Swamped with Omicron
Based on reports I'm reading and watching, America seems indeed swamped with this oh-so-communicable bug variant. How many consecutive days have you been above half a million new daily cases? Hospital admissions are up 40%, mostly thanks to the folks who have opted not to get vaccinated, and many northeastern hospitals have put a kibosh on elective surgeries, for the time being. There is a shortage of Covid tests, the CDC is having trouble getting its story straight, teacher unions and school boards are at loggerheads . . . . Here in the Philippines, there is no shortage of tests, but one must pay for a test; the Department of Health has not yet tripped over itself in setting out guidelines; and the pilot program in face-to-face learning was quickly abandoned once Omicron made its presence known in the country. Omicron has not yet swamped these sunny islands, but it is getting up a head of steam here: daily cases are now above 30,000, and Omicron has been detected in most provinces of the big island of Luzon.
A few days ago I posted about a Cabanatuan friend who was found to be Covid-positive while visiting in Manila; that person is now stuck in the city, about halfway through a mandatory 14-day quarantine. It amounted to little more than a bad cold; the friend no longer has symptoms, but is still compelled to stay put. Why was this posting taken down? W-a-a-ll, I'd texted the friend asking if I could write about this troubling experience, and after not getting a response for a few hours, typed out the posting. I finally did hear from the friend, who asked me for anonymity: some family members were still not aware of the situation. So I quickly deleted what I'd written, feeling a bit chagrined.
My friend's predicament reminds me of my own entrapment in San Jose City during the strict Luzon-wide lockdown in the spring of 2020. Unexpected changes in travel plans, according to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., should be viewed as "dancing lessons from God." I wonder whether a certain Chinese lady named Wang, whose short videos concerning her own experience in a lockdown in the city of Zhengzhou have gone viral over much of East Asia, would consider these past few days a dancing lesson for her. You see, she visited the city to meet with a blind date at his apartment; he wanted to show off his cooking skills for her. Cases of Omicron had been detected in the city that day, unfortunately, and while she was at her blind date's place, a strict lockdown was put in place. She has now spent more than a week at this man's apartment, and the videos make it pret-ty clear that she does not consider the two of them to be a match.
On another note, throughout the Philippines, road checkpoints manned by army personnel have recently been set up. These are not Covid-related: they are overseen by COMELEC, the election commission of the Philippines government. From four months before a national election to one month after an election these checkpoints enforce the 150-day ban on the carrying or transporting of guns and other deadly weapons. If you're caught with a gun at one of these checkpoints, you're looking at one to six years behind bars. In the Philippines, one can buy a gun after a background check; one can pack a gun with an easily acquired carry permit. But not during these 150 days.
Why not? There is a political subculture in the Philippines that is saddled with honor codes and intense displeasure with political rivals: violence and politics have walked hand-in-hand since the beginning of the republic. The 1971 election had 905 politically motivated killings, believe it or not; in elections in the first ten years of the new millenium, the number killed stayed below 400 for each election -- then COMELEC decided these checkpoints, as well as other surveillance procedures, were needed to reduce the number of deaths further.
There were 73 killings in the 2018 midterms, 192 in the 2016 general elections. One senses a gradual quelling of murderous intent over the political landscape. And one wonders what the coming weeks will bring.
Omicron Has Arrived Phlipside
It can only be that. New daily cases were less than 300 a few days ago; yesterday 5,434 new cases were documented. And since New Years Day the rise of this particular figure has been exponential.
There is no ballyhooing in the local news yet about Omicron's incursion, but the government sat up and took notice: several of Luzon's provinces, including Nueva Ecija, had their Covid Alert Level raised from 2 to 3 yesterday. Aw, that means the kidzoona playground at the mall, which has been open only since last week and which I had been hoping to bring the kidz to this week, . . . is now closed again. Heck, no one under 18 will be allowed in the entire mall for the time being. Restaurants and shops will be limited to 1/3 capacity. In-person classes out the window. Gatherings in residences with individuals not belonging to the same household verboten. Are face shields back? They're not in the "alert literature"; I should check with Jheng.
It was going to be: sooner or later was the only question. And sooner is better. Judging by the way this variant is acting in other countries, I think we'll be in the clear Phlipside for most of February. New daily infection rates in South Africa are now 1/8 of what they were in the second week of December.
In other news, Marcos, Jr., is leading in the race for the presidency in every poll; Sara Duterte in the race for the vice presidency, ditto. Lordy.
Isko Moreno, mayor of Manila and underdog presidential candidate, might have earned my vote (if I could vote) with his recent TV ad:
There is another version to the above, which I prefer, in which the candidate gives us a long sulking look from the trike to close the ad, and smiles not once throughout the ad (I guess advisors nixed it; can't find it anywhere now).
Pasco sa San Jose City
Arriving about midday on the 24th, Jheng, Lara, and I left Aaron and Janiah with Larry and picked up Lori for a bout of "heavy shopping." San Jose City's WalterMart was crammed with cars and had a line of cars waiting for a spot, so we headed up to the SaveMore, where we were able to park across the street. We loaded up a number of baskets and brought it all back to the house. Cooking was soon underway in the kitchen at the back of the house; later, on the veranda, two of Larry's older grandsons set up a grill and cooked some more.
Larry and I, after the prep was finished, spent most of our time on the veranda, drinking beer and nibbling fish provided by Lori. Both Lori and Larry are working supporters of the presidential candidate "Bongbong" Marcos, Ferdinand's son; they believe another strongman like Duterte is what the Philippines needs -- so we talked about Marcos and the other candidates for a while. Relatives and friends of Larry and Lori dropped by with Christmas greetings, I delivered red envelopes to the youngsters, and the night unrolled peacefully; surprisingly, Larry did not break out the karaoke gear. At midnight we started the real eating; Jheng's chicken alfredo was my favorite.
Stuffed and sleepy, sometime after 1am I let Jheng take me back to the Maiya Hotel (I'd checked in earlier), and went to sleep sometime after 2. The bonging of St. Joseph the Worker Cathedral's bell woke me at 5:30. Mass. Then the amplified voices of priests and singers kept me awake. A sorish throat I'd experienced the day before had now been joined by a persistent cough. The family was traveling to Llanera on Christmas Day to visit Larry's cousins, and I'd been invited; I realized a foreigner with a cough in the days of Covid could freak some people out, though, and I texted Jheng that I would have to beg off on the day's festivities, explaining my situation. So I watched a movie from my bed, slept for four hours, then watched a couple more movies. Had the hotel's longganisa for breakfast, and a lovely chicken stew in a gravy made tangy and sour by sliced winter melons for dinner. Yes, it was a solitary Christmas, but a very restful one.
And now I'm back, cough and sniffles behind me. We returned on the 26th; Lara had an appointment for her second shot on the 27th. Omicron has yet to make an appearance in the Philippines, and daily new cases of coronavirus have been under 300 for a while. It's good to see that the Imperial College's study of Omicron (referenced in the posting below this one) seems to be faulty. The experience in Europe and America confirms that Omicron spreads like wildfire, but the number of hospitalizations shows that this variant is not nearly as virulent as Delta.
And will Omicron close out this pandemic? Hey, who knows. I guess 2022 knows, but that guy's mouth is shut for now.
