Gov’t Says “Stay,” Do It: Gripe Later


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If you feel awkward or uncomfortable at the government’s new strategy of “community quarantine” imposed to restrict human movement in a bid to contain possible infection from coronavirus, well, you might want to reshape that thinking by learning one culture aspect of the highlanders.

Because for past centuries, olden people of Cordillera highlands have been practicing “community quarantine” for a long time. Even today, many highlander families adhere to that culture.

That certain culture is embodied in two categories which are, ritualistic that requires strict procedures and non-ritualistic signified by objects and protection symbols – the very same procedures which the government wants us to follow in their quarantine strategy.

But let’s get our bearing about this government’s quarantine strategy and appreciate it from the vantage of the highlander culture practiced centuries and still carried today.

A deadly and grim struggle for survival is being waged by Cordillerans, lowlanders and other kabayans in the country against a silent but relentless, stalking and deathly-deadly enemy that has roiled the nation and the rest of the world to uncertainty.

For Cordilleran, lowlanders and other kabayans, their resilience, known to endure different forms of hardships, will be tested in the coming days by the worsening impact of corona virus’s threat that has already incurred unprecedented trails ahead as comprehensive curbs on routine lives come into force.

In Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and Region 1,  every barangay has imposed an enhanced community quarantine, a barangay level system against a respiratory illness declared by the World Health organization (WHO) as pandemic, while the national government is navigating the fine line between being prepared and averting people’s fury for a perceived late action.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID 19) is the latest in a series of infectious disease emergencies, including Ebola, cholera, Chikungunya, SARS, influenza and HIV/AIDS.

What sets apart COVED 19 from other emerging diseases is, little is known about the novel coronavirus, but what is known is that it has already killed thousands, worldwide.

Financial crunch looms as economy from any country where it lurks reels under coronavirus sledgehammer shock.

Another fact:  human-to-human transmission has been confirmed.  That puts our government in a very tight bind. And why it’s imposing community quarantine.

least we can do: follow instructions and gripe later till heaven falls down. If the highlanders believe in their community quarantine culture, well, so can we.

Community quarantine of the highlanders is better known in the Mountain Province and its adjoining areas as “tengaw.”  Other tribes in the highlands term it “obaya.” In Kalinga Province, it is termed “to-or,” or, “te-er.”

Highlanders community quarantine is strongly tied to the principle of society’s view as perceptive, cognitive and affective pictures that people in the highlands make sense of their social landscape and to navigate their paths to whatever purpose they seek.

So is the government’s community quarantine strategy: it’s a perceptive, cognitive and affective pictures that authorities seek to make sense of the present situation (coronavirus threat) and steer the masses away from imminent danger lurking ahead.

Tengaw, particularly termed by the Bontoc tribal folks of Mountain Province, literally means, rest day. However, it’s practiced according to purpose. Same as “to-or,” or “te-er,” by the Kalinga tribal folks.

For the overriding purpose of the rest day is that it’s forbidden by anybody to go out from their homes after elders performed the sacredness of a ritual and anyone violating the practice will be fined according to customary laws.

Implementation of the “tengaw,” “obaya,” “to-or” or “te-er” may arise due to burial of a dead, observance of an agricultural calendar or simply call of elders that it’s forbidden for anybody to go out to the fields and how many times it’s observed is the elders’ prerogative.

When the highland community quarantine is being observed, there usually are signs or symbols in community entry points, in homes or in the fields which means, “No entry,” to said community.

In short, the highland community quarantine is most closely similar to “lock-down.”

In olden times, when tribal wars often erupted, lock-down was severely total in scope and magnitude.

If one is to study closely the highlanders’ community quarantine, it revolves around respectful individualism, which borders on helping relationship where individual responsibility is everyone’s collective responsibility in ensuring peace and order in the highland society.

So exactly is the goal of the government’s community quarantine: that everybody must ensure that their barangay’s safety from COVID-19 is a collective effort.

Ah Kong, who happens to have blood of the I-Talubin (another highland tribe in Mountain Province) running in his veins, have long been appraised by his Talubin elders of the community quarantine practiced in Talubin and in Can-eo (another tribe in Mountain Province).

For example, when a highland quarantine against an illness (like colds) called “pa-ang” is in effect, the skull of a butchered dog is hung at the entrance of the community, on orders of elders after their ritual in the “ato,” (place where elders deliberate community matters).

The dog’s skull is a sign of the “pa-ang” activity and conveys warning to everybody, visitor and community resident.

Or it can be in the form of “puchong,” wherein a freshly-cut stick with meat in it is strategically placed in a path as a warning against entry or trespass. This stick with meat is usually placed along paths leading to the fields as a deterrent for others not to venture into the fields.

Puchong is also done with grass tied in a knot, stuck in a stick and placed where it can easily be discerned.

In Kalinga Province, this “puchong” practice of the Talubin and Can-eo people is called “pechus,” whereby and eight-knotted loop made up of “rono” leaves are placed in a restricted area, after a ritual being performed, with the purpose of warding off any entry.

In these changing dynamics of safety and security of the present time, sophistication of modernity, education and technology, the indigenous security measures practiced by the highlanders and presented here, may, in little way, help any to appreciate the government’s community quarantine measures against the dreaded COVID-19.

But it’s up to everyone to make it work. Needless to say, we comply first. After complying and when everything’s back to normal, then we can damn, to our heart’s delight, the government for our complying.

We should also bear in mind to whisper a word or two of thanks of appreciation to those  ordered to the battle frontlines while we were ordered to stay in the comfort of home: the men and women of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP); the men and women of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the men and women of the medical field, the men and women of the services sector and all those who in one way or the other manned the barricades so we can sleep tight.

For they STAYED AT WORK FOR US; the least normal we should do is stay at home for them.

Unlike Ah, who’s always a contradiction to the normal. Last week, after getting first-hand information from his sources that the government will soon be implementing community quarantine, he wrote a letter to the HR of Herald Express.

Ah’s letter read:  Dear HR Manager,

Subject: Leave Application

As I am suffering from cough of questionable and suspicious origins, kindly grant me thirty days paid leave including travel allowances. Otherwise, I will come to the office tomorrow.

Answered HR Manager: Dear Mr. Bony A. Bengwayan

Re: Request for sick leave

After knowing that you are infected “of cough of questionable and suspicious origins,” we have asked all employees to work at home. You can come to the office and start working alone. SICK LEAVE NOT GRANTED! Signed, HR Manager.

Ah’s cough of questionable and suspicious origins also manifest itself among many, as Ah’s kind-hearted friend, of Chinese descent, found out to his dismay. This friend happens to be so kind-hearted he gives “pautang” to anyone who goes to him crying. But they don’t pay him back.

One-day last week, Ah’s friend decided to make “singil” of their utang. But when Ah’s friend confronts his debtors about their utang, the debtors are suddenly gripped with uncontrollable coughs, forcing Ah’s friend to backpedal for social distancing. He says, “Ako singil, sila bigla ubo!”

Or this Bombay friend whose debtors always ran away upon seeing him. Now that home quarantine is in place, he grins, saying to Ah, “Ngayon ako maniningil. Sigurado nasa bahay lahat sila. Yari lahat sila sa akin!”