
In the Shadow of Dengvaxia
Filipinos who are vaccine-hesistant can and do point to a major misadventure on the part of the Philippine government in its 2016-17 campaign to vaccinate children against dengue fever. Dengue is endemic in many countries in the tropics, including the PI; you may remember it has afflicted three members of the Javier-Guevara clan during my stay here: Jheng's son, sister, and cousin. Well, after 20 years of work on it in their labs, the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur had come up with what seemed like an efficacious vaccine for the disease, a vaccine they dubbed "Dengvaxia." The trials for it took place in the Philippines and had very good outcomes, the government's FDA approved it, and shortly after that approval the government sponsored a nation-wide, school-based vaccination program for Filipino children.
After hundreds of thousands of children had already received their first doses, the program was abruptly shut down. Overall infection rates had gone down -- but, among the relatively small population of children who were vaccinated but who nonetheless came down with the disease, rates of severe infection and mortality were significantly higher than for those infected with dengue among the unvaccinated population. It was eventually determined by Sanofi and the FDA that the vaccine was reponsible for adverse reactions in about 10% of people who had never before been exposed to dengue, then taken the vaccine and nonetheless come down with the virus. The drug is safe for people who have already had one or more cases of dengue, and in many countries, but I don't think in the Philippines, the drug has been approved for people who have already had the disease.
Sanofi, it won't surprise you, is currently dealing with much civil and criminal litigation. The numbers cannot be clinically proven, but it is estimated that more than 600 Filipino children have died unnecessarily due to this vaccine -- so far.
Yeah, this was damned horrific.
I knew about the tragic circumstances surrounding Dengvaxia, but hadn't really thought about their ramifications for Filipinos' reception of the Covid vaccines, until I read the first article cited below. Jheng is vaccine-hesitant but told me this afternoon she will get the shot(s) when it is her turn; the rest of the family apparently will, too. I brought up Dengvaxia when I spoke with her, and she was animated in her criticism of the government; that wound in her mind, in the minds of many Filipinos, has not healed. The guy in the yellow shirt above, in the photo on the left, is Benigno Aquino III, president of the Philippines from 2010 to 2016. His administration brought about the Dengvaxia mess, and left its consequences in the hands of the Duterte administration. Mr. Aquino died earler this month, and was mourned widely here, but the mistakes made on his watch concerning the dengue vaccine, and the furor these mistakes raised, were likely an important factor in his political party's bad performance in the midterms two years ago -- and will likely remain a factor in the general election less than a year away.
This morning at 9:35 I went over to the trike at the head of the line in front of Fred's and got in -- the car was with Jheng because she had meetings with teachers both at Lara'a old school and at her new one. The driver pulled up to the SM Mall's doors about 5 minutes before they opened, and I handed him two purple notes, 200 pesos, more than just about anybody else would pay for this ride, but the neighborhood trike drivers treat me very well, and I treat them very well, all right?
Make sure face mask and face shield are snugly in place. When the doors open, my temp is taken and I hold up my code card, which contains 7 or 8 pieces of my personal information, so the guard can take a photo of it. Escalators to the third level and a walk to the central foyer, where four long lines of chairs are set up. It's a little like a scene at a wildly popular restaurant, where people will wait for more than an hour to get a table. I sit in the last vacant chair in one line, surprised to see so many already there; did another entrance to the mall open earlier? After a while a bureaucrat, one of quite a few ranging around, informs me that the Special of the Day is the Janssen vaccine. Huh? Some quick diddling on my smart phone (in truth, not quick; I'm still getting used to this thing) tells me that the Janssen vaccine is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Jheng received the news two days ago that today would be my turn. So, the J & J? That's fine with me, of course: just one stick. The wait did last more than an hour, but finally I was ushered into one of the mall's movie theaters (which have been closed to moviegoers for more than a year), and got my jab from a jolly nurse almost directly under the theater's big screen.
Vaccines are made by humans, and humans are fallible, sure. But the vaccines against Covid have shown themselves to be not only effective but also safe for the VAST majority of us. And right now the new variant of the virus is ripping into us, for sure. Take a leap of faith, if you're among the purposely unvaxxed: help save your child's education, your elderly, yourselves. Eh?
Waiting for the Vaccine
Have been signed up for "the jab" for more than three weeks now but have not yet been contacted for an appointment. This is not surprising; incoming vaccines (none are produced here) come in spurts and lulls as purchases are finalized and donations from richer countries are made. Donations of vaccines are bringing down the cost per dose of all the vaccines finding their way here, and the government has announced that it will shoulder the cost of inoculations for "priority groups." These groups include all personnel in health care, from doctors and nurses in hospitals to barangay health workers and clinic custodians; all people (including non-citizens) over the age of 60; people with comorbidities; all government workers interfacing with the public; and indigent populations. As of today, these are the only people getting vaccinated nationwide.
On July 15, when the last set of data was prepared, 10.2 million Filipinos had received at least one shot, while 4.3 million were fully vaccinated. The government's target is to have 58 million fully vaccinated by the end of the year (the country's population is about 110 million).