A Storm, Online Shenanigans, Omicron Wistfulness
On Dec. 16 Supertyphoon Odette (intl. name Rai) made landfall at Surigao on the northern tip of Mindanao, and proceeded to crash into the Visayas (the islands between Mindanao and Luzon). Non-Filipino readers, you have probably heard of this one: the devastation was that bad. Surigao, the Dinagats, Southern Leyte, and Panaon experienced 150 mph winds; farther along to the west, Bohol, Cebu, and Negros Oriental were battered by the winds of a Category 4 cyclone rather than a Category 5. There are stories of residents climbing to their rooftops, climbing trees to escape the storm surge. As I write this, most of the southern Visayas is still without power. The death toll stands at 381, and that is expected to rise: some isolated villages have still not been reached by authorities.
Jheng has relatives who live on Leyte. Her father called her from Manila with the news that they are all safe -- but their homes had been damaged and they are currently living in an evacuation facility. Seems they won't be having a happy Christmas. At least they are safe.
Sunday morning an email sent from my bank gave me an instantaneous tension headache. Someone with a name completely unfamiliar to me had hacked into my online account with the bank and made off with P4,000 (about $80 American). The BDO (Banco de Oro) folks thought the withdrawal looked suspicious; hence the email.
JHENG! Not only Jheng but also little Aaron traveled with me to the BDO branch at the SM Mall, where a bank rep dialed up probably a rep in Manila and handed the phone to me. I answered all the questions she posed to make sure I was who I claimed I was, then handed over the phone to Jheng, who explained the situation in Tagalog, as well as my request that online access to the account be locked. She said she would lock it then, and that I would still be able to use my card at the ATM.
Aaron had joined us because two days before the prohibition on taking children below the age of 12 to stores had been lifted, and Aaron had not visited the mall for more than a year. We asked him what he would like to have for lunch. Pizza! And so we walked over to Shakey's.
Over lunch Jheng explained to me that there had been reports in the news of other online thefts involving customers of BDO, the largest bank in the country. Which got me thinking that my money might be more safely deposited elsewhere.
Looking back over the posting below this one, I recall other occasions during which I had been infested with false optimism. Cases of Omicron in South Africa appear to be peaking in their 4th week, and this peak is way higher than all the other SA coronavirus peaks. Yet hospitalizations have not been nearly as high as they were on the other peaks, and the number of deaths has been far, far below what they were on the other peaks. In other words, there is a clear implication, based on South African data, that Omicron is not nearly as pathogenic as Delta.
Now a new study is out from the Imperial College, London. They compared the experiences of 11,000 Omicron patients to those of 200,000 Delta patients . . . and found that Omicron was no less virulent, no less severe, than Delta! If these findings are accurate we are in hot water for sure, because Omicron is at least twice as transmissible as Delta, and because Omicron readily infects both the vaccinated and the naturally immunized.
I'm sincerely hoping there are flaws in this Imperial College study; it so roundly contradicts what South Africa has already experienced with Omicron! Well, time will tell, eh?
To all who read here, may the coming days bring you peace and happiness. Maligayang Pasco!
Luck & Prosperity
are what the writing on the red envelopes I bought promises me. These are the best of times AND the worst of times, however; it's unlikely I'll receive both. Omicron days stretch ahead of us, so I'm opting for prosperity: two days of sniffles and a headache I can afford.
The word is out: omicron is to bestow upon each of us the blessed gift of immunity and stop delta in its tracks. The positivity rate in South Africa is 24.9% and the variant is "massively transmissive" -- not because we've been unusually clever but because we've landed some unusual good fortune, according to Dr. John Campbell of youtube fame, who pegs the doubling rate at 2.5 days. This new steward of the coronavirus presents in patients with symptoms described by these two words: very mild. As John puts it, in his lovely accent, we'll all be breathing easier soon. Unmitigated good.
It's about damned time, isn't it? How many do you know who have escaped hospital ventilation over the last two years? How many nights have you spent worrying about someone? Now think: that's all a part of the past. A past we'd all sooner forget than not.
Back in the Saddle
Jheng has been running all my errands for the last two and a half weeks. Her own depression, after her husband suddenly passed away, lasted for months; her attentive and sympathetic care has been a windfall-blessing to me. Now my circadian rhythms are returning -- glad to have them back, let me tell you. I feel good to go.
Go I will tomorrow morning with Jheng to the clinic for my last round of rabies jabs. Yes, I thought the fourth round could be skipped if the dog were well, and the dog is well, but Cabanatuan clinics, unlike San Jose City clinics, require one to go through a fourth round. I guess nothing more to worry about on that front, at any rate!
After the clinic we'll head into town for Christmas shopping and some much-needed clothes shopping for me.
The Black Dog
Winston Churchill was subject to bouts of depression, which he called "the black dog." Back when my marriage was failing, more than twenty years ago, I had three depressive episodes; after these was depression-free for more than twenty years -- until four days ago. I don't know what triggered it; I do know this thing will likely last two or three weeks, and I won't have any desire to add to this blog during that time.
My doctor at Medical City has put me on a medication. Don't worry: I'll be back!
Injection News and Let's See, What Else
I go in for my third round of the rabies vaccine tomorrow; the dog seems fine. It's a cat that is bugging me. Yesterday Boudicca blew past me at the apartment door, then somehow found her way outside; this has happened twice before, and both times she showed up on the doorstep two or three days later. . . . So Bob is anxious and all over me.
Covid booster shots are now available for medical personnel and will soon be available for oldsters; Jheng is keeping an eye out for me. Jheng and Mariel have received two shots and Mama Luz one of a two-dose vaccine; James is going in for his first soon. Vaccinations for children 12-17 began recently; those for 5-11 year olds will be available very early in 2022, according to the news.
And, 20 months after they closed, some schools in the Philippines reopened on Monday! One hundred twenty schools in a few provinces, to be more precise: this is a pilot program designed, if I'm not mistaken, to give officials an idea of transmission rates before all the schools are opened. Face masks and face shields are a must for students and staff in these chosen schools, desks are outfitted with plastic shielding, and no more than fifteen students are allowed in a classroom at a time -- which makes the school day uncommonly short for students, but uncommonly long for teachers.
Full Covid regalia is still required for people going out on the town in Cabanatuan, even though the face shield requirement has been dropped in most of Metro Manila. I do hope the mayor here drops the shield requirement soon; the thing is bulky and a little disorienting! Over the entire country, daily new cases have been below 2,000 for the last six days; no sign here of the upticks in cases currently occurring in Europe and in some American states.
In Phlipside politics, there have been interesting new developments. President Duterte, who had said he was quitting politics only a month or two ago, has now declared he will run to become a senator in the 2020 election (the constitution forbids him from running for a second term as president). He cited "unfinished business" as his reason for running. And his daughter Sara, after saying she was not interested in national office, has decided not to seek another term as mayor of Davao but to run for vice president! She quit her regional political party and joined the party of . . . Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, currently running for president.
Gee whiz, huh? American reader, recall that this does not mean Ms. Duterte is running on a ticket that receives people's votes; the presidency and vice presidency are voted upon separately in the Philippines. She has allied herself with Marcos, but her political destiny in this election is not tied to his. And as for the current prez, he will be running for the Senate not as one runs for the Senate in the U.S. The Philippines is a democracy, but it is not a federation: contenders for the Senate here do not run to represent a province or a region; they run to represent everyone (in the House, about 80% of the members do represent a district, and are voted in by their district's population). Twelve of the twenty-four seats in the Senate are up for grabs next May, and the president will be running with what 2 or 3 days ago were 178 other senatorial aspirants. In May, the 12 contenders who receive the highest number of votes from all the voters in the Philippines will become the country's newest 12 senators.
