Monday, June 29, 2020

DAY 105: MECQ


There is that saying that goes: The road to hell is lined with good intentions.  That is assuming that the intentions are really for the good of a greater number and not that of the one who drew the map.

The Other Side of the Pandemic

Perhaps as bad as the growing number of deaths brought about by this pandemic is the economic meltdown that the world is experiencing.  The dead are buried but the survivors live with the burden of a planet that has gone completely upside down.  Businesses are collapsing: governments are scrambling to find ways and means to bring the economy back to life or try to resuscitate what is left of the commercial debris.

A recent survey in the country showed that the workers of the Arts and Entertainment are the most badly hit by the closure of work resulting from COVID19.

Understandably so.  

For more than three months, work in the film, television and the rest of the entertainment industry came to a sudden halt as a precaution against the spread of the dreaded virus. There is something unique about this industry because it requires crowds.  You need more than a hundred people for a single day of shooting a film, perhaps even more for taping an episode of a prime time telenovela.  You need as many folks on the set to shoot a TV commercial or a digital content material --- maybe a little less but still a lot to mount a concert or stage play.  

And God knows how many people are needed for a live event to launch a product, celebrate a company anniversary or hold a convention. 
Needless to add, you even need more people to fill a cinema, a theater, a concert venue or the SMEX or the MOA Auditorium or wherever it is you choose to hold your concert.

All that froze mid-March because being with strangers had become dangerous. Not only dangerous --- but life threatening.

Literally thousands of people lost their work and have not gone back to the set despite the loosening of the quarantine rules because everything is still touch and go.  Everyone is waiting to see if things will go right or what can go wrong. The question remains: "Safe na ba to go back to work?"

Well, the question is not only that. The answer is people need to go back to work despite the clear and present risks involved. Hindi pa talagang safe ... but we have to make it as safe as possible.

Yes, we have to deal with the New Normal: the working conditions in mid-2020 has become so completely different from that of the first quarter of the year.  To insure the safety of all workers concerned, protocols have to be studied, agreed upon and eventually implemented not only on the set but especially in the preparation for productions. 

And this costs money.

As it is, producers and film workers are fighting against time to find the most plausible way to get back on the set despite the fact that it is still not sure when cinemas will be allowed to open ... or if people will have the courage to immediately return to movie houses even if there is social distancing but with no vaccine discovered.

TV shows need to return to the studios with strict new rules in place to make sure that everyone is guaranteed a plausible amount of health security.  

More than ever, the film studios as well as the production houses, the freelance workers whose very lifeline is the availability of projects and all the technicians who constitute the film and tv industries need the help of the government to be able to get their acts together.  At this point, the industry does not --- I repeat --- does not and should not be burdened by needless obstacles in its fight for survival.  

The Inter Guild Alliance

Because of the pressure of having to come up with guidelines for the Return to Work Scenario, the active workers of the industry --- they who have become the new generation of creative workers of both commercial and independent film making --- got together to form the Inter Guild Alliance (IGA). The sole purpose was to set down the procedures and rules to standardize safety measures on the sets of film, tv and commercials.  

The creation of the group was organic --- because the industry workers decided that they should be the ones to move in order to give momentum to the return of productions. If there was one good thing that the pandemic brought to the industry, then it was giving an opportunity for this generation of film artists and technicians to unite, talk and share a commonness of purpose and hopefully of vision and goal.

The IGA belabored its own set of protocols focusing on their individual specializations.  

That is, production designers made their own rules, cinematographers set their own standards, assistant directors, editors, directors and sound engineers worked on their own protocols then got together to revise and adapt to each other's needs.

While the protocols were being formulated, the IGA together with the Philippine Motion Pictures Producers Association (PMPPA) met to further refine and exchange ideas about how to make the IGA Protocol workable within the constraints of production budgets. This made a lot of sense: the producers were the money bags and it was from their coffers that projects are conceived and born.

The producers and the IGA came to a mutual agreement: what the workers suggested, the producers wanted.  

The IGA Protocol is the industry standard. This is because it was crafted by the industry workers for the well-being of those in the industry.

At this point, it was made very clear that while the IGA was finalizing the protocol, the PMPPA already threw in its support stating that this will be the guide followed by movie producers when shootings resume within the COVID19 quarantine period.

Television networks have already put together their own guidelines for the resumption of taping.  This is because the demands of a tv taping is very different from that of a movie shooting.

Commercial productions also have also assembled their own protocol for the making of digital content and other endeavors.

Then came this thing called the FDCP.  

The FDCP Factor

Aware that the IGA was already assembling its protocol because of their earlier talks, the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) carried out its own independent plans.  

After having met with representative workers in a number of sessions, this office drew up its own protocols then announced that this should be the guidelines to be followed. 

This announcement pre-empted the release of the guidelines still being fine tuned by the IGA. 

The release of the office's protocols days before the scheduled publication of the IGA counterpart left a very bad taste in the mouth considering that the IGA was in contact with the FDCP.

The premature announcement generated tension between the industry and the office that is meant to support film productions because there was an apparent clash of interests.  

Whereas everybody threw in their support for the IGA Document, FDCP insisted --- by virtue of its government affiliation --- that they should be the ones to be followed and nobody else. 

An open line of communication remained between all parties concerned with the PMPPA insisting that the more realistic and effective protocols were the ones prepared by the actual workers of the industry and not those prescribed by a government office with possibly little experience in on-the-set situations and problems.  Such information can never be acquired through the so-called token consultations much less by synthesizing protocols from the U.S., Europe and other Asian countries.