But I suspect I'll be getting vaccinated against Covid annually or biennially for the rest of my life. A recent survey by YouGov and The Economist revealed that one in five Americans believe it is either definitely or probably true that the U.S. government is using the vaccine to microchip the population. With conspiracy theories like this one permeating the online world and being accepted by so many people, with the belief among many Americans that the U.S. government is exaggerating the threat of Covid for political reasons, with so many folks listening to the cockamamie effluvia of the Tucker Carlsons of this world, it's very doubtful that the level of immunity in the population needed to snuff this virus can be attained. In the Philippines, where memories of the failed vaccine against dengue fever are still raw, and elsewhere, of course, similar obstacles to a vaccine-induced herd immunity -- mainly word-of-mouth and online admonitions little based in fact -- exist. (Must admit, over here we don't have an entire cable network prone to misinforming and catering to the misinformed, vax-wise.)
I guess if there is a bottom line regarding the world's situation with this virus it is probably this, though: Covid is likely to live on because it does not kill and maim with the virulence and in-the-citizen's-face impact of a smallpox, or a polio, or a diphtheria. If it did, we would likely snuff it -- and quickly. To an unfortunate extent we're enthralled by social media and stirring tales of individuals standing up to the machine, but we're not dumber than we used to be. Not much dumber, anyway.
A (Sort of) Index
I've been tapping at this blog for three years now, and there are more than 150 postings on its floors (in its pages). When I started, I didn't realize this business about pages and how a blogster must start a new page after writing a certain amount: I caused my editor's page to freeze and it took the people at SimpleSite a while to unfreeze it. Yup, put technology (no matter how "simple") that wasn't around while I was growing up into my hands, and this kind of thing tends to happen.
The "Basement Archive" in the blue band above contains the bloated page that I overloaded in my first few months at this, and each of the "floors" in that blue band contains about 20 postings. I was scanning the other floors for the strange erasures that happened more than once on this floor (happily, didn't see any), when it occurred to me that the newer readers here, or people who touch base here infrequently, might like to have an idea of what they can find on the lower floors. So I put together the sloppy index below: it is geared toward the reader more interested in information about the Philippines than in the experiences I have here. Just click the floor above that contains what interests you and scroll down the page to find it.
6th Floor (so far)
Earthquake and Pinatubo eruption of 1990-91; Murder rate; Tropical climate; Volcanic smog; Vaccine deniers; Independence Day and the colonial past; Spring surge in Covid cases in the Philippines; A Philippine baptism.
Dengue fever; Government acquisition of Covid vaccines; Philippine cuisine and street food; Cabanatuan City; South China Sea debacle with China; Graft and corruption.
Luzon Covid response and regulations; Life under lockdown.
Life under lockdown; Baler, Aurora; The Taal and Mayon volcanoes; The trials of one indigenous minority; Environmental activism and the building of a dam.
The barangay social system; The Southeast Asia Games; Typhoons and typhoon response; Tuberculosis; Recent trials of the rice growers; Subic Bay, Zambales; The Tagalog Language; The return of polio.
China and the Philippines; Environmental degradation; Dangers faced by environmental activists; Moslems and the destruction of Marawi; Imee Marcos, daughter of a dictator; 2019 Elections; Circumcision!
2019 Elections; A most controversial drug war; Street food; The Triskelions; Prostitution; Dingalan, Aurora; Cockfighting; The raid at Cabanatuan (1945); The Maharlika Highway; Imelda Marcos; 187 Languages spoken here; President Duterte's strong-arm moves; Cost of living; Philippine infrastructure; Funerals; Baguio, Benguet.
He is a young man with haunted eyes, on a cane, moving slowly up the line of cars at a Maharlika stoplight with the jerky, quivery gait of a sufferer of cerebral palsy (no, not MS -- I had to look these up). He seems to be new at asking for handouts from strangers, which is what he is doing. Observing him, I become more sad when the light changes and he must move to the side of the road one car short of reaching my own car. I'm on the inside of a double lane, and traffic is traffic, so I drive on. The Philippines has a social safety net, which is more than one can say for some other Third World countries, but the net does not spread wide enough, and it is frayed.
I'd been looking for a couple of decent lamps capable of being cat-proofed for my room, and had given up the chase after being disappointed at two stores. Now I was heading for the supermarket at the SM Mall to pick up some items for Jheng's family and for myself. After pushing a cart up and down the aisles with face mask and face shield dutifully in place, I drove over to the duplex to drop off the items and for a car switch-off: Jheng would need the Avanza tomorrow to bring her grandmother to the doc for a followup checkup, and for a longganisa run as well (you may remember that she preps and transports Philippine sausage). Her three children came along for the ride as she took me back to my place, and during the ride she mentioned that police had visited the guy with the street pool table to investigate the crime scene and question witnesses. The funeral and burial of David have already taken place.
Taal Volcano, about one hundred miles south of Cab City, continues to sputter and emit large plumes of sulfur dioxide, but nothing like the eruption of July 1 (which killed no one, thankfully) has taken place since then. Volcanologists report that magma within the Taal chamber is continuing to rise, and about 5,500 lakeside residents -- the volcano is an island in Taal Lake -- have been moved to evacuation centers. The Alert Level remains at 3.