It is interesting, how democracy can be done in different ways. I don't know very much about the parliamentary system, in which prime ministers can opt for, or be forced into, declaring elections; it's something I should learn more about. But democracy in general seems an increasingly fragile thing in this 21st century world, doesn't it? These days many democratic goverments are facing serious authoritarian challenges from without (think China) and from within (think America). "Democracies in name only" (think Russia, Belarus, Venezuela, Hungary, Turkey, Iran) seem to be multiplying. Do I worry about these trends? Sometimes I do. Who that has seen democracy, even a flawed democracy, work wouldn't?
The first of three or four trips to the clinic for the rabies vaccine. Had been hefting trash through the compound, and this excited the family dogs. One nipped me, and I looked down to see a very small puncture wound on my left leg, with a smidgen of blood. Aiza went through the dogs' papers, found that while their German shepherd had been vaccinated against rabies, the one that nipped me, a female that had recently given birth to a litter, hadn't. Aiza and Don-Don offered to take me to the clinic, but I opted for Jheng, who was on the premises cleaning my apartment with Mariel. I don't hold anything against the dog; new dog moms can be jittery, sometimes quick with their teeth. What an unflattering photo! Jheng took it on the sly as one of three shots in the first round was delivered -- and they did not hurt as much as my expression here suggests. Three more visits to the clinic for more jabs have been scheduled.
Longtime readers of this blog will remember I went through this once before in San Jose City, where I was holed-up for the duration of the 3-month country-wide lockdown a year and a half ago (3rd floor, 3.25.20). That dog, belonging to the owner of the sari-sari store next door to the hotel where I was staying, was plain evil, but it turned out not to be rabid; my fourth round of the vaccine was canceled when the dog was found to be healthy after 14 days. If the same is true for the Raguindin dog, this fourth round, scheduled for Dec. 11, will also be canceled.
Human deaths caused by rabies in the U.S. since 1960 have not exceeded one or two per year, most of them caused by wild animals: bats, raccoons. It is alien enough and exotic enough Stateside to be used as fodder by Stephen King for one of his novels. What also attracted King, no doubt, are the facts that, without the intercession of the vaccine during its incubation period, the virus almost invariably kills its host, and the death is a very, very unpleasant one. The Philippines has one-third of America's population, but 200-300 people die of rabies each year here (the vast majority after being bitten by a rabid dog). Why? The number of dogs and cats vaccinated against rabies over here comes nowhere close to the 70% needed for -- I'll say it -- herd immunity; and so there are pools of rabies-positive Fidos and Graymalkins throughout the islands.
Pets get shots in the U.S.; not many Phlipside do . . . which is why the bitten and the clawed here get shots.
Happy Birthday, Des!
Birthday cakes that exhibit raunch are currently trending in the Philippines, and Des's cake, at the birthday party for her 50th, certainly passed muster! What is this bouquet of cash she holds in her other hand? A present from her daughters, Mich and Mira. Her son Michael's gift was a venue that could hold her many, many friends for the celebration. Des, you may remember, is Jheng's aunt and Luz's sister; she lives with Mich next door to Jheng and Luz in the duplex on the Aurora Highway.
I'd loaned the car to Jheng on Wednesday so that party prep could be handled more efficiently, and she came with sister Mariel early the next afternoon to take me to the party. Toted along a bottle of Johnny Walker Black (Des is an enthusiastic drinker, and no better gift had come to my mind).
The party was in the walled Goldenville Subdivision, just down the street from the duplex, on the grounds of a mansion that contained a swimming pool and a very large, covered veranda. The owner of the place spends much of his time in the U.S. and has his caretaker rent out the grounds for parties such as Des's. After greetings I went over to the buffet table and piled up a plate. Des is a fishmonger at the public market, and many of her friends also sell fish; in addition to a fine lechon (whole roasted pig), there was an array of seafood dishes: salmon, shrimp, pampano, among others. The pampano, which had been steamed with sliced lemons, was my favorite.
Eventually I sat at one of the drinking tables with Des's best friend and fellow fish empresario Joel. The men's English was little better than my Tagalog, but we threw some good phrases at each other. Brandy was the poison of the afternoon; Des's children had bought three crates of bottles.
It was breezy and very comfortable on the shaded veranda. Went upstairs once to watch Jheng's younger two playing with others in the roof pool; sat with Mirasol and her new family (that little son will be walking soon); checked in on the progress of Michael's wife Marie (she's big with what the ultrasound says is a boy -- a boy who will grow up with three older sisters!); and caught up with Sonny, brother to Luz and Des, who had come down from Nueva Vizcaya with his wife Jasmine to take part in the festivities. The matriarch of the clan, Lola Denna, my elder by several years, lent a hand in getting new dishes to the buffet and generally acted as the grease in the large mechanism of this celebration.
Many people were certainly having a good time -- as was I, Des! Thanks for inviting me!
P A R T Y P I C D U M P
These seem to be evil days for pets in the Raguindin household. Aiza's pug Bursa choked to death on a bone this morning. I was walking into the garage from a shopping trip downtown when I found Langjohn and the young baker Reynald digging in one of the small plots of earth the compound has. Aiza and Donaiza were just beyond them with tear-streaked faces, Aiza cradling a bag containing her beloved dog. The burial took place about an hour ago.
Ciao is missed. She was buried on the grounds of the veterinary clinic. The adventurous one of the three, she often skitted out when I opened the door to the apartment and took many tours of the house. Unlike Boudicca and Bob, she could scale my refrigerator with ease, and would hop from there to the top of the wardrobe (about seven feet above the floor), where she would cock her head over the side for a reach-up scratching from me. She was a burrower, too, often sleeping completely covered by the blanket on the bed.
Bob seems back to normal. Was worried about him for a day or two -- he seemed unsteady on his feet, standoffish toward Boudicca, and sometimes in pain -- but all that is behind him.
The pug Bursa over the past few months had developed a fondness for hating me: it was the cat-smell on me, I'm pretty sure. What yapping whenever I came on the scene! When she was placed in my arms by one of the children, she did appreciate my petting, though. I like dogs and had three growing up in a town south of Boston, but what an odd animal a pug is -- its nose, its bandit mask! Bursa was not just a family pet; she was also a money-maker, being bred for saleable pups, and she has left to the family's care a litter of puppies a few weeks old. I hope the family keeps one.
We've had more dry days than wet days in Cabanatuan City over the past three weeks, and the rainy season seems to be truly over. And Christmas music is in the air -- has been, in many public places, since the first week of September! Now is the time when decorating commences. And no, reader, I'm not yet used to this lengthy wind-up to Jesus's birthday. Give me another year or two.
The first month of school has not been easy for Jheng. In addition to overseeing her children's module completions and transporting the work to school, she tends to the hookups to their online classes which, given the fluctuating download speeds here, is not always an easy task. Mariel is practicing dance steps for an online show her class will be performing; she and Jheng say they will find the time tomorrow to come over and mop my place down.
Both Ciao and Bob, three days later, are still at the vet clinic on IV drips. Damned cat virus. Bob was not knocked down by this thing as badly as Ciao was; the clinic is texting me twice a day, and their most recent report described Bob as alert and eating a little. Ciao, on the other hand, will not eat or even stand; they have sunlamps trained on her because her body temp keeps slipping. I'll head back to the clinic tomorrow morning and try to get a detailed prognosis for her from the veterinarian taking care of her.
In other, less personal news, it looks like Covid may be starting to fizzle out Phlipside. Fewer than 7,000 new cases were reported yesterday, and only 86 deaths. Outbreaks continue to be reported, most recently in the city of Zamboanga on Mindanao, but overall the numbers are encouraging.