The PMPPA reiterated: it was following the IGA procedures and not that issued by the FDCP.

It was the insistence of FDCP that they should be ones followed that generated further aggravation and distrust from the part of the industry with that office. Despite all requests for reconsideration, the FDCP held its ground and reminded everyone that their protocol was the officially recognized procedure by the government.

Without any further consultation or communication, FDCP linked with the Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Labor (DOLE) to come up with a Joint Order Agreement (JOA) emphasizing the FDCP protocol as the one and only official guideline for the back to work procedure not only for films but for the audio visual industry.

The same protocol was to be followed by movies, television, live concerts and events, commercial shoots and even theater.  

Anyone who has any familiarity with these platforms would know that there is no way you can use the safety procedures for films with that of theater ... more so with a concert.  But then that was only one of the rather laughable matters that made people not take this hastily put together regulation seriously.

The final pint of fuel to agitate the fire was the release of the FDCP Advisory 06 late Sunday afternoon.

The advisory was directed to everyone.  The Advisory reminded all sectors that they are now answerable to FDCP and that all productions must register their projects with their office seven days before actual shooting. 

This even includes events and productions without audiences or even panel discussions recorded and posted in social media platforms. Does that mean that even Facebook Live panel discussions and vloggers must line up outside their offices to register their proposed broadcasts? Wow, ha?

All these are said to be done in the name of insuring the safety of the workers, so it is said.  But as to why every media activity should be logged in an office like the FDCP is one of the great mysteries of the twenty-first century comparable to the puzzle of the Bermuda Triangle.

The bonfire of vanities has been lit and the fire reached out to the sky by Sunday evening.

How will this work out if the networks already have set their own safety policies and procedures, the commercial productions have already designed their own set of rules and the movie studios were endorsing the IGA's work? 

What came about was more confusion as to who follows what.  This is the last problem people wanted because they would rather focus on going back to work than wondering which rules to follow.

The Questions

Returning to the first statement of this blog, the road to hell is indeed lined with good intentions.  Perhaps the intentions are good but the timing and the rendition are not only bad: they are cataclysmic.

When an industry is literally flat on its back on the ground and trying to get up, you do not step over it and say "you follow what I say." 

An important measure of effective leadership is the ability or even the capacity to listen to the constituents to find out what they feel and need. Shutting one's faculties to these important data is tantamount not to leadership but to other terms which are unsavory and synonymous to "un-democratic." Maybe even "Imeldific."

Now what has become of paramount importance is knowing the exact mandate of the FDCP --- why it is still there and why it was created close to two decades ago.  

The principal proponents from the industry were the late Marilou Diaz-Abaya and Laurice Guillen, who battled it out with Congress to create the council meant for two distinct purposes: (a) to supervise the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB) that would assess quality Filipino films to be rewarded with tax incentives and (b) provide developmental projects and programs to upgrade the artistic and technical quality of Filipino film making and help market local films abroad through international film festivals, markets and other opportunities for a wider exposure.

Laurice Guillen was the first chairman of the FDCP when it was established.

To this day, the Council is headed by a Chairman and comprised of (a) the President of the Film Academy of the Philippines  (b) The President of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (or his representative)  (c) The Secretary of the Department of Education (or his representative) (d) The Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (or his representative) (e) The Chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority (or his representative)  (f) The Chairman of the Cinema Committee of the National Commission of Cultural and Arts (g) The President of the League of Mayors (or his representative) (h) A representative from a recognized group of film workers  (i) A representative of a recognized group of film producers and (j) a representative from the Academe.

These are all presidential appointees even if the FDCP is under the supervision of the Department of Education.  The present status of the council is that it has no representative from film workers as well as no representative from the producers. Today, there are only eight members in the Council.

All projects and endeavors of the FDCP are not the pursuits of the Chairman alone but the council that empowers the one who holds the position to plan and implement these activities. The members of the council are also accountable to what they approve or disapprove as far as the activities of the office.

Repeatedly it is underlined that the FDCP is and should be the operational function of a council. 

As illustrated by the choice of membership of the council that should approve its policies and programs, the FDCP was designed to supplement the growth of industry standards and facilitate its positioning in the international market which is why the NCCA and the CCP are there ... and so are the mayors and the MMDA.  

The council is about promoting films not legislating policies involving films.

Never was it meant to intervene with labor practices, issuance of permits or requiring registration. It should not even intervene with the operation of the various guilds and their activities.  That is the territory of the Film Academy of the Philippines ... not the FDCP.

In its present mandate, the FDCP was created for purposes of supporting the industry through developmental pursuits and has no regulatory power whatsoever to make demands that would point to the monitoring of industries owned and operated by the private sector.

When the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB) was abolished by a ruling of the Supreme Court, the FDCP lost half of what it was supposed to tend.  The only job left was to sell the country in international festivals and to bring opportunities for the Filipino filmmakers to be exposed to the world market. But with travel restrictions brought about by COVID19 --- uhm, all the international film festivals went online and there was not much travelling to do.

So what to do ... what to do?

Now the FDCP is proposing an expansion of its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR.

This is to include a much greater extent of power and territory.  This would validate the inclusion of other audio visual industries like television, commercial productions, live events and theater.  Because as it is ... the FDCP should be working only for the F --- and that is FILM and not FOR EVERYTHING.

As to how the rest of the "audio visual industry" suddenly fell under the umbrella of FDCP, that is a different story all together.  Just blame this as part of the confusion brought about by the pandemic.

And come to think of it, this pandemic has actually opened a lot of gates from which people can benefit from the confusion. Hindi ba?