As you probably know, the Philippines sits smack on the Pacific Ring of Fire (it's more of an arc, really) that runs on roughly contiguous plate boundaries from New Zealand to the Philippines, to Japan, to Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, to Alaska, to the Pacific coasts of both North and South America. Areas girdling this ring are prone to earthquakes and peppered with extinct, dormant, and active volcanoes. The Philippines has many earthquakes each day between 1 and 4 on the Richter Scale, with an earthquake above 4 happening almost daily somewhere in the islands. Phivolcs, a governmental agency whose bailiwick is volcanoes and earthquakes, keeps track of them here:
Luzon Island has most of the country's volcanoes, with 33 on the island: 16 labeled extinct, 13 dormant, and 4 active. Taal, of course, is one of the active ones. Of the other three, one provided a volcanic eruption that in its explosive power was second only to Alaska's 1912 Novarupta eruption in the 20th century: Mt. Pinatubo.
Cinder blocks tossed miles, pyroclastic flows, mud flows, a massive ash fall, the works. And, of course, the sheer enormity of the blast. The eruption began in the middle of the afternoon, July 15, 1991, and lasted for 9 hours. It was the culminating eruption in a series of eruptions that had been going on for about 4 weeks, and these days of smaller eruptions had given authorities time to evacuate most residents living within 40 kilometers of the volcano -- but 740 died as a direct result of that final eruption.
A good portion of those who died died outside of the evacuation zone when the heavy ashfall (feet of it) collapsed the roofs of thousands of homes. Fortunately, the airflow at this time was east-to-west and much of the ash fell over the South China Sea. Ash even fell over southern Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia -- without this airflow hundreds more would almost certainly have died.
. . . But then, just days after Pinatubo blew its top, a great misfortune happened: a powerful typhoon slammed into Luzon's midsection, and torrential rain made lahars sweep down from the volcano onto the lowlands and its returning residents ("like rivers of concrete," as one USGS article puts it), killing more than had died due to the eruption itself.
Many experts in the earth sciences point to a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which occurred 11 months before Pinatubo's final eruption, as the event that triggered Pinatubo's eventual fury. This earthquake also was a major killer on the island: more than 1,600 died in the calamity. It took lives across a large swath of central Luzon, from Baguio to Cabanatuan. In Cab City, where I live, 154 died; oldsters like me, but who have been life-long residents here, still have vivid memories of that 1990 quake.
No, 1990 and 1991 were not good years for Luzonians. They are now beyond living memory for a majority of the population, which I guess is in some ways a good thing, and in some ways a not so good thing.
Pinatubo had been dormant for many hundreds of years before its recent (geologically speaking) eruptions; will it now stay quiet for hundreds of years to come? Thousands of small earthquakes beneath the volcano since January have suggested maybe not. Philvocs raised the Alert Level for Pinatubo from 0 to 1 in March, where it has remained to this day. Hopefully these are just the grumblings and tossings of an old man in the beginning phase of a long sleep.
Two days ago a friend of Jheng's brother James and cousin Michael was murdered. Jheng and James found out about it in Solano, where they had gone to ferry Uncle Sonny and Aunt Jasmine from Solano to Bongabon in the Avanza, in order to surprise the couple's daughter Trisha on her birthday. Jheng texted me that James was crying on the trip to Bongabon. It's hard for me to picture James crying.
I had met James and Michael's friend David only once, at that small resort that Javiers and Guevarras had rented for a day some weeks ago. He lived behind the duplex in a shanty next to the rice field with his two sons -- his wife passed away last year -- and drove part-time for San Miguel, a brewing company. He, James, and Michael liked to play street pool, and they got together often at the establishment of a man who owned a street pool table, where they played for small stakes. David was there with his nineteen-year-old son on Friday evening when a fight broke out between two drunk men and the owner. David and his son helped the owner to drive off the two men, who after a short while returned with a long knife and an ice pick. David bled to death as he was being driven to the hospital. His son was injured, but not badly.
And now rounds are being made to collect money so that David, a poor man even by Philippine standards, can have a decent funeral. The two men have been captured and are being held by the pulisya.
I learned of the details this morning, when Jheng, Aaron, and Janiah came by and we drove to McDonald's for breakfast. James and Michael are still shaken up by the tragedy.
The murder rate in the Philippines is higher than it is in the United States, but not by much: 6.4 killings per 100,000 yearly as opposed to the U.S.'s 5 (pre-pandemic). According to a 2014 NationMaster poll regarding whether one feels safe walking alone or walking at night, however, people in the Philippines evidently feel safer than Americans: the U.S. ranked 78th among 130 participating countries, the Philippines 57th. The propensity of some human beings to do in other human beings exists everywhere, of course. Since the pandemic began the murder number has gone up substantially here, by the way, as it has in the U.S.
And now 39-year-old David has been taken away from his sons and his friends.
Storms of the Non-Circular Variety, and Vog
Back in Massachusetts, where I have spent 54 of my 63 years, thunderstorms generally come out of the west. On very rare occasions they will come out of the south or north; they never come out of the east. They're usually associated with cold fronts. Storms may form a solid line ahead of a front, but more often they bounce about ahead of a front in individual cells.
Luzon experiences many more thunderstorms than Massachusetts does, and these buggers come from all directions. Now that the rainy season has started here, I check the Luzon doppler radar almost every afternoon. Two days ago they were traveling eastward, last week westward. Near the start of this season they were bubbling up from the south. And, yeah, I have seen them come from the north. Why? In the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere, weather is controlled by westerlies, the prevailing winds at upper levels of the atmosphere between 30 and 60 degrees north latitude all around the globe. Weather moves from west to east. The tropics, however, lack prevailing winds. The weather here is controlled by constantly shifting air masses, and the Philippines is influenced by six of these: the Northeast Monsoon, the Northeast Trade, the South Pacific Trade, the North Indian Westerlies, the South Indian Westerlies and the Temperate Zone Westerlies. Have you guessed by now that I'm something of a weather buff?
