Finding what’s essential

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    SO it came to pass that a document containing what allegedly were the recommendations of the IATF was leaked on social media. And like before what was finally announced to the public as the new policy post April 30 was more or less what was contained in the leaked document.

    The ECQ over Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Central Luzon and a few other areas (Davao and Iloilo outside of Luzon) was extended, for at least another 15 days. Most of the country was “liberated” from the “harsher” lockdown and placed under what is termed “General Community Quarantine,” allowing life to return to “normal” in baby steps. For a few (toddlers and senior citizens) it’s still stay-at-home; for businesses not deemed essential, it’s still “stay closed.”

    I find it unfortunate, that classification of “non-essential” businesses. You see, what may be non-essential from one standpoint is essential for another: for the barber, the cobbler, the house painter or the TV repairman, their only source of living IS essential to their survival. And yet from another perspective they still cannot earn an honest living because, well, getting a haircut or having a house painted or fixing a TV is deemed not essential to survival!

    That’s the big dilemma our government officials have to deal with – how to help the daily wage earner survive at a time when his source of income has disappeared.

    Of course, the lockdown has forced most of us to confront our day-to-day activities and find out what we can in many ways do without. A haircut that I have twice a week is clearly a luxury, and I’ve learned to live with longer hair (where hair still exists) and more white where there was mostly black. I guess that’s why we have baseball caps. So yes, I can live without a haircut for a month or even two – but what about my barber Sonny and his fellow barbers at Bruno’s?

    The lockdown has made me thank God and Calvin Klein for a surfeit of underwear, and for more towels and tees and jogging pants than what I need in half a year. So yes, I can go without having my underwear and towels and tees laundered in a month or so – but what of Aga and her fellow staff at Ahyi Laundry?

    Late February I finally gave the go-signal to have my late father’s house in Laguna repaired and restored. The contractor I got, Henry, tapped three workmen to work close to round the clock, installing a water tank, buffing the old wooden floor, tearing down walls and cabinets and all. When the ECQ was imposed the workmen had to return to Metro Manila and my timetable was set back. But heck I can afford to wait till July or September instead of May; but the workmen? Their weekly pay of P18,000 or over P64,000 a month disappeared.

    Their work is essential to them. Without their work, Sonny, Aga and the carpenters go hungry. Are they beneficiaries of SAP? I don’t know, and while I would like to hope so I fear they aren’t. What happens to them?

    Sure, big companies can be requested if not ordered to keep paying their employees for a month or a month-and-a-half of lockdown. There are ways to do that, like using up leaves for the year and if necessary using up some of the leaves for next year just so that no one needs to go “no work no pay.” But how much of the Philippine labor force qualify for this kind of an arrangement? How many are regular employees in companies that have the means to absorb the financial pain?

    And how many are dailies or casuals who are on their own just because their work is deemed “non-essential?”

    For once I do not envy my friends who have better singing voices and slightly better looks. They’ve been suffering with the cancellation of gigs and bookings which could last till most of the year. Their work is “non-essential” too, you see, to the rest of the community. And so they too are on their own.

    So much will be changed in our lives, thanks to the virus, but something we need to review is our definition of what “essential” work is. At the bottom, ALL work is essential to the person who makes an honest living from it. Denying people the opportunity to earn and put food on the table should only happen if we have some ability or another to provide for their needs.

    Otherwise, we make an already difficult situation even more so.

    Priority number one for our policy makers, therefore, should be grappling with how to get almost everyone back to their pre-COVID-19 income-generating activities, properly redesigned and retooled for health and safety reasons at least for the duration that a vaccine has not yet been found.

    Earning an honest wage — whatever the calling or craft may be — is always essential.

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