The Sadness of it All

There is the good news and the bad news.

The bad news is that all trust has been lost between a number of film industry sectors with that of the FDCP.  The goodwill that seemed to have existed before between the industry and the FDCP seemed to have evaporated and turned into steam.

After a series of debacles which started with the JMCm the trust was already lost.  

The JMC involves the safeguard of film workers on the set which was signed, sealed and delivered without adequate consultation with one of the important stakeholders: the producers.

The JMC was passed and published with producers caught by surprise by the inclusion of so many items which were perceived as impractical.  More than that, these addenda bloated the budgets of productions.  Even before the lock down, everyone in the business knew that the numbers being brought in at the box office were already dismal. Any added cost would further cripple productions.

The safety of people on the set is a concern for everybody.  There is nothing wrong with that --- and to find ways of further professionalizing the industry should be encouraged. But consultations are imperatives: policies cannot be made like pulling rabbits out of hats.  People affected by policies should be told and conversations, discussions even arguments should be allowed to be able to ventilate apprehensions and clarify issues.

After a meeting in late February with producers at Annabel's Restaurant in Tomas Morato reacting to the JMC, FDCP promised to review the material and accommodate necessary changes as suggested by producers. It was agreed that suggestions must not compromise the original intent of the proposal.  

Yet sometime late March during the lock down in a zoom meeting with the PMPPA, the JMC still remained in its because FDCP categorically stated that it was already a done deal. Of course, this statement created a major lesion between the PMPPA and that office. What was that promise to wait for the revisions, blah, blah, blah ... so that the producers can throw in their inputs?  What was that February meeting for? To savor the lugaw and tokwa't baboy served over merienda?

Well, it is true. By the time the producers reacted, the JMC had already been published so you really cannot do any revisions. So take it: that seems to be the modus operandi --- You have no choice because we have decided.

Then came the protocol and now this Joint Order Agreement (JOA) between the FDCP and the two government departments.  

Yes, it has reached a point that dialogue is no longer an alternative because it is easier for a biologically deaf person to listen than one who simply chooses not to hear.  There is nothing more tiring and frustrating than an exercise in futility.

With the issuance of the advisory late yesterday, even those who wanted to give people the benefit of a doubt or another chance were convinced as to what direction this narrative was going. 

That is what is most painful.

It is not going to make life any easier for any of us working in films. Or television. Or commercials. 

Now there is another bureaucratic layer where every project must first pass through the office of the FDCP.

And we still ask more than twenty-four hours later: Bakit?

Personally, I am more saddened than angered by the turn of events.

I am saddened because of the total loss of trust and respect for certain persons who I once thought had the best intentions for the industry that I love and given my life. I actually feel so stupid even believing them in the first place.

People can and will disappoint but it is hard to even feign civility when trust has been so diminished from those who you once thought were worth your time and effort. And, yes, respect.

You blame yourself for being too trusting while at the same time you hold back all the self-blame to avoid being completely cynical.

At this point, we in the film industry only want to get back to work. 

 Any form of added bureaucratic process imposed on any of the sectors of our business becomes such an intolerable burden. This is even harder to accept because this comes from an institution you once hoped would provide the crutches for our damaged industry in these most trying times in recent history.

We do not need messiahs of whatever form --- but we want to rise with our own hard work and determination and together.  

For this is the only way we can survive this economic meltdown brought by the pandemic  --- by being united and determined to go against all odds. 

Now that is the good news.  

The Industry is coming together as one --- as we are beginning to see the importance of watching each other's backs. We only hope this experience facilitates all the stakeholders to see how each and everyone of us is as important --- no, more important than any institution --- if we want to validate our dignity as an industry.

For each day when you find that your production manager is now selling kare-kare and tokwa't baboy on line --- or that your location manager has become a delivery boy plying the streets of Manila on his bike to keep his family alive, or that your Utility Boys are literally walking the streets trying to find any temporary employment to get them through the day ... you are stabbed in the heart.  

When you hear all the horror stories of your co-workers scrimping in order to stretch their remaining savings until there is work available ... you realize one thing: you do not need anybody making it harder for you and your brothers to rise up and get back on our feet.

You simply shove these obstacles aside and say, "We are the industry.  We will do it our way."





















Wednesday, June 24, 2020

DAY 100: ECQ


Today I celebrate my 100th day of relative self-isolation.

As I have said before, there have been so many changes happening in me --- that I realize how much of a different person I have become since I agreed to stay within the periphery of my house since 14 March of this year.

Even before the Grand ECQ was announced, I was still trying to do more of the same --- extending that old normal by not taking the pandemic all too seriously to be paranoid.  As late as mid-March we were told that you do not need to wear a face mask unless you are feeling sick.  OK, fine.  I had a face mask tucked in my pocket but it was inconvenient.  It takes getting used to because you are breathing in the same air you are breathing out.

But then you were told that you were wearing that mask not only to protect yourself but to protect others from you.  The fact that you can be going around without knowing you are shedding the virus to everyone who you care to willingly or unwittingly share droplets from your nose and mouth --- is what is most threatening about COVID19.  

I precisely remember that I even had the audacity to go out to the gym and take a selfie to post in Instagram and Facebook after which I received a stampede of text messages from friends and family asking, "What is the matter with you?  Why are you in the gym?" Didn't I know that the fitness club is a petri dish for the virus to go multiply?  What will all the huffing and sweating and bodily liquids splashing around people in treadmills or undergoing ecstacy in a Zumba or spinning class!