Why does so much of the tropics have wet and dry seasons? Let's rely on the dry conciseness of Britannica to explain that (I'd probably garble it up on my own):
Throughout most of the region, the cause of the seasonal cycle is the shift in the tropical circulation throughout the year. During the high-sun season, the intertropical convergence zone moves poleward and brings convergent and ascending air to these locations, which stimulates convective rainfall. During the low-sun season, the convergence zone moves off to the winter hemisphere and is replaced by the periphery or core of the subtropical anticyclone, with its subsiding, stable air resulting in a period of dry, clear weather, the intensity and length of which depend on latitude.
Now, I prefer it to be raining in the rainy season, because days without rain this time of year tend to be oppressively hot and humid. And something else: unpaved roads that are deeply rutted due to the rain make for difficult travel once those roads have dried over a couple of days into mogul-laced obstacle courses! One section of the shortcut between Jheng's place and the SM Mall, a "connector" between major roadways, is unpaved, and in the rainy season when it's been dry for a while, it is a challenge for any driver.
On another climate note, most Americans, at least most Americans who don't live in Hawaii, have never before heard of "vog," it's my bet. Filipinos have heard of it, and at various times, like this one, they have had to live with it. Vog is volcanic smog. Sulfur dioxide plumes from a volcano react with air and water droplets to form it, and Taal Volcano, south of Manila, has released several large plumes since Monday, June 28th. Now Manila and other places south of Cab City are dealing with this vog. As with ordinary smog, people with chronic respiratory conditions can have a hard time with vog, but the sulfur dioxide component of vog makes the phenomenon more dangerous for these folks than pollutant-induced smog. The government has urged people with health conditions to stay indoors.
I was about to write that Taal Volcano is releasing plumes but there has been no recent eruption. Glad I checked the news first. Two and a half hours ago there was an eruption at Taal, a phreatomagmatic eruption, which involves magma and water reacting explosively. The article goes on to say that scientists feel more eruptive behavior on the part of this volcano may be imminent. An Alert Level 3 declaration has been made (4 is the highest Alert Level). Already there is talk of another major evacuation.
Yes, Americans, We Have Vaccine Controversies, Too
The cyber-shenanigans heretofore mentioned triggered a good deal of ire on my part. It was also a little frightening. Who was messing around on my board, and how did he/she gain access to the editor's page? I changed the password; hopefully, that was all that was needed to ensure an end to such trespassing . . . .
We're off to the races. So far more than 12 million doses of various vaccines have been delivered to the Philippines, with the above numbers already injected (as of a few days ago). The government is prioritizing areas of the country to which vaccines will be delivered as they arrive; so far the Metro Manila area has received the bulk of the shipments, but innoculations are taking place throughout Luzon now. Interestingly, there seems to be no prioritizing regarding whom should get the vaccine early and whom later on.
There are, by the way, "vaccine deniers" in the Philippines, people who will refuse to get the vaccine -- mostly, as far as I can tell, for the same reasons many Americans are refusing to get the vaccine. I've chatted with a few "deniers" over here about this. Now, in a recent meeting with Covid response officials, President Duterte, in his blustery and hyperbolic way, said the following with regard to these abstainers: "Magpabakuna kayo or ipakulong ko kayo sa selda (Get yourselves vaccinated or I will put you behind bars)." Plenty of Filipinos got pretty exercised upon reading or hearing those words. But the justice secretary, as well as Duterte's own spokesperson, said that the law would not allow such a thing to happen. A health department undersecretary opined that the president's words were “borne out of passion and need…to emphasize the point that we need to get vaccinated to protect one another.” And I agree with her. The president is anxious to achieve a herd immunity for his country that is likely unachievable. As it is likely unachievable in the U.S., thanks to the, what, misinformed, unenlightened, ignorant?
Jheng's brother James is picking me up in his trike this afternoon and taking me to the duplex so that I can help celebrate a little man's birthday. There I'll talk with Jheng about hooking adult family members and me up with the shot(s) that will allow us to rest easy, coronavirus-wise.
Back from Aaron's birthday party. About twenty people were there, almost all of whom I knew, and a few of whom I got to know. Larry had come down from San Jose City with Lori and great-grandchild Ted Napoleon, and it was fine to get back together with him. Aaron showed off his new toys (I got him a Lego set), and we all sat down to a big buffet-style meal.
When I asked Jheng about getting the vaccination, she corrected something I wrote above: they are prioritizing according to age, at least in this province, and only seniors (over 60) are getting innoculated in Nueva Ecija right now. Larry has already gotten the first of two Sinovac shots. Lori says she is waiting for the Pfizer vaccine to make its way to San Jose City. With Larry's help, through a friend of his in this city, I'm getting signed up for whatever they're giving in Cab City. And Lola Denna, Jheng's grandmother and the oldest of us, is consulting with her doctor in the first week of July about whether she should take the vaccine (she is currently dealing with high blood sugar levels and low blood pressure).
Mama Luz, Des, Sonny, and all their progeny will have to wait -- hopefully not for long!