And we now have a full slate of contenders for the Philippine presidency! Before getting to them, I should throw in here that President Duterte about a week ago unexpectedly withdrew his name from the vice presidential run and announced that he was quitting politics. At about the same time his daughter Sarah, mayor of the Philippines' second largest city, Davao, declared she would not be running for president. It seems that a Duterte will not be holding either the number one or number two position after Inauguration Day next June.
Election Day is May 9, 2022. Nationwide, the presidency, vice presidency, all representative offices, and one-half of the Senate offices (12) are on the line. A slew of provincial and local elections will also be held on this date. . . . And one of the following six candidates will almost certainly be the country's next president: Manny Pacquiao, Isko Moreno (aka Francisco Domagoso), Leni Robredo, Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, Panfilo Lacson, and Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. This is a colorful passel of pols, to say the least. Let me introduce them to you.
is a world-famous boxer who has held world titles in eight different divisions, a feat no other boxer has come close to accomplishing. He became a representative in 2010 and in 2016 was elected to one of the Philippines' 24 senatorial posts, all the while continuing his boxing career. He quit boxing after losing a match to Cuba's Yordenis Ugas just two months ago, with a final record of 68 wins, 8 losses, and 2 draws, as well as the notable accomplishment of defeating 22 world champions over the span of his career. Pacquiao in his five years in the Senate has filed 31 Senate bills; perhaps the most controversial of these, a bill that is still pending, would restore the death penalty in the Philippines. Pacquiao is running for president as a member of the Cebu-based party PROMDI.
was born in the slums of Tondo, Manila. As the boy Francisco Domogoso, Moreno gathered bottles and old newspapers to sell to junk dealers, and dived restaurant dumpsters to bring home edibles for his family. His father, a stevedore, made little. When he was 19, a talent scout convinced him to audition for a teen variety show that was then very popular; he won a place as a presenter on the show, then won acting roles in a number of films, adopting "Isko Moreno" as his screen name. At 23, he cut back on his acting stints to pursue government service and won elections for councillor, then vice mayor of Manila. He lost a bid for a senate seat in 2016, then won Manila's mayoral election in 2019. As mayor, Moreno has won plaudits for innovations he has introduced in secondary and higher education, for his city beautification projects, and for his handling of the Covid pandemic in Manila. He's a very energetic populist, and he announced for the presidency one month ago. His party is Aksyon Demokratiko.
is the current vice president of the Philippines. As mentioned in an earlier posting, the presidency and vice presidency are voted upon separately here, and Robredo has been at loggerheads with her president almost since she attained office. Booted out of the cabinet due to her oppositional stances regarding a number of Duterte's policies, she became the loudest public voice critical of the administration, and particularly of the "drug war" Duterte had initiated at the start of his term. In 2019, probably in a bid to control his vice president's outspokenness, Duterte appointed Robredo as co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs, then found it necessary to fire her 19 days later. During her term, though not a member of the cabinet, Robredo has led an anti-poverty program and seems to have led all government assistance in typhoon, earthquake, and volcanic eruption relief. Politically she is left of center, and is running for the presidency with the Liberal Party.
Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa
served as chief of the Philippine National Police from 2016 to 2018 and led the drug war of the current administration during that time. Despite the public outcry at the number of extrajudicial killings by police (which are estimated to number between 20,000 and 30,000 at this date), Dela Rosa is proud of his accomplishment in the first two years of the drug war, pointing out that crime nationwide decreased. and that a legion of "drug personalities" had surrendered to police rather than face their wrath. He attained the mandatory retirement age for national police chiefs at age 56 in 2018, served a stint as director of prisons for a few months, then won the election for a Senate seat in 2019. Among the bills Dela Rosa has authored, one would establish crisis centers for street children in every region in the Philippines, and another would create barangay community peace and order councils, but this fellow is clearly well to the right of center, politically. He is running for president with the PDP–Laban faction supported by President Duterte.
has served as a senator since 2016, and before that from 2001 to 2013 (senators here are not allowed to serve more than two consecutive terms). Before that he won reputation as a leader in the armed services and as the leader of a number of crime task forces. The 73 year old is widely seen as the "watchdog" of the national budget, over the course of his terms in office advocating against the pork barrel system and serving in important management roles for three administrations. Among the many bills written by him that have been passed into law, the Sin Tax Reform Act restructured excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco products, Senate Bill No. 2783 strengthened further the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001, and another bill provided for a comprehensive law on firearms, light weapons and ammunition. Another bill he has proposed recently is the Anti-Political Dynasty Act, which would disenable families from locking a hold on any political office. A law and order guy for sure, and apparently with no blood on his hands. Lacson is running with the political party of which he is the current chairman, Partido Reporma.
Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr.
became governor of his home province, Ilocos Norte, in 1983 at the age of 26. His father was then in his eleventh year of autocratic rule in a country under martial law. Three years later the People Power Revolution swept the autocrat (and kleptocrat) from power; Marcos and his family fled to Hawaii from the American Clark Army Base with 22 crates of cash valued at $717 million, a 12 by 4 ft box crammed full of pearls, a vast array of jewels, and deposit slips to non-Philippine banks worth $124 million. Even at the time Marcos was so unceremoniously evicted from Malacanang Palace, he was suffering from the kidney disease that took his life on Hawaii in 1989. . . . And then, the dictator gone forever, President Corazon Aquino made the momentous decision to allow the Marcos family to return to the Philippines.
Two of the Marcos children went into politics. Court cases have recouped some of the stolen money for the Philippine government, but it is estimated that hundreds of millions (in American dollars) are still unaccounted for. Marcos, Jr. became a representative, then a senator (2010-2016). He ran for the vice presidency in 2016 and lost by more than 200,00 votes to Leni Robredo; he filed a petition with the courts claiming there had been vote cheating; recounts were held in three provinces, and Robredo gained more than 10,000 votes in the recounts. Does this sound familiar to you, American reader? The other Marcos sibling, Imee, is currently a senator.
And now Marcos, Jr. is making a bid for the presidency, running under the banner of the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, the party he chairs. I haven't looked into his politics yet; I'm put off by all his downplaying of the graft, corruption, and human rights abuses that took place under his father's administration -- evils he could well have had a part in, as he was 28 at the time of his father's downfall. Larry, my friend up in San Jose City, is a supporter of Marcos; maybe sometime I should drive up there, have a sit-down with him, find out what he sees in this man.
sir ciao did not make it. we tried to revive her several times but there's no response. oxygen and a medication to stimulate her heartbeat has already been supplemented while we're reviving her but she didn't respond to any of that.
This was the text from Synervet I read before breakfast next morning. I drove over there later in the morning to say goodbye to Ciao, pay the bill, and take Bob home with me. I was pretty sure they'd let me take Bob; their last report for him had been a good one.
And now I'm typing this with Bob at my feet whining, craving for attention. He's a little off-balance at times, but seems fit otherwise. Ah, Ciao.
Driving in the City
After finally finding that second medication for my ear infection (see above), I was looking for a place for a quick bite, as the doctor had told me not to take the pills on an empty stomach. The NE supermarket's cafeteria was a short walk from the pharmacy where I had scored the last med, so I ambled over there and ordered their beef kaldereta, a side of veggie fritters, and rice. Drove home, took a pill, and applied the drops.
Three hours or so after eating, the wretching began, and I was continuously sick, both ends, for the next twelve hours. Queasy about two days after. I remembered the aftermath of the falafel meal I had bought and consumed back in my native country, seven or eight years ago; the symptoms were the same. Well, it took me just a few days shy of four years to suffer through a case of food poisoning in the Philippines. Just grateful it wasn't salmonella or e coli. Not going back to that place!
I'm hearing with the left ear now, and there's no discomfort; will, of course, finish the round of meds.