Even if I told them then that there were a grand total of four clients in the gym and we were not only one meter --- but one planet apart --- that would not have appeased the concerned mob.  In short, I was unequivocally told to go home and hibernate like the rest of the world.

Nobody thought this would last this long.

I had a friend tell me that it would take about one or two months then it is over.  Kuya, we have entered our third month and we still have not peaked.  I am not going to go into the Blame Game to try to explain why after nearly three months and a half that we are still f--ed up.  But that is the truth:  after three months of no work and keeping away from each other, we are still so screwed.  

One of my friends asked, "Eh, bakit pa tayo nagkulong ng tatlong buwan kung ganito lang naman?"  I wish I could give a convincing answer to that.  But then the more spiritually inclined --- the last of the remaining positivists or those perhaps touched by the Holy Spirit would say, " Nagkulong tayo kaya ngayon buhay pa tayo." Well, yeah. 

The past one hundred days taught us that after two weeks of climbing up the walls of your house out of an urgent need to Get Out , a sobering feeling slowly creeps in making you numbed by hibernation.  Admittedly, I felt restless after the first week of going into a Groundhog Day Mode, knowing that each day will begin and end in exactly the same manner as the day before and even the day before that.  After getting used to a schedule thriving on the adrenaline of frenzy, you are suddenly a sleepwalker.  You feel like a domesticated zombie going on autopilot from moment of waking up until you hear the National Anthem in your mind suggesting the end of the day.

And we have all sorts of mechanisms for coping.  You cannot simply vegetate inside your home waiting for some major event like an alien abduction to give meaning to your quarantined life.

Others took to cooking and/or baking.  Considering all the cooking shows you see on YouTube, you cannot help but rush to the kitchen and bake cookies or banoffee pies.
Just tonight I watched a grand total of six videos on how to make papaya atsara ... and to think that the only time I go to the kitchen is to open the fridge to see what I can eat at one in the morning.  

Others turned not only into couch potatoes but Netflix addicts.  There shall be a term eventually concocted to describe the syndrome of those who wake up in the morning and grab the TV remote control to watch the first of a series of Koreanovelas they will binge on for the rest of the day and repeated throughout everyday of the week.  Some would even confess that they do not go out of their bedrooms because from sunrise to sundown, their eyes are glued on all the Koreanovelas they can consume while their brains are still functional.

And I do not blame them.  Koreanovelas ... or any show you let into your life not only to fill your quarantined days but to give you a sense of purpose is good enough reason for you no longer explaining yourself to everybody.  I mean, really ... it is none of their business what you do in the privacy of your bedroom --- even if it means fantasizing about Park So Joon or Lee Min Ho as the future father of their children.

Then there are those who my nephew calls plantitos and plantitas.

After being trapped inside my house for more than three months, I finally realized (or remembered) that I have a garden.  Yeah, yeah ... it's there. You always take for granted parts of your house if you do not frequent the areas --- or you can do without them.  There was a time I gave the garden much attention ... but then that eventually dwindled. 


Until the lockdown.

As a result of one hundred days of spending a good 95% of the time at home, I have become obsessed with plants.

When finally I could go out, the first major adventure I pursued is to go to Quezon Memorial Circle and buy plants and clay pots.  I also decided to attack Facebook Market ... where I used to hunt for additions to my collection of kaijus ... but now I am hunting for the most colorful indoor and outdoor plants I can find to fill up my house.  Yes, it is therapeutic and all that ... but I never realized it would reach this point when I console myself for my isolation by having a fit of excitement looking at a beautiful succulent.

After one hundred days I finally succumbed to online banking, buying fresh meat and fruits online ... and replaced malls with Lazada, Shopee and Zalora.  I realized that I barely wore anything aside from my pambahay and had no compulsion to dress up and go somewhere for the sake of dressing up and going anywhere.  You can always claim that you are scrimping because for three months there are no jobs ... but then that is only half the picture.

The truth is that after 100 days, you really have lost a substantial gusto for going out.  That much I realized.  After 100 days, I have learned to do without what I used to think was the epicenter of my daily existence.  

We are all still waiting for work to resume ... because of all the complications that arose in a desire to protect everyone on the film's set.  There is no sure Opening Date for us to go back and shoot films or have face-to-face classes with my students.  In the meantime, we ask ourselves ... where did those one hundred days go?

I have a better question: from here, where will we go?  Will we be like here and now for another hundred days?








Tuesday, June 23, 2020

DAY 99: ECQ


Finally, tomorrow I am hitting the century mark for spending my days locked in my house for reasons of human survival.

And as we slowly move into that historic level --- perhaps being distinguished as the winner of the Longest Lockdown Award on the Planet, I am told that there are more than one thousand new cases of COVID19 reported by the Department of Health Tonight.

I do not know what to say.  Perhaps being speechless is the only alternative --- because you really cannot make rhyme or reason about what has happened and what is happening.  Worse, you do not want to think of what is yet to come.

I know for a very sad fact that the virus has taken away about five people I know personally.  That is far much more than the numbers fed to you from all over the world about those who succumbed to the lethal import from Wuhan.  When  there is a name and a face to the victim --- it hits you where it hurts most.  And frightens you.  

No, we haven't flattened the curve.  We haven't even plateaued.  We are just cruising along and let God or Bathala or whoever Supreme Being there is out there to lead us through wherever we are meant to go.  As the number of COVID cases rise, so do we open the doors and ease the quarantine --- some damn irony brought about by necessity.  As I have always said, it all came to a decision to choose between being alive or having a living.