Now That's Funny . . . .
A blog entry I wrote a few days ago -- concerning a topic some Filipinos consider sensitive -- has been mysteriously deleted. I prefer to be my own censor here: it is time for a new password, for sure.
We're on the cusp of the rainy season here. Mango trees in the neighborhood are laden with yellow-orange fruit. Some afternoons are simply hot, somnolent; others, made dark by low-hanging clouds, are punctuated with the distant burblings and closeby (or overhead) rattapallax of lightning storms. About three quarters of Cabanatuan's yearly rain falls in the second half of June, July, August, and the first half of September. The city receives on average 73 inches of rain per year (Boston receives 42 inches), so these hundred-odd days are very wet indeed. Right about now is the time to make sure one has a sturdy umbrella as well as a backup umbrella!
Independence Day in the Philippines, June 12, commemorates the day in 1898 when Emilio Aguinaldo and several other revolutionary leaders proclaimed the islands to be a free and sovereign state no longer under Spanish rule. Then, of course, thanks to American machinations, it all fell apart. Behind the backs of the revolutionary leaders the United States paid Spain 20 million dollars, and Spain ceded the archipelago to the U.S.: Filipinos found themselves in the thrall of yet another colonial power. Near the end of his instructions to his emissaries in the Philippines at the close of the Spanish-American war, President McKinley wrote, "Incidental to our tenure in the Philippines is the commercial opportunity to which American statesmanship cannot be indifferent. It is just to use every legitimate means for the enlargement of American trade." England had Singapore and Hong Kong. France had much of Indochina. Now the U.S. had its own foothold in the Far East.
Many back in America, among them William Jennings Bryan and Mark Twain, were strident in their protest against a land grab they considered to be most illegitimate. The Filipino revolutionaries, for their part, fought a short and futile war against the American expeditionary force. And for the next forty years of American "older brother" rule, and three years of very unpleasant Japanese rule, the Filipino people waited for the chance to govern themselves.
Ah, I was going to write a few words about the upcoming holiday and descended into thumbnail history! Anyway, the sloughing off of one colonial power, and the declaration of a new state, were deemed to be the crucial turnaround in Filipino aspirations; the proclamation read at Aguinaldo house in Kawit, Cavite at the entrance to Manila Bay on June 12, 1898, would mark Independence Day in the Philippines, it was decided. U.S. politicians determined that the Treaty of Manila, in which the U.S. relinquished control of the islands to the Filipino people in 1946, would be signed on July 4; Filipino politicians had the chance of sharing an independence day with America, but they would have none of that.
The flag of the Philippines, first unfurled on that June day in 1898, is out in abundance now. . . . There are no festivities, however, and there were none last year, thanks to the Covid pandemic.
Bits & Pieces
. . . are all I have to offer you this time round. There was a kerfluffle between SimpleSite and me, which apparently involved a third party in the form of a hacker; if you have not been able to log on here over the last few days, that's the reason. I'm back, new security code and all.
* Warnings that Cab City might be hit by a tropical storm a couple of days ago came to nought as Dante (int'l name Choi-wan) broke apart as it proceeded south to north up the islands. We experienced little more than a dank and drizzly day. It did reform north of Luzon and at this writing is at the southern tip of Taiwan.
* New cases of Covid are increasing outside of Metro Manila; the large Mindanao city of Davao has been placed under GQ (General Quarantine). News about the vaccines has been scarce, but it seems there is a move afoot to provide at least the indigent of the country with vaccines free of charge.
* Due to the demands made on Luzon's power grid in the hot summer weather, rolling brownouts are occurring across the island. In Cabanatuan we've been inconvenienced twice so far; during one I went to the mall (which has a generator), and during the other I read in the car.
* Cabanatuan is about to get its first Domino's pizza joint at the WalterMart in the center of town. Such news would not be worthy of notice in this blog, were it not for the fact that Jheng's cousin, our good buddy Mich, will be the general manager of this establishment! If you've been reading at this site forever, you may remember that she was a manager at the Chatime teashop in the SM Mall, then was a traveling overseer of managers for the same company. Early in the pandemic Chatime started to have big trouble paying its employees on a regular basis, and Mich broke cleanly from them. She has been selling tea concoctions since then from the duplex, always with her ear out for the right hire notice in food services. She passed some sort of test Domino's wanted her to take, and is now training for a month in Bulacan! Domino's Cabanatuan opens at the end of June.
* Mariel, Jheng's sister (and her junior by 13 years), was awarded "Cream of the Crop" status by her high school for her academic achievement during 11th grade. Only a very few students in each grade receive this honor. Mariel? Huh? That easygoing, joshing romantic? The family and I take real pleasure in the dedication she brings to her studies; we're proud of her.
* And a-way over there (I point eastward), across a gob-smacking expanse of salty water, one T. Rump works increasingly hard at undermining an increasingly fragile-looking democracy. Unlike the news here, the news there is startling, and increasingly frightening. Uckfay that ickdhead. Sincerely.
Oy! It seems more text was cut here. Could this be a SimpleSite glitch? Along with the more recent posting? Will contact those hombres. Won't do any patchwork; you can guess how this posting began. Its title was "Swimming Again." (And it's a happy accident that a pig's head now follows words about our former misbegotten leader.)