Back in the States, I never considered myself to be a less than adequate driver. Over more than forty years of driving there, I'd been responsible for a single fender bender. . . . Now, I'm not so sure.
A week and a half ago I caused my second collision with a moving vehicle in three years. The first you can read about on the 1st Floor at 5.25.19: I knocked a motorcyclist off his bike; after making sure he and his bike were okay, I offered him, and he accepted, P3,000 (about $60) in apology money. Remember having a physical pain in my gut for the rest of the day, and committing myself to hyper-vigilance whenever driving thereafter.
It's two and a half years later. Trying to get onto a main artery in the city, I was hyper-vigilant on my right side, where a delivery truck parked where it shouldn't be parked was occluding my view of oncoming traffic. Minded my left, but then moved out too slowly while staring right, and went into the side of a Mitsubishi Adventure that had seemed to "come out of nowhere." Sure.
I hurried over to the car, whose lone occupant was a teenaged boy. He was fine; I was moving less than 5 mph when I struck the car. We pulled our cars over to a quiet place on the side road. Damage? My car had lost its Toyota hood emblem and had a scrape or two low on the front. His Adventure had lost paint on the right side and there was some denting, but the two doors opened and closed without a problem; nonetheless I realized this car would be spending some time in the shop.
The car did not belong to the young man but to his father. In good English he told me he wanted to call his father and tell him to come to the accident scene; as he raised the phone his hand was shaking; wanted to crawl into a deep hole. The father arrived by trike about ten minutes later, and his English was even better than his son's. We introduced ourselves and talked about ourselves for a short while. Charlie looked maybe fifty years old; he had worked for several years for a foreign corporation as an accountant in Saudia Arabia and some African countries.
We looked over the cars. Had already claimed responsibilty for the accident, and we both agreed the Adventure would need shop work. It relieved me when he said he carried insurance (many drivers here don't). He then said Filipinos did not like to bring the police to a minor accident such as this one, and perhaps we could reach an agreement ourselves. I offered to pay for his insurance deductible (P5,000) and P3,000 more for his trouble while the car was in the shop. He was amenable to this arrangement; he joined me in my car and I drove to an ATM.
In the car we chatted some more. He said he wouldn't drive in the city because so many of these types of accidents happen in Cabsy, and his reactions were not as sharp as they used to be. His son was his driver -- the son, I learned, who had never before been in an accident. It dawned upon me that he was very subtly suggesting maybe I should look into getting a driver. This was a very nice man, notwithstanding.
No, a driver isn't in the cards for me, at least not any time soon. My reaction speed has not dimmed much. But I've decided to curtail driving to the service of "necessities," and to bundle my necessities more efficiently in order to reduce time on the road. No more just "heading out."
Driving here and driving in Massachusetts are two different animals. You know, Stateside reader, the bumper sticker, "Motorcycles Are Everywhere." Well here they're everywhere, and they're everywhere all the time. Trikes that turn on a dime. Pedicabs. Semis of the type you see only on highways in America clogging the streets here.
As for the streets, they are not wide enough, and there are not enough of them. Cabanatuan is a growing city, and planners some years ago were smart to build the Vergara Highway in rice fields a kilometer away from the Maharlika and running parallel to it; but businesses are slow to rise along that highway, and the Maharlika is still a traffic madhouse many hours of the day.
So I'm renewing the hyper-vigilance pledge, reducing my time on the road. And reminding myself every time I get behind the wheel, "Just don't hurt anybody."
A splatter of bacon grease to the underside of my right forearm was left unattended by me, outside of some swishes of cold water, for too long, and some infection set in. Used the ointment when red first appeared surrounding the burn; it seems to be scabbing over nicely now, and the red is greatly diminished. One needs to be quick with the ointment in the tropics -- need to remind myself of that anytime I burn, scrape, or cut myself.
At-home schooling is in full swing throughout the Philippines. Mariel, Lara, Janiah and Aaron are attending online classes and working at their modules, the latter three attended to by Mama Jheng. The module work is heavy for all of them and always carries into the weekend, but it's especially rough on Mariel, who is an honors senior at a private high school affiliated with a university in the city; I'm thankful that she and her sister Jheng are finding time tomorrow to come over and give my place a good cleaning.
We're all still pretty much hunkered down here with the Covid thing, ah-yuh -- masking up and using a face shield when out shopping, holding up a personal information code card to be photographed before entering most establishments, putting off any plans for travel outside the province.
Have had the code card for more than a year, and it is scuffed up a bit. The blotty thing contains info that will lead "medical police" to the carrier should an outbreak be traced to somewhere he or she has been; a photo of the carrier, which may or may not also contain one of the better trout he or she has caught, needs to be on the back of the card. Jheng chose the photo as she put my card together online, and I think she made a good choice; I carry the card proudly.
The Delta variant of the disease does seem to be backing off here. According to worldometer, the number of active cases in the Philippines two weeks ago was 188,233, and the number Oct. 1 was 130,268. May this number continue to slide, and may the kids be back in school soon, too.
What will I do once these restrictions have lifted? Nueva Ecija is one of the few landlocked provinces in the country, and I do miss the beach. Iba, Baler, San Fernando, a return to Subic Bay? I look forward to a solo excursion to one of these places, once I'm able to go.
Nueva Ecija and Rice
Ecija, the namesake of the sprawling Philippine province in which I live, is a city of about forty thousand souls in the Andalusian region of Spain. Back in the 1690's, the Spanish governor-general of the Philippines, Fausto Cruzat y Gongora, spent much of his time north of Manila in the upper reaches of the Pampanga River, where the Spanish military was consolidating new conquests for Spain. The governor-general named the new territory after his hometown back in Spain -- out of homesickness? Whether or not that is true, it is with some melancholy that one contemplates how Cruzat y Gongora, after being replaced by a new Spanish king in 1701, died on his return voyage to Spain.
Today Nueva Ecija is the twelfth most populous of the Philippines' eighty-one provinces, with a population of 2,310,134. In terms of size, Massachusetts readers, it is a little smaller than Worcester and Middlesex Counties combined. NE contains rivers and plains, a high plain, and mountains -- its highest point, 5,489 feet above sea level, is the summit of Mt. Kiligantian in the Sierra Madres.
My fair city of Cabanatuan, with a 2020 population of 327,325, is the biggest burg in the province -- the posting of 9.21.20 on the 5th Floor focuses on Cabsy, if you wish to read a little about it. Three other cities have populations over 100,000 -- San Jose, Gapan, and Talavera. What captures one's attention, as one drives about in the province -- south of the northern city of San Jose and west of the mountains, at any rate -- is the sheer acreage of rice that is grown here! On a few occasions I've blinked on a new road I'm traveling and let it register: yup, as far as the eye can see.
Nueva Ecija outpaces every other province in the country in rice production and is known as the "Rice Granary of the Philippines." Even in a place as built-up as Cabanatuan, rice is grown in large areas of the city. What I've just read may have put a bemused expression on my face, but at this point in my stay here it doesn't surprise me: the average adult Filipino consumes 98 kilograms (216 pounds) of rice per year. Yes, one has it at breakfast, at lunch, at dinner. I can still remember the smile of a man in my first weeks here when I told him, yeah, I liked rice and was used to having it with dinner at least three times a week.
On Luzon, there are two growing seasons for rice: a planting in June and a harvesting in November; a planting in December and a harvesting in May. Planting and harvesting times bring small battalions of laborers to the fields, and their work looks both arduous and monotonous. A young field of rice is a very deep green, a green that becomes lighter in color as the months go by, as the stems and leaves grow taller. After harvesting, the rice hulls are laid out to dry on raised platforms -- that is, if the farmer is rich enough to own such platforms; often the hulls are left to dry on the sides of designated roads.