Guess what choice was made?  Matira ang matibay.  As that tindera in the palengke told my housekeeper who asked her why she was not wearing a face mask, the rather proud lady declared, "Naku, yang COVID na yan ... sakit sa grocery at supermarket ... hindi sa palengke. Kami dito sanay sa dumi hindi katulad ng mga mayayaman na masyadong malinis ang katawan kaya sakitin."

OK, tell that to the World Health Organization.  Or maybe somebody can come up with a brilliant theories about spawning anti-bodies.  Tell that to all the confused and confusing as we try to make way out of this pathetic quagmire.

But as we enter the 100th day, we have more problems than the rising cases that seem to smack us right in the face.

I had the mistake to enter a mall to buy stationery and what I saw absolutely depressed me.

Only about thirty percent ... maybe even less ... of the shops were operating.  The mall was dark, devoid of impressive air conditioning (as required by law) and there were about ten of us in there ... at twelve noon.

This is the mall that is my go-to everytime I need to see other human beings of various shapes and sizes: this is the mammon where I can enjoy the noise of crowds while at the same time enjoy the sights and sounds of my little capitalist joys.

Now there is something strangely dystopian about that experience --- something sad not only because of the emptiness of the place but what it implies about the businesses gasping for breath inside.  Fact:  people are still wary of coming out of their homes and exposing themselves to others ... social distancing or not.  Moreover, nearly three months of isolation has taught the common folk that you can stay home and not feel miserable because this is all a matter of getting used to.

And when staying home becomes a necessity --- then going out to see the sights and sounds of beautiful commerce turns into an unnecessary luxury.

I have spent three months without buying a stick of clothing.

I have amused myself with streaming platforms and found the joys of the diversity of YouTube.

I have learned that you can buy almost anything online ... ranging from succulents to terra cotta pots for plants to ink for your printer and even the best kare-kares in town.  You have discovered the joys on online groceries and even have Wagyu cubes delivered to your doorstep.

And you realize that you do not need crowds.  As a matter of fact, you have grown a fear of them.  

Thus business are literally struggling.  And one good reason why malls are empty is because walang pera ang tao. Ganoon lang kasimple yon.  At kung may pera man sila, there is no joy going to a mall that has turned into a catacomb.

So how are we going to proceed from this?  As we enter our 100th day, we ask ourselves, "O, tapos?" and we wish somebody can give us a concrete answer.

But the way it seems, the operating principle in these parts is, "Bahala na si Batman."

Now that is really scary.


Monday, June 22, 2020

DAY 98: ECQ


For some it is already Day 100.  For me, it is Day 98.  But it does not matter.

What I know is that my world ... our world ... went on Pause Mode for more than three months.

That means three months of no work.  Three months of self-isolation in our homes with the singular intent of protecting ourselves from a lethal virus that has cause a shutdown to a great percentage of the planet.  Three months of not going out of the house (unless extremely necessary) and if and when that need arises ... showing one's self in public looking like a Star Wars character complete with face mask, face shield, gloves, shoe protectors and terrified/paranoid that the next human being who comes closer than three feet away will sputter droplets containing the lethal COVID19 and take you back to the Kingdom of God even when that was not yet part of your immediate plans.

Yes, even after close to 100 days I still feel paranoid.

What used to be an anticipated respite --- even a weekend adventure --- has become a major production number: that is doing the groceries.  Somehow it has become too much of a ritual, so much of a hassle to be gearing yourself up while carrying about a bottle of alcohol or hand sanitizer in your pocket, gasping for breath because when you wear these masks you are sniffing back the carbon dioxide you should be sending to plants with sweat dripping from your forehead because of your face shield.  And all because you wanted to buy a bag of spaghetti and a can of tomato sauce or maybe yet another roll of three ply toilet paper.

If you believe all the rumors floating around, then you would not only have turned into a paranoid but a misanthrope because of this pandemic.

Remember that we were all warned that you wear face masks to protect others from infection just in case you are carrying the virus and asymptomatic.

That is the biggest hassle of them all.  Them asymptomatics.  There is absolutely no way of telling whether somebody is carrying the virus and spreading it to anyone who gets on the way of his droplets emanated from his nose and mouth.  What is even more threatening is that some people with such impressive health may be infected but barely affected by the virus because they may have semblances of the genes of the Planet Krypto in their system.

So the point is that you better keep away from people.  Regardless of degree of familiarity or whether you share immediate or distant branches of a family tree, you still keep away from each other because nobody is safe.  You can only make yourself safer by avoiding all human contacts.  

I would have thought that bonding with animals in the absence of humans would be good enough (and, at times, even better) until news came out that even cats can be infected by COVID19.

Maybe that is what makes these past 98 or 100 days completely ... disorienting.

For more than three months a number of us have not seen our friends and relatives.  

Yes, we can Zoom and Skype ourselves until we actually believe that people are meant to be compartmentalized like Crossword Puzzle grids --- but that is the best that we can do.  And when quarantine was finally eased to get people back to work (and save what looks like an economy tail spinning then spiraling down to the infinity pits), there is no sufficient solution to the shortage of mass transportation to get people around.

As a grumpy friend of mine said, "How can we get around with social distancing in public transportation whereas in the 'old normal' it was already hard enough to get a ride ... ngayon pa with social distancing?"  

This also leads me to another frustration that even with the easing of the quarantine, I cannot completely reopen my office because I do not want to risk the health of my assistant who has to take the MRT from his place to our place of work.  Not only is that a death-defying trial to get on the train ... but the amount of waiting time is enough for anyone to beg for euthanasia even before you get aboard a coach.

