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The battle for space


The warp and woof of our quotidian life has been frayed by COVID 19 in so many different ways it has given impetus to an emerging  mindset of adapting ourselves to a new normal. It’s biology and  raw, if rough, strategy. It’s euphemism to what’s obviously is abnormal. It also betrays almost a resigned posture, even surrender, to what is existentially scaring us.

Our first concession to defeat is our use of metaphor. War is used to define the collective, worldwide effort to combat the pandemic. War, by conventional definition, means an armed conflict between or among human beings. Our current enemy is not a human person, much less an organism with a brain, yet it appears it’s winning the so-called war so far.  It’s invisibility makes it impossible to find exactly where it is and beat it to the draw.

And because it’s a war,  collateral damage is inevitable.

One of these is liberty, and lockdown  or quarantine in whatever “soft” definition it comes is a tell-tale, a handwriting on the wall, so to speak. Quarantine, by simple definition, is the restriction or regulation of people’s movement in public places.   The battle for this space is what puts the public and the police on the edge of confrontational engagement.

Public space presupposes the existence of a private space, or the definition is useless for any purpose except to define as such with no real distinction from other real estate.

I suppose that, had government early on  defined what is public as contradistinguished from what is private — a lawyer’s favorite phrase – it   would have averted the unfortunate shooting of Winston Ragos, and the altercation  between a Makati policeman and an Italian expat in a posh village.

Those much-needed definitions would have helped  the issuance of technical, legal and ethical guideliness within which all concerned should have done what they’re allowed to do under the current discombobulated situation that  afflicts us  like a curse.

Was the fenced off area where Ragos was shot to death public or private? In an open subdivision, how far away from your drive way can you go a stray unwittingly, perhaps even on purpose, to enter a public space?One inch or one meter? Is a condominium a private or public place?   

Last week, I heard Dr. Susan Mercado, wife of former senator and broadcast journalist, explain a rational definition of quarantine. It’ s not prohibiting people to get out of their private abode but to restrict public interaction  through social distancing.  Physical distancing is a better term, more science based; social distancing connotes class, implying the divide between the prioritized and the precariat, can be unconciously or consciously bias.

Why it has not been done, even in the face of such incidents beggars the mind. There is the Supreme C ourt which is supposed to act when people’s right are in danger, or there is the Department of Justice and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. The least they could do is to help those where the rubber meets the road make the right, not the wrong, judgment call. There is such a thing they call moto propio. The public need not shout SOS.

In the absence of such guidelines or insights from institutions and leaders,  the police are left to do which on the basis of their limited judgment is the right thing to do, whether to scream at people, berate them with sticks in their hands, shoo them away like animals or, worse shoot or thrown them to the ground.

It is made worse when the leader of the land encourages the wrong kind of  response. And the overarching argument here is that we’re supposed to be in a civilization. The word civil is its root word. Politeness is what it means. It’s sadly in short supply near the Pasig River and  many check points. And we’re supposed to be a democracy, too, although many has doubted  that since may be two years ago.

In Ireland, for instance, a Catholic country which is also under lockdown, an Irish council  has protested the fact  that policemen at checkpoints have their pistols in their holsters. Here, long firearms are on display  like nobody’s business in what evidently is intimidatory tactic.  One top police official made a stream-of-consciousness slip of the tongue  that it’s applying psy-war to people. And they say it’s not even martial law.

We need space not only to breathe and move about to enjoy our being and our neighbor in a way that is not injurious. Community, especially ours, has proved to  work specially in a crisis situation.  In our current plight, we need more of the show of compassion, respect and civility more than the show of force. The enemy is not us  but the virus.  Everybody is a victim or a potential one.  No need to harm anybody.  If the spirit of the law rather than its letter is foremost in  our mind, we know what the collective goal is: heal as one not harm as many.

The protection of life, liberty and property in the pursuit of happiness is an inviolable Constitutional guarantee. Going to the sidewalk to get sunshine in a village, or take in fresh air in a slum area, is the next best thing for people living can have in their pursuit of happiness, among other things. Working to earn bread for their families and feel living a human life is an extension of that.

We must be given enough space to be and to do even in this dystopic crisis. We know the enemy and it’s not us.


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