In Tagalog, unhulled rice is called "palay" and hulled rice "kanin." The farmer never gets to see his or her crop past the palay stage: the palay is sold to rice mills, the mills do their special thing to separate the grains of rice from their hulls, and then the mills sell the kanin to retail outlets in large bags. Most people buy their rice in 20-kilogram bags; I can find only specialty rice in one-kilogram bags, but a couple of supermarkets in Cabanatuan have the home-grown in three-kilogram bags.
Three evenings back, Jheng received a call that her great-uncle, the father of Sonny's wife Jasmine, had been involved in a trike accident and needed to be taken to a hospital. With the help of family, Jheng took him to one, only to find it was full due to Covid cases; she was directed to the public hospital on the Maharlika, where the great-uncle was admitted. He had a nasty wound to the head, and, after that wound had been tended to, the CT scan showed there was a little bleeding beneath the skull, so the doctor said he should remain in the hospital under observation for a couple of days.
Which he did. Jheng needed to be the main provider during her great-uncle's stay, bringing food to the patient and his elderly wife, as well as filling out endless paperwork, paperwork for the hospital, for the public insurance provider PhilHealth (which should be paying more than 60% of the final bill), for who knows what else. When one receives public assistance in the Philippines, one pays for it with finger cramps. Sonny and Jasmine are in Solano, a six-hour drive to the north, and Covid restrictions will keep them there, so this has been Jheng's full-time job for the last three days. I loaned her the Avanza to make her job a little easier.
Yesterday morning the poor man still had a swollen face, but the internal bleeding had evidently resolved itself, and the doctor said he was ready for discharge. Getting discharged from a public hospital is an involved procedure here, it seems; someone told Jheng that many patients were being discharged from the hospital that day, and she and her great-uncle would have to wait. They waited until it was dark outside, and then it became apparent that the patient would be spending one more night in the hospital.
Back in Massachusetts, had been used to the 2-hour waits at the DMV for a license renewal. As I wrote a few postings ago, the immigration office in Palayan is efficiently run and I could take care of my business there fairly speedily -- but for the most part, government business of almost every kind here does not plod; it crawls. Nearly three years after acquiring a car, I'm still driving with temporary plates. Had been told it would take at least two years for the "official plates" to arrive; I'm still waiting. Jheng recently needed copies of the birth certificates of her children to get them re-enrolled in school. She arrived very early, and then waited a solid day at the public documents office.
It seems illogical to say so, but the public bureaucracies in the Philippines seem at once bloated . . . and understaffed. The upshot is a great deal of wasted time for the public being served. At any rate, Jheng's great-uncle got to go home today.
Days of Delta
At the end of September only two countries in the world will have no in-class learning at all for public school students: Venezuela and the Philippines. Don't know what's going on in the government halls of Caracas, for Venezuela is pretty far down the list of countries most affected by the virus. Dividing the population by the number of deaths attributed to the disease, I find that in Venezuela 1 in 6,703 have died of Covid. In the U.S., that stat is 1 in 490.
For a lengthy part of the history of this disease, the Philippines surpassed all other East Asian countries in mortality, but in recent months that has changed, mostly thanks to the Delta variant. For two or three months over the summer, Covid cases spiked alarmingly in Indonesia and Malaysia, and now those two countries top the mortality list in East Asia: to date, 1 in 1, 556 Malaysians, and 1 in 1,990 Indonesians, have died of Covid. This is a ghoulish kind of statistic, I know, but I think there are good reasons for the folks at Worldometer (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/) to include it in their Covid stats. For one, it offers a pretty fair assessment of each national government's effort (through regulations, restrictions, media, etc.), and of each health system's ability, to keep citizens safe or at any rate alive during these perilous times, and this may be instructive for other countries.
And what is that stat for the Philippines? 1 in 3,513. Yes, we are now well below the number of deaths per capita found in Malaysia or Indonesia, so why the continued prohibition on in-class learning here? That had me thinking, until I looked at the charts for the number of active cases in the three countries. This number has declined for about a month in Malaysia; in Indonesia the number has plummeted over the same period. But in the Philippines the number of active cases is still on a sharp rise. It seems Delta has yet to do its dirtiest work here. Perhaps the government in Manila will be able to green-light in-class learning later in the school year, but it feels it has its hands tied for now.
Here's Aaron working away at his modules back in June. More modules are on the way, Aaron! Jheng watches over her three children as they complete these, helping them through the stickier questions. She brings a week's worth of completed modules to the schools for the teachers' perusal and picks up a new set; and she must do this three times a week, because each grade has a different drop-off/pick-up time. Jheng does errands for me and still delivers longganisa, but she doesn't have a nine-to-five job and is able to manage. In those households where parents do have nine-to-five jobs, this module business must be grueling.
. . . And with a mortality rate seven times that of the Philippines, with active cases still rising in number in most states, the U.S. is opening its schools -- only to have more than a thousand of them shut down soon thereafter, due to breakouts of positive cases, if what I've read is correct. There'll be a rough time in the schools Stateside for however many months this thing continues -- in the country at large, a rough and increasingly divided time, thanks to the hullabaloo over mask mandates and vaccine mandates. Well. This is to be expected, maybe, in a place where a sizable portion of the population is heavily swayed by the proclamations of a death cult masquerading as a political party. Call out Trumpists and the Q-clueless everywhere, friends. (I had one opportunity to do so here, a few weeks ago, with an expat from Seattle. It got loud after he claimed more than 100,000 had died due to the vaccines. Without question, we provided decent entertainment to the Kenny Rogers Restaurant customers at the SM Mall.)
Well, weather-wise things got pretty hairy, and in quite a hurry. Two mornings ago there was suddenly a typhoon at the Philippines' door. Jolina (intl. name Conson) had developed from an unimpressive low pressure area the previous evening into a minimal, but very well-formed whirligig, with an expected path that would have it putting at least a crimp in the Wednesday of pretty much everyone in the archipeligo north of Mindanao and east of the long, westward-jutting island of Palawan.
As these whirligigs tend to do (at least the ones not labeled "supertyphoons"), it started fraying and then unraveling a bit as it proceeded over land, but Jolina maintained its typhoon strength throughout its journey up the Visayas (the power grid down there is a mess right now, and probably will be a mess for some days to come). By the time Jolina arrived at Luzon, she had become a tropical storm, and, fortunately for us Cabanatuans, she decided to take a left turn at the province of Batangas, just south of Metro Manila.
Twelve people are reported missing in the central islands of the Visayas. Southern Luzon -- the Bicol region and the area in and around Metro Manila -- received 6+ inches of rain as well as buffeting winds. Where I am, about a hundred kilometers north of Manila, there was rain all day, some of it very heavy, but not much wind beyond a stiff breeze. Considering the facts that this was a direct hit and that the storm passed over many islands, I think we should be thankful that Jolina did not carry the punch or deliver the death and destruction of Ida, the storm that affected the eastern U.S. last week. Or hold a candle to the vicious Yolanda, which destroyed the city of Tacloban and killed more than 9,000 people in the Visayas eight years ago.
In calling them "whirligigs," I'm not trying to make light of these storms, by the way; the term sprang into my head, I think, partly because of their appearance in satellite images, partly because their erratic behavior reminds me of a child's spinning toy -- and partly, maybe, out of a sense that in their path we can store up on essentials, take shelter, even attempt to flee the onslaught, but essentially we're all as helpless as children. With the arrival of September, I've noticed the cyclones are forming farther to the south. Jolina developed in tandem with another storm, named Kiko (int'l name Chanthu), and the weather bureau PAGASA thinks Kiko will brush the northern tip of Luzon on Friday before crossing the South China Sea and slamming into mainland China as a powerful typhoon.