I spent a solid hour on my back in the water, sculling here and there. Aaron, Janniah, and Michael's daughters occasionally steered me. Shallow pool, but it had been well over a year since I'd been in the water, and I wasn't complaining.
At the resort I made the acquaintance of Mirasol's baby boy Amira, a very serene presence throughout my time there. The head pork, fish, and noodles were delicious. Lola Denna was down with a stomach bug, and so the wife of the man we were commemorating could not join us, unfortunately. The hours with these people who had befriended me long ago sailed by. Jheng had a meeting with Lara's teacher in the middle of the afternoon, and I took the opportunity to catch a ride home with her.
And yesterday Jheng ferried Sonny and Jasmine back to Solano in the Avanza -- a more comfortable ride up than they had down.
Jheng's last two weeks have been difficult ones. A cough turned into a wheezing cough, a shortness of breath, and a tightening in the chest. She finally went to the emergency room; seems she has not only a bronchial infection but also a resurgence of the asthma she had as a child. She has meds, nebulizer meds, and an inhaler for when she goes out now. Every morning is a fight to cough up . . . the gunk.
She is still helping the children keep abreast of their schoolwork, but Mama Luz has forbidden her from doing any housework. This morning, returning from a breakfast run, I found her and Lara in my room: there was no electricity at the duplex due to an electrical substation mishap in Barangay Bantug Norte, and she needed a nebulizer treatment, so she and her daughter had come where there was electricity.
President Duterte's announcement several months ago that the Covid vaccine would be free for everyone, it seems at this writing, has been walked back to a promise that agencies procuring the vaccine will not make any profit from their efforts. Now that's a big walk-back. The Philippine Red Cross has completed a deal with Moderna for 20 million doses of their vaccine; the cost of a two-dose treatment for a Filipino will be P3,500 (about $72). The average annual salary for a Filipino is P182,400, which puts this one treatment at about a week's pay. As for the millions of Filipinos who make significantly less than the average salary or who are indigent, the government has not announced any program to get these people vaccinated.
Which makes me think at this point it's better than even money that this country's effort to vaccinate its people could turn out to be a colossal failure. If developed countries don't step up in a very big way, it seems to me, Third World countries, countries whose governments cannot afford to vaccinate their citizens, may well become vast breeding grounds of Covid variants for decades to come. North, the South is gonna need big help if you really want to snuff this thing.
Getting Tired of Biding Time
Oy, it's been a while. Sorry about that. We haven't been placed in Enhanced Community Quarantine (lockdown) as a city, but new cases are rising here, and one street in my barangay of Bitas has been locked down: 20 cases among the residents there instigated the measure. Food is trucked in. In Manila, on the other hand, the number of new cases has decreased -- which may bode well for us to the north. Manila has grown stricter in enforcing the mask mandate; violators can now be arrested and detained by the polisya. Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar "said he will not allow arresting officers to parade the violators around or require them to do push-ups," the Manila Times reports.
My hard drive "got fried" a few days ago; my downloads were all lost. Bought a new box from my friend Michael, who sells computers and cars, and was happy to find out that my speed has improved.
Don-Don has told me that 10 cats are way too many, and that my place smelled (gee, and I've been using air freshener). As I write this Jheng and Mariel are cleaning the place from top to bottom. Jheng is all business, while Mariel swings about to the beat of the contemporary Filipino music I'm playing as she sweeps and sponges. On a notecard I've written what will go on a sign that Mariel and maybe Lara will prepare, offering free kittens (aged 9 months and 10 weeks) to good homes. With the loan of a cage by Don-Don, I'll put them on display for the residents of Bitas. Hopefully there will be a number of takers.
It's high summer here, about a month away from the rainy season, and afternoons are steamy and hot. Temps over the next two days are expected to reach 38 degrees C, which is a little over 100 F. Indoor weather, for sure; I feel for the construction workers, linemen, et al who have to work in this stuff.
Happily, the latest falling Chinese space debris did not squash an African village. Russia has not invaded Ukraine. And Joe Biden looks like he has a chance of making some very positive and lasting changes to benefit average Americans. Never thought he would be this progressive a POTUS.
The women have returned to the duplex after enjoying a bucket of chicken with me (yes, American reader, we have KFC here). No tutoring session today; I'll continue my march through episodes of "Star Trek the Next Generation," a series I had no time to watch during its seven-year run. I do like that Picard.
The Republican Party Has Fallen, and It Can't Get Up
Hmm. Missing text here, too . . . .
All's well here. High school junior Mariel made the honor roll again, Jheng still ferries longganisa up to Talavera, the children are busy at their modules, and the cats all seem to be doing well (each morning I tell them, "It's your mess. Pick it up. And they don't). As for me, I seem to have all my strength back after that weird bout of pneumonia.
Lockdowns in various parts of the country continue; they have not yet been imposed anywhere in central Luzon, but the surge in cases of Covid has not slowed down. In my province of Nueva Ecija, police bureaus have set up dozens of food pantries to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Cabanatuan City had 258 active cases of the virus on April 24 -- a record number, I think. The family and I are "taking all precautions."
A Surge in Cases
In this country, the first real surge in Covid-19 cases began about five weeks ago. Since that time, the number of daily cases reported has roughly doubled. Some areas south of Cabanatuan have been placed back on Enhanced Community Quarantine restrictions; the South African and Brazilian strains of the virus have been identified in and around Manila, and since these more communicable variants are likely to creep north, as the original virus did a year ago, it would not be surprising to see Cab City go under ECQ in the near future. Ah, quarantine passes, police checkpoints, and canned-food meals again!