Yes, I am still disoriented ... and maybe flabbergasted that it will almost be 100 days for me and I still do not see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I do not know when I can see my friends and family again ... or when I can dine in a restaurant and have a good meal and a good laugh with my buddies without curtains of transparent plastic fluttering in between us so that we are safe from each other.  

I want to hug people again --- and not limit this predilection of mine to my Labrador retriever who has been hugged too many times she is beginning to keep away from me.  
Sige, I can do without the handshakes and maybe turn Japanese or Korean by replacing this with a gentle bow.  I can even do without the high fives --- but I want human contact again.

I want to be human again ... for this is what the virus has done to punish us.  We are kept away from each other.  We are being taught a lesson of how we took things so easily for granted.  And now that we must keep away from each other, we realize that there the privilege of human touch is priceless ... and necessary.

I want to be with people again.  I want to get back to work.

Perhaps I am wanting a world that will take so much time (especially here) to even create a semblance of sorts of the way it was.











Saturday, May 30, 2020

DAY 75: MECQ

In two days, we are graduating to General Community Quarantine (GCQ).

There have been so many levels of quarantine of varying degrees of restrictions that it has become confusing.

Well, it has always been confusing.  We started out with GCQ that eventually became ECQ (Enhanced Community Quarantine) which mellowed down into MECQ ( Modified Enhanced Quarantine) then finally back to GCQ ... but wait, there's more ...MGCQ ( Modified General Quarantine).

OK, folks. I will admit it. Litung-lito na po ako. (Translation: I am so confused.)  What is that threadbare difference between ECQ and MECQ.  All I realized was that when it turned MECQ, I could finally get out of my house and stop talking to my dog.  

Meaghan, my feisty-unconditionally-loving Labrador, used to do somersaults and cartwheels each time I come home in the south especially after spending a stretch of a week in the north where I work.  One thing I realized was that at the start of the quarantine ( like long ago second week of March), Meaghan was the happiest mammal on earth after having and seeing me every day by the week.

And since we were all literally locked in our houses with only my ever faithful Yaya and assistant doing all the chores with a quarantine pass, I was stuck with Meaghan who loves to play fetch and would sit down quietly while I talked to her.  I realized that after around one month and a half of that, she was beginning to respond to my conversations with her --- much to my fear that one day she would answer back.

Hindi pa naman.  But my constant presence has someone become quite customary to my canine friend that the excitement is gone.  Meaghan has stopped doing somersaults and cartwheels when she sees me.  When I call her name, she would still come with that look that seems to say, " Ano na po?" expecting nothing more or nothing less of what we have been doing for what she must feel like dog years.

That is the bane of ECQ --- but now that we are morphing from MECQ ( Puwede na akong lumabas ng bahay at magpa-walking-walking while keeping social distance and talking to other dogs in the neighborhood), I am not quite sure that I am happy/excited or nervous/terrified that in two days, doors will be opened as businesses slowly resume and people are expected to slowly move back to work.

Since the lock down mid-March, I have gone out of the house for a grand total of four times.  That is four times I have seen beyond my backyard and the empty lot in front of my house, plus the row of residences that lined up my street.  Yes, I do walk around the village but that is a thirty minute ritual I have been doing since the village association allowed us to get some more fresh air outside our enclaves.  And the four times I have stepped into what remains of civilization was to go to the bank, go to my dentist (who thankfully accommodated by request) and these past two days to the grocery stores. 

And why did I spend my afternoons braving the grocery stores (which have always been happy places for me before we are all compelled to wear face masks --- and I don an extra barrier of face shield) these past two days?

Because I am terrified with the oncoming GCQ.  Yes, that is right. I am mollified with the very thought?

Bakit?  Should I not be happy that by Monday the trains will be running again, the buses will be plying the main thoroughfares, more stores will be opened? 

Straightforward answer: Hindi.  Hinding-hindi.  Being hesitant to terrified is nothing close to exciting and anticipating.  Now why this ... unusual pessimism?  Why this fear?

For one thing I have friends who consistently remind me that being a senior citizen leaves me to the vulnerable group.  Yes, that's right.  But being over 60 does not mean that I will do something stupid like walk around carelessly or in abandon or go around sniffing other people's breaths to check if they ate anything with garlic.  Of course I am careful, very careful.  "But this is an invisible enemy.  You can get it from touching surfaces, yada, yada, yada.  You have to spray the soles of your shoes before you enter your house, yada, yada,yada ...You have to take off your clothes before entering your ..."

OK KA LANG?

More than the virus, it is the paranoia that accompanies the pandemic that adds an extra layer of psychological danger, leaving so many people depressed, isolated and ... simply OC to the max.  Look, I wash my hands more than ten times a day and in between it has been rubbed with so much ethyl that it has become a certified alcoholic.

Yes, I understand the source of the paranoia but how can we go on living like this?  I mean ... it is bad enough to we have wear face masks and shields and assume the fellow next to you is an asymptomatic shredder of the virus, right?  Can't we at least have a little bit more room for joy not to think that somebody stupid will go up to you and cough right at your face?  (Uhm, don't watch too much YouTube because some freedom-loving-God-trusting Americans actually do that to prove that they come from the Mothership of the Brave and the Free.)

Now why am I not exactly about GCQ this Monday?  Because I think I know what other people mean by GCQ meaning Get Corona Quickly.

FACT:  We are loosening up the quarantine not because it is already safer ( OK ka lang?) but because of the economy?

Other facts: We have not flattened the curve.  The curve is still as big as my senior citizen belly ... and it is very curved.  How can we claim flattening the curve when there are more than one hundred cases reported by the DOH as the days go by.  Holy Banana!  The other day more than five hundred new cases were reported --- and I can imagine an entire room of people peeing in their pants because we are opening up on Monday.