The (Many) Philippines
Filipino people are more ethnically diverse than the famous "melting pot" in my own native land. They belong to more than 185 Austronesian ethnolinguistic groups, each group having its own culture, language, history. There are dominant groups, and over the centuries assimilation in varying degrees to these groups has taken place among minority populations in different areas, on different islands -- but perhaps not as much as you would think. Remember, these are an insular people; the country is an archipeligo of more than 7,600 islands, more than 2,000 of which are inhabited. This "insularity" has no doubt helped to preserve the languages and cultures here.
A couple of examples from Jheng's experience will illustrate the, what, non-homogeneity of Filipinos. Jheng's father-in-law, my friend Larry, comes from Llanera, a municipality only a half hour from where I'm typing, but a burg that was settled by and is currently inhabited by not Tagalog but Ilocano people. Larry is fluent in Tagalog and pretty good in English, but his first language is Iloko. Jheng has recalled for me the times she, her husband, their children, and Larry and Lori traveled to Llanera for family reunions of Larry's side of the family, and how after the meals, during which Tagalog was politely spoken, the menfolk would pull up hampers filled with ice and bottles of beer and start conversing in a language she did not understand. (I've been to Llanera with Larry, and next to the hampers I met a number of men who spoke a smidgen of English to pretty good English. One man in law enforcement showed me his .45 caliber pistol and asked me if I wanted to take a shot; said thank you no, the recoil would probably break my wrist.)
Two or three months ago, Jheng, James, and Mariel traveled to the Metro Manila city of Paranaque to visit with their father and the grandmother who had traveled up to see them from the island of Leyte in the Visayas -- an area encompassing most of the islands between Luzon and Mindanao. The grandmother speaks only the Visayan language of Waray with which she grew up; the father ran away from home to the big city when he was a boy, so he speaks Tagalog well. And, yes, during their visit the siblings needed their father to act as interpreter when they communicated with their grandmother.
This map should be of some help, American reader. Keep in mind that the vast majority of languages in the Philippines are not represented here: these are simply the largest of the ethnolinguistic groups. Also not represented here are the diasporas of people from one language group who have settled in the region of another language group: for example, Larry's Ilocano brethren, whose Llanera is situated in a Tagalog-speaking region.
These languages, by the way, have very little in common with one another. I have noticed, in my years here, that Cebuano has some Tagalog words (or maybe it is Tagalog that has some Cebuano words), but they are still very different languages. Here is "I love you" in Jheng's Tagalog: Mahal kita. In Cebuano: Gihigugma tika. In Jheng's grandmother's Waray-waray: Pina-ura ta ikaw. In Larry's Iloko: Ay ayaten ka.
Tagalog is the lingua franca of the islands. It is taught in the Tagalog-speaking region as English is taught in American schools, but outside the region it is now taught very intensively, with the aim (if sometimes not the result) of making non-Tagalog speakers fluent Tagalog speakers. As for English, which is also taught in all the schools, it can and does serve as an auxiliary lingua franca between language groups. Emphasis in children's learning, though, is placed on Tagalog -- as the main tie that binds this happy Babel of peoples into a functioning democracy.
Cooking with Gas
Keeping an eye on developments in Louisiana and Kabul. Today a mass is being said for Jheng's deceased husband Larry in San Jose City; she and the children are up there with the Avanza for a couple of days. No need for them to get tested and go through paperwork in order to travel: SJC belongs to the same province as Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija.
Before she left Jheng helped me to equip my new cooking area: gas range, gas tank, pans, a wok, bowls, knives, sieve, spachelor, other implements of destruction, as Arlo Guthrie might say. Had been wanting to cook my own meals for quite a while; I finally asked Cousin Ritz to convey this desire to Don-Don and Aiza -- to save my landlords the discomfiture of having to turn me down to my face, if the request could not be granted. You see, the house, along with other properties apparently, is owned by Don-Don's mom, who has been living in the U.K. for the last twenty years. She wants her son to act as a caretaker for this property; pretty much the entire place has been mothballed except for the master bedroom on the first floor, which is being rented to me (Don-Don, Aiza, and the children live in an outbuilding fronted by the sari-sari store). I have spoken with Adonis's mom on the phone, and she seems to be a very nice lady, but I've come to realize she has some fixed ideas about how she wants this property to be maintained.
Perhaps after checking in with his mom, Don-Don said I could use the dirty kitchen for my cooking needs. Was not familiar with the term "dirty kitchen" before coming to the Philippines, but here every big house seems to have such a place, a kind of anteroom at the back with a sink and counter space. The family's pet birds and a washing machine are kept in this particular dirty kitchen -- and now my cooking station, too.
Felt a little foolish for not having asked earlier, of course. For the past several months I could have been eating healthier fare than what I have been eating. Ah well. Had a nice omelette stuffed with steamed vegetables this morning; my fridge contains the drumsticks on tap for tonight's meal.
The President Who Would Be Vice President
At the height of the thunderstorm late yesterday afternoon, I noticed that closeby lightning strikes were coming in at a rate of four or five per minute. That was a lot of noise! We lost power, but crews thankfully got us back up and running after about an hour without electricity. It is 4pm the next day and there are distant boomings to the east; the doppler shows more storms incoming, riding on an easterly flow.
The rainy season won't come to an end until sometime in October. It's during the second half of this season, already well under way, that typhoons tend to spring up and endanger the islands with a frequency not seen in other months of the year. Yes, the Atlantic confines cyclonic development in its neighborhood to a few months of the year, but the Pacific can churn up these whirligigs in any month -- this past April Luzon had a close brush with a big one. To be sure, they are infrequent from November to June, but even then they can come a-knocking.
So far so good on the typhoon front throughout the Philippines, this summer. The Pacific has been delivering them true to form, but has been sending them north of here -- to Taiwan and mainland China, to the Olympics in Japan. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (call it PAGASA: everybody does) is keeping a very close eye on weather developments to the east of the islands, though; be sure of that.
It might surprise American readers that often in the Philippines the president and vice president elected by the people belong to different political parties. This is because the two don't run on a political "ticket"; there is a separate election for each of the two positions. There are five major political parties and many smaller ones, and it stands to reason that political animals of different stripes will usually be holding these positions in any given term.
Such is the case today. President Rodrigo Duterte belongs to the Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod (translated roughly: City Group of the People) and Leni Robredo belongs to the Liberal Party. These two political parties have each led a coalition of parties for many years, and these two coalitions, the most powerful political groups in the land, do not get along with each other. It should come as no surprise that Rodrigo and Leni do not get along with each other either.
It became customary early in the history of the republic for the newly elected president to offer the newly elected vice president a portfolio in his or her cabinet. President Duterte offered Vice President Robredo Housing and Urban Development, which she accepted. Eight months later Robredo resigned from the post, because Duterte had banned her from attending cabinet meetings. At the meetings, Robredo had been vocal in her opposition to several Duterte initiatives, including the violent crackdown on drug dealing which began at the very start of their terms. Banned from cabinet meetings, she said she could no longer effectively do her job as a cabinet secretary. She retained the vice presidency, but the main source of her political power in the executive was gone. In a public statement just after she resigned her cabinet position, Robredo had this to say: "With this resignation, you can expect that I will continue to support the positive initiatives of this administration and oppose those that are inimical to the people's interest." And since that time she has been a very public oppositional voice against the government in which she holds the number 2 position.