The total death toll of the virus in the Philippines is 15,594 today, according to worldometer. The total death toll in the U.S. is 578,993. Deaths per million of the U.S. population stand at 1,741; the figure for the Philippines is 141. I hadn't punched up the worldometer numbers for quite a while; they are really driving home for me what a calamity this virus has been for my country. It seems right to me that the country that has suffered the most from this pandemic should have dibs on a lion's share of available vaccines and get them into arms ASAP. And once supply outstrips demand in the U.S., one senses the current administration in Washington will be generous in its efforts to get the world vaccinated.
Speaking of vaccinations, shots for the general population in the Philippines now won't be available, we are told, until sometime in July. When we do start the shots for everyone, the government expects to provide 300,000 doses per week. Talking with friends, I've learned there may be a considerable number of anti-vaxxers here; I hope the government will get the media behind it and educate the public about these vaccines . . . .
It's been a while. I'm okay now.
After ten days of discomfort -- headaches, coughing, tight chest, fever -- I decided it was time for the full monty checkup at Good Sam: ECG, chest x-ray, dengue and typhoid tests, a CBC. Negatory on the dengue and typhoid, thank you on high, but too many white blood cells nonetheless. Then the chest x-ray came back, indicating pneumonia.
I walked into Good Sam with walking pneumonia three and a half years ago, on my second full day in the Philippines -- Jheng accompanied me, as she did today. The long plane flight had worn me down, or I had caught something on the flight: at any rate, the doctor prescribed an antibiotic called cefuroxime in horse pill form, and I notice that is what today's doc has provided me with, in addition to another antibiotic, something else I have to dissolve in water, and vitamin B-complex pills.
My recovery three and a half years ago was relatively fast: if memory serves me, within three or four days I was feeling close to normal. Of course, I'm hoping that proves to be the case this time around, as well.
I've been slumming for nearly a week now, thanks to a one-two punch. Contracted what apparently was a ronovirus, which I guess weakened the body's immune system and put me in touch with another malady. This one offers headaches, a tight chest, and a low-grade fever. Ah the tropics!
I did have two errands to run today, and this morning I sat my surly self down next to Jheng, who kindly chauffered me to a veterinary clinic and to the post office. I carried in a cat-carrier the white male Ubo, who is in need of a castration. He's coming of age, as are his sisters, and the last thing I need are more litters! I knew he would get a blood test first to determine his eligibility for the operation; then we would schedule an appointment for the neutering. Well, a CBC showed that Ubo's platelets are too low. He eats well! Anemic? The vet wanted me to come back in two hours to pick up medicine that would boost Ubo's platelet count. Later, after getting home, I realized I really wasn't up to that. Sleep. Hopefully Jheng can pick up the medicine for me tomorrow.
Went to the post office to mail to the Massachusetts Department of Education an affidavit testifying to my status as a living person. Public school teacher retirees must do this every two years in order to receive their pension. . . . And I do need that pension.
We're rapidly moving toward the Philippine summer here, which starts April 1 and continues until the rains arrive in mid-June. Afternoon temps are already well into the 90's F. Jheng wangled air conditioning for one room on her side to the duplex; you go, girl!
A Few Virus Snippets from Phlipside
**The "new case" line for Covid-19 in the Philippines has been climbing pretty steeply for the last 6 weeks, and the government is putting a halt to all international arrivals starting on March 20. Filipino overseas workers will also be denied entry.
**Vaccines for the general population will start at the end of April, according to the government. Vax for front-line workers have already started.
**A new variant of the Covid virus was discovered recently in the Central Visayas of the Philippines. Its virulence, transmissibility, and possible vaccine-resistance have not yet been assessed. Two cases with this variant have already been identified in the UK.
**In other virus news, the African swine flu, a bug which cannot be transmitted to humans, is decimating the hog industry in many parts of Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. Yesterday, the Philippine Senate appealed to President Duterte to declare a state of national calamity over the issue, so that relief can be directed toward the nation's hog farmers. Seventy percent of this industry is comprised of small, backyard operations.
Happy St. Patrick's Day to all.
It's Why the Ancient Egyptians Worshipped Them
I was going to wait until the above kittens were weaned before getting Boudicca spayed. Had read that spaying could damage mammary glands and wanted none of that. Mammals don't get pregnant while lactating, anyway, was my thought, and so Boudicca was in the clear while the milk still flowed. When she started getting large again, I worried about tumors. A couple of days later, when I noticed her teats had turned dark, I tapped into Google "mammals/lactation/pregnancy." Turns out a very few of the large mammals can get pregnant while lactating. Giraffes, for one. . . . And cats.
There was nothing to do about it but wait; about two weeks ago I started hearing the telltale mewing under the king-sized bed. Boudicca had grown very large indeed during her pregnancy, and I was expecting at least four or five little critters. When I came in the door after shopping one day last week, she had them all feeding on the bed, and there were seven of them. Seven. I cleared out the large bottom drawer of the wardrobe and found a couple of old shirts to lay down in it, then transferred the family to the drawer. Boudicca seems to like the arrangement.