So having realized that sandamakmak pa ang mga taong nagkalat diyan na may beerus, we have to get real  And more than just careful  

You'd want to beg them to stay home instead and practice social distancing? Malabo yon. Why? Because these people have got to eat ... and therefore work.

Sige. The strangest of times to loosen up the quarantine after almost three months --- then to be told, "God be with you."  I will not go into that now.  But all of you know how most feel.  The decision to go into GCQ is not about health or lives ... it is about a healthy economy and saving livelihood.

Even as I write this, the prospects are not exactly sunny bright down the Yellow Brick Road.  And, if it is any consuelo de bobo, the problem is not isolated to our dear archipelago of a republic. It is a problem suffered by most nations when a pandemic hit the planet and nobody was really prepared ... except for a handful of countries like New Zealand and Taiwan.  But, as for us .... OK, let's move on.

RUMORS:  One of the biggest food chains in the country --- a certified giant --- is in really deep shit.  Another mammoth of a corporation may be dismissing as much as 50% of its regular employees.  Franchise branches of another food chain are closing down.  Most, if not all private schools, are in the red because of the unforeseen closure of these establishments for two months and enrollment for the next terms are trickling in.

Ah, teka ... did you know that they are projecting 300,000 OFWs are coming home because they have lost their jobs from all corners of the globe?

Over and above that, there is a necessity for GCQ even if it is not the right time or place to do so to insure the health of the citizenry.

The battle was simplified: LIFE OR LIVELIHOOD?   Livelihood won.  Matira ang matibay.  Labanan ito ng resistensiya at immune system.

Bluntly put again, there is really not much of a choice.  Just like Trump opening up America when the casualties are still on the upswing.  Another extended lockdown and the economy collapses.  And that is more long-lasting and deadly as the virus.

Never mind if there is no solution given as to how the returnees to work will get to their offices considering a skeletal mass transport system will only be in place. Eh, di maglakad. O magbisikleta.  Poproblemahin pa ba naman nila pati yan? Basta.

So what gives?  Better yet, may choice ba tayo?  Yes, we can choose to be careful and very good reasons to be afraid. 

My paranoid friends will be more paranoid.  Others will develop severe agoraphobia --- while they may be others who will be wearing face masks, face shields, goggles and PPEs while lining up to enter S & R.  I will not be surprised.

Am I afraid of Monday?  Naman. Which was why I bought my groceries to last me for another two weeks.  I don't know about you guys ... but I am staying home.  Because it is GCQ.

The elimination round of Palarong Panggutom  (Translation: Hunger Games ) begins 12MN, 01 June 2020.

Let the games begin.







Saturday, May 23, 2020

DAY 69: MECQ


So I finally finished watching the series that everybody was insisting that I catch.

Well, yes.   The World of Married Couple (2020) holds the record of having the highest audience share in a cable network show in South Korea, edging out Sky Castle (2018-19) as the most popular tv drama to grace the highly crowded and competitive world of soap operas.

Unknown to many, The World of Married Couple is an adaptation of the BBC One series Doctor Foster which ran for two seasons starting in 2015 then 2017.  A look at the synopses of the series will reveal that World of the Married Couple follows exactly the same narrative points, deriving the characters from the British original and tweaking this to be credibly adapted in the Korean setting.

Even the basic premise of a happy family with a very successful wife in the medical field with a husband in a less structured profession  (in the British version, he is a property developer while in the Korean counterpart he is a filmmaker) and a young son.  The germ of the series --- the discovery of a husband's infidelity --- is exactly the same: the doctor wife finds a blonde strand of hair on the scarf lent to her by her hubby.

After the wife ( Jo Jun Woo portrayed by Korean veteran actress Kim Hee-Ae) confirms that her husband has been nice but manipulatively naughty, all hell breaks loose.  Her obsession to pin down her hubby Lee Tae-ah (Park Hae-Joon) with his scorching affair with younger, fresher and richer daughter of a financial kingpin, Jo Jun-Woo's entire world now centered on getting her comeuppance.  

All this happens as neighbors-who-were-once friends become witnesses to the spiraling of a marriage to the pits of hell.  The idyllic loving portrait of a marriage has now deteriorated into this exercise in mutual outrage in which husband and wife play a violent game of ping pong of comeuppance, trying to outwit each other and tragically pulverizing their union while remaining in love.

Nakakapagod, ha?  Sa totoo lang.

Oh, wait!  There's more: in the middle of the private world war between Doktora and Direk is their cute little muffin of a son who is on the verge of adulthood --- and is perhaps undergoing the worse possible trauma for any child of any age to experience: to witness Mama and Papa beat the living daylights out of each other. 

Added to that is the gorgeous nymphet of a mistress, Yeo Da-Kyung ( wonderfully played by a Korean actress who looks like the sweetest peach, Han So Hee) who knows what she wants while endless doubting her lover's sense of loyalty and capacity for commitment.  As to why she was obsessed with Direk I am still trying to figure out.  She of great wealth and social status has fallen under the spell of Direk who is about a decade and a half older and is more wimpy than charming.

But let that all be part of the folly of youth, puwede? Even when her family practically disowns her for being ... an adulteress lang naman, the moment Direk became successful, their union was accepted because the little princess was happy.  Anong klaseng pamilya yan? Whatever.

O hindi ba nakakapagod talaga?