Interesting, no? Here's something else that is interesting: today President Duterte accepted his party's nomination to run for vice president in next May's general elections. The Philippine Constitution forbids a president from running for a second six-year term, and, unlike a recent president of another democratic country, Duterte is one who will abide by his country's constitution -- so . . . why not the vice presidency? American reader, he will be the odds-on favorite to win the vice presidency next May. Despite widespread criticism -- both international and domestic -- of his drug war, Duterte is a very popular president with approval ratings above 70% throughout his tenure.
And given the poor performance of the Liberal Party's coalition in the 2019 mid-terms, the Liberal party's presidential candidate, which may be Leni Robredo, will have an uphill battle to fight. As for the City Group of the People, the possible nominees for president most in the news are Senator "Bong" Go, special assistant to the president in Duterte's first three years before winning a senate seat in the mid-terms; the president's own daughter Sarah Duterte, presently the mayor of the Mindanao city of Davao; and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., a former senator and son of the man who, unlike the Trumpster, actually did manage to turn a democracy into one-man rule, an autocracy which lasted for 14 years before the "People Power Revolution" drove him into exile in 1986.
The May elections, and the run-up to them, will be interesting, for sure.
Would Be Nice to See This Thing Just Go Away
American schoolchildren already back in the classroom are, I read the other day, spreading Covid. Now, it seems that the Delta variant, in addition to being very transmissible, also more readily causes serious illness in children than do other iterations of this disease; and this is surely not the time for Republican political leaders to check their education and common sense at the door in an effort to score political points with the more radicalized members of their base. But Filipino reader, this is exactly what many Republican leaders are doing. Eight Republican governors have banned public school districts from requiring students and staff to wear masks on campus.
In America, the political right seems to have trapped itself in negative feedback loops involving citizens, politicians, and right-wing media outlets. Liberty is extolled to the skies, while responsibility of one citizen for another is laughed off. Immigrants, especially non-white immigrants, arouse suspicion and even fear in the minds of these people. And so much else. Filipino reader, the political left in America has faults as well, but this banning of mask mandates in schools, when infection rates are soaring, in the name of "liberty" is, what, nakakahiya.
One of the most disgraceful of these Republican leaders is not a governor but a U.S. senator from Texas, Ted Cruz. This is the politician who flew with his family to Cancun at the height of a crisis caused by a freak snowstorm in his state (you may remember the story). Recently, his very vocal support of the ban on mask mandates in schools illustrates well the hypocrisy on increasing display among Republican leaders caught up in the aformentioned feedback loops: you see, Mr. Cruz's children all go to a private school that, you guessed it, has a mask mandate.
American reader, the virus has not been politicized in the Philippines, but I would not be surprised to see it become politicized in the coming run-up to the once-in-six-years general election to be held next May. Yet if the virus does get bandied about in the upcoming debates, I'm pretty certain it will not lead to a situation as caustic and dangerous as the situation you are facing over there.
To give you a thumbnail sketch of the current circumstances on Luzon, Covid-wise: testing this week in Metro Manila puts the positive rate there at above 20%. Daily new infections and deaths have been rising in number in the metro region for almost a month, thanks to the Delta variant. And Delta has burst the lockdown cordons surrounding Metro Manila: it is heading north, more virulently, it seems, on the western side of the island. Makeshift Covid wards are being prepared in Tarlac, San Fernando, and Olongapo due to the fast uptick in cases in those cities. Cabanatuan is on the eastern side of Luzon, but restrictions have been tightened here: sit-down dining in restaurants ended (again) last week; stiff and certain fines are imposed on anyone in public not wearing a mask. Throughout the island, travel between provinces is being restricted to those who have a. been tested just before the trip and b. filled out the appropriate paperwork at barangay and municipal offices.
In-class learning here? There is none, and the government has not offered any timeline on when it may return.
Yes, I'm worried there will be another island-wide lockdown like the one we had last spring and summer. But I'm worried more about those friends I've made here who still don't have access to a vaccine: inoculations outside of Metro Manila are still restricted to people on the "priorities list" -- old folks like me, people involved in medical work, government employees, the indigent. Most people up here are still waiting.
Winds have shifted from the southwest to the east, and two weeks of monsoon weather are history. It's likely this period of monsoon was at least partially responsible for the bug afflicting Jheng's side of the duplex right now: Mama Luz seems to have recovered, but James, Lara, and Jheng are still coughing and feverish. Had time this afternoon, so I drove up to Palayan, where dragon fruit, chock-full of good things for an infirm human body, is still in season. The woman in charge of the fruit stand where I stopped convinced me to buy also a nice-looking, very large papaya that came in at 2 kgs.! Six dragon fruit and the humungous papaya cost less than P250, about $5 American. These I dropped off with Jheng before heading home, errand of mercy completed.
On a completely different note: in the early 1980's, after taking a masters degree at Northeastern U., I spent three years in Wuhan, China -- yes, that Wuhan, China -- teaching English in two institutes of higher learning across town from each other. In this program set up by the Chinese government, foreign teachers were offered free plane rides home and back at the time of summer break, and I took advantage of this perk, keeping my sight-seeing excursions confined to the three weeks off at spring festival.
Back in those pre-internet days, as a teacher there I felt quite unconnected to loved ones at home and to what was happening back in the States, hence the strong desire to pop back Stateside for the 10-week summer break. American magazines at the English departments where I worked usually arrived weeks after they were published; the only fairly up-to-date news available from beyond China's borders was in the U.K.'s international version of The Guardian, which arrived two or three days after publication on onion-skin paper, and which often didn't have a great deal of U.S. news in it. Communication with loved ones and friends, outside of a handful of long-distance phone calls over those three years, happened through letter-writing. I remember well the weekly trips to the post office; Chinese stamps and envelopes had no sticky substance on them then, and each post office had a large paste-pot in the middle of its foyer, into which I dabbed stamps before pressing them onto my envelopes, and sealed envelopes using my dabbed fingers.
In the present, thanks largely to the virus that came out of Wuhan and spread everywhere, I haven't been able to visit the States for two years. But, quite the opposite to my experience in China, throughout my stay Phlipside I have remained very much "connected," thanks to the digital world we now live in. I have a wide-screen Acer desktop with 8 gigs, and I go places with it. Newscasts across the political spectrum, from Fox to Democracy Now!, are available to me online within hours of their appearance in the U.S. If you are Stateside, all the podcasts you can listen to I can listen to; I'm a fan of Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, and look forward to new installments of Useful Idiots, The Bulwark, FiveThirtyEight, Unf*cking the Republic, and two or three of the podcasts from Crooked Media -- mostly leftish, but if you've been following this blog for a while, you already know I'm something of a lefty, eh. (What's the old saying? If you're young and conservative you don't have a heart, and if you're old and liberal you don't have a head? I guess I don't have a head.)
This Acer machine's best gift to me in the way of connection, though, are the weekly sit-downs I have with my sons Bart and Jeff. Sometimes Jeff has with him his lovely wife and/or his beautiful baby daughter; heck, more than once I've chatted with my restrained but friendly ex. To see them and speak with them from halfway round the planet: I don't think that young teacher in China imagined such a possibility was not very many years away. . . . We catch up on the week's developments, talk about upcoming choices to be made, joke with each other; and in almost every session we have together, they help me to fine-tune, indeed in some cases to alter a bit, a perspective I've gained from all those other voices talking at me from the cyber-ether.
Postings from February 20 to August 3 of this year are available on the 6th Floor (just click at the top of the page).