I didn't notice that one of the kits was badly losing in the sucking contest, and overnight a few days ago that kit died. Perhaps it died for some other reason, who knows? Sad day. The six remaining kittens will need homes; I'm already putting feelers out. And Boudicca will remain in the bedroom until she gets spayed.
In other news, Aaron and Mariel are feeling fine now. Both are busy with their schoolwork. Jheng drove up to Nueva Vizcaya a few days ago to ferry Sonny and Jasmine down to Cabanatuan for Sonny's forty-first birthday; it had been a more than a year since I'd last seen Jheng's uncle and aunt. As I type this, Jheng is on the road bringing them back.
Mariel and Aaron are comfortable; all symptoms of dengue have disappeared from both of them. Mariel is busy making up schoolwork, while Aaron is kept to a slow pace making up his modules, with the blessing of his teachers, during the two weeks of bedrest ordered by his doctor.
Twice the Health Office has thoroughly fogged the duplex and sprayed its surroundings. We hope the dengue-carrying mosquitoes, along with any hatchlings and eggs, have been eradicated.
The beautiful young lady above is Jazzlyn Denice Domingo, and she was baptized the day before yesterday. Traditionally in the culture here, those baptized into the Catholic Church are assigned three godparents (ninong/ninang) by their families: if it's a boy, two godfathers and one godmother, and if it's a girl, two godmothers and one godfather. But there is no limit to the number of godparents a child can have, and Jazzlyn's mom Des and her grandmom Lola Cita are not traditionalists: Jazzlyn has 14 godfathers and 14 godmothers. I'm one of the godfathers, and of course I attended her christening at Dambana Church in Barangay Magsaysay Norte.
Lola Cita and Des have been friends of mine for years now. An intersection in Barangay Bitas has Fred's Hotel on one corner, the function hall of Fred's on another corner, the Raguindin family home where I now live on a third corner, and Lola Cita's sari-sari store and eatery on the remaining corner. Lola Cita's given name is Rosita and before last year I called her Dona Cita (tilde on the "n"), but when she became a grandmother the honorific changed to "Lola" (after Mirah was born last year, I became a "lolo.")
I was to pick up Lola Cita and a neighborhood friend of hers at 9:30 am. Parked in front of the closed sari-sari at 9:30 sharp, wearing long dress pants and my best shirt, and waited. Waited twenty minutes. Had forgotten to take into acount we're on Filipino time here. Des, her husband Jrm (I'm spelling that right), and little Jazzlyn left in their own air-conditioned ride, and finally Lola Cita and her friend (one of the 14 ninangs) showed up.
The Dambana Church (more formally known as The Our Mother of Perpetual Help Church) is a large wooden pavilion-style church, very much appealing really. We sat two to a pew, as instructed, and after a while a prayer lady came out with a microphone. "Prayer ladies" are one aspect of the 72 Philippine diocese that set them apart from all the other Catholic diocese in the world. These very pious women are usually attached to churches, wear normal clothes, and are respected for their ascetic lifestyle and the quality of their prayers. This prayer lady leaned on a table next to a pew in the front row and spoke at times lightly, at times fervently in Tagalog for the better part of an hour. Then there was a break during which we all waited for the priest to arrive.
My pewmate, a young man who was a friend of Jrm, introduced himself to me as John, and then asked me if I were Catholic. I said no, and he said he too was not a Catholic: he had converted to the Baptist belief at the age of fifteen. I asked him a question or two about that but didn't want to have the appearance of prying. It seems his conversion did not raise a major ruckus in his family. I spoke of my own Episcopalian childhood, and he had some questions about Episcopalianism. The Episcopalian Church is quite small in the Philippines, whereas the Baptists here have made the greatest inroads among the Protestant faiths and number about 600,000. Catholics make up 83% of the church-going public, far outnumbering Protestants, Moslems, and Buddhists combined.
After about 45 minutes the priest arrived, and with his fine stentorian voice he delivered the ritual of baptism in Tagalog. Little Jazzlyn, sleeping now after a warm bottle, got dowsed, woke up, and grimaced at the world. Then it was time for photos.
It Could Have Been Much Worse
Aaron had "severe" dengue; that is, he had been bitten by two different species of dengue-carrying mosquito. The mosquito genus responsible for dengue has four species, I've read, and if a person is infected twice with different virus serotypes -- that is, virus from two of these mosquito species -- the result is a dengue with a special wallop, known simply as severe dengue. Mariel did not have severe dengue, but she was in much pain (as most are with either form of dengue); Aaron appeared to have the symptoms of a flu bug, did not seem to be in much pain. I certainly have more respect for a mother's intuition now than I had last week: Jheng sensed there was something other than flu affecting Aaron, acted on that sense, and may well have saved her son's life.
The severe dengue caused Aaron to go into shock, which may be the reason he did not seem to be in much pain. If Jheng had been later in getting him checked, this "compensated shock" could easily have cascaded into "decompensated shock," a condition that is very difficult to treat and that fairly often, if I've read this medical verbiage correctly, results in death.
Aaron was released yesterday. Due to Covid, only Jheng and her mother had been allowed in the hospital during Aaron and Mariel's stays there. I saw him today, and we had a good hug. Saw Mariel too; she is weak but pain-free. Aaron is consigned to bedrest for two weeks, after which he will see his doctor for a checkup. Little man. And the duplex and its surroundings have been "fogged" twice now by the Health Office.