This is the series that nudged out what I consider as my personal favorite among the handful of Koreanovelas that I have binged on.  This is Sky Castle.  

in so many ways there are so many similarities and differences between these two best selling Koreanovelas.  But again, we have to revert to the fact that World of the Married in all its sixteen episodes is actually an adapation of  two seasons of a British original whereas Sky Castle has that distinct suburban Seoul feel precisely because the series centers on the Tiger Moms of SoKor, literally cracking the whip to get their kids into the best medical school that side of the planet.

The similarities between the two series are as vital as their differences. Both are glaring.

What is interesting is that even if World of the Married is still your standard fare of the Kabit Series, the choreographed catfights between wife and young mistress ( bitch kung bitch ang labanan at utakan) are so well thought out and never more of the same that you have overdosed since you first learned the word TV Infidelity.  

On the other hand, with a veteran actress like Kim Hae-ee and an up and coming star like Han So Hee, there is still novelty in what you can expect between the asawa versus the querida.  

Here, the wife is made to be the object of sympathy.  Too much sympathy for that matter which I feel tends to work against what I had hoped the material to be. Panginoon kong Lord, purgang-purga na ako sa mga martir na missis in the entire history of Philippine telenovelas that I am waiting for a missus portrayal who does not think that being a doormat is an accessory leading to the Kingdom of God. And this whole bit of true love while being cheated on, maltreated and yes, attempting to ruin one's career, is not unconditional love. It is more of ... uh, stupidity?

And that is what I loved (and hated) about the lead in Sky Castle. Han Seo-Jin (an award-winning performance by Yung Jung-ah) was this obsessive mother wanting her daughter Kang Ye Seo (Kim Hye Yoon) to be on top of the game, to be able to become that superstar student to enter the best medical school in the country and to carry the family tradition of her flaky father Kang Joon San (Jung Joon Ho).  She would do anything  and everything to insure her daughter's success in her not so subtle way of projecting fulfillment and achievement in life which she never had.

There is that dark secret in Han Seo-Jin that she hides from that uppity circle in the exclusive enclave called Sky Castle and she would sacrifice everything for her daughter to be the Queen Bee that she never was.  Even the dynamics of her so-called friends and co-residents of Sky Castle is a satiric look at the Korean middle class, treated as a black comedy.

Both lead characters in World of the Married and Sky Castle are middle aged women trying to find affirmation in their choices in life.

For the Doctora of World, it is all about preserving what she has --- ( "my house, my son, my life") and making sure that she does not lose all that defines her existence,.  For the Senyora of Sky Castle, it is about revising the past by creating a more perfect future than her already better present.  She, bitter of the past, is completely clueless of how she is ruining her present by trying to constantly manipulate people around her to follow the script she has written for the way her future will go.

Doctora, deep in her heart of hearts, still wants Direk to come back to her loving arms despite all her resolutions and inner dialogue about it is time to move on. (Weh!)  Yet at the slightest provocation, she literally whimpers back to the territory of that salacious, money-leeching womanizer offering her hand as help.  

Nakakainit talaga ng ulo si Doktora. 

There came a point when I wanted to pick up the remote and throw it at my TV just to bonk some sense in the head of this imaginary character I am watching come to life.

Ano ba naman yan? Nabugbog ka na nga, nasipa ka na nga sa trabaho ... and you still sing what I did for love?  

That was why I had to exercise maximum self control when she was still behaving sympathetically to his baboon of a husband ... while we have this son who developed a psychological aberration who is worming his way, emotionally blackmailing his parents in his call for a family reunion that was never meant to be.

Nakakapagod talaga ang palabas na yan. Despite all its high drama and intense twists and turns of the plot, there is not a single sympathetic character you would root for dahil gusto mong sampalin silang lahat. Period,.

Maybe that is why I prefer Sky Castle not because of the clarity of its narrative arc but because it was less exhaustive with the depiction of strong, scheming and manipulative women given enough humanity as well as toxicity.  If there is one thing I loved about Sky Castle is the way Han Seo Jin was humbled by the very machinations that defined her ambitions.  With the case of Ji Sun Woo of World of the Married, it was her ambiguity, her namby-pamby character that degenerated her will and strength into textbook obsession.

But I guess I was so involved, so engrossed and so outraged by World of the Married that proved how effective it was a series. Kahit ngitngit na ngitngit ako while watching, I was still addicted to the series.

The fact that even while I was seething with anger and frustration I was still hooked and wanted to see the very end of this long and twisted tale.  World of the Married adapted two seasons of Doctor Foster in sixteen episodes ... and if audience members felt shortchanged or cheated by the ending, I did not.  Spoiler alert: some resolutions are not necessarily happy endings.

Life, either in Gowon (where World of the Married) takes place or Sky Castle was never meant to be perfect.  Topsy-turvey, convoluted, twisted ... and even perverse but never perfect. 

And this is why it is such a delicious guilty pleasure indulging in these Korean telenovelas.

That is why I love Han Seo Jin more because she may not be the sharpest pencil in the box, but she is still sharp.  She gets herself into trouble because she wants the best for herself and her loved ones but she will never succumb to senseless martyrdom in the name of love.  And that is why, in so many ways, I will not forget Ji Sun Woo as she has become the personification of that saying that intelligence and education has got nothing to do with how one handles personal relationships.

OK. Onto the next Korean series.  I tried Reply 1988 (Promise!) but I found it too hyper and over-the-top and ... uh, noisy ... that I decided to take friends' advice and move onto a 2016 series called Remember.  

Hayan, hooked na naman ako. At umiiyak. Look what COVID19 and self-imprisonment have done to me.