Uzis, Trancazo, and the Pandemic Pantry
Nurses in masks during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918
Uzis, Trancazo, and the Pandemic Pantry
TREASURE HUNTING - Lisa Guerrero Nakpil (The Philippine Star) - April 26, 2020 - 12:00am

There are some of us who sensibly follow the daily statistics from the Department of Health. These days, there are good tidings that new cases are no longer doubling every three days but every five days.

There are others like me, however, who take refuge as an “uzi” (the infernal kibitzer) on the various viber threads that link the internet-gifted with the rest of us petite bourgeoisie a.k.a. burgis. There are no frustrating queues on Viber, much less a scramble for limited delivery slots. No such thing as thin stocks either as there are incessant numbers of online entrepreneurs offering the COVID-19 must-haves.

Consumer experts say we no longer care as much for “indulgence” and now have a fascination with “immunity.” Thus, in addition to the overwhelming demand for masks and face shields, safety goggles and protective “bunny suits,” there’s an online outcry for vitamin C and zinc, disinfectants and wipes, bacteria-eating UV robots, backpack bug-sprayers, sterilizing foot baths and air purifiers.

Activities that raise money to provide that immunity withstand donor fatigue. The collector community ArtRocks successfully raised P10 million in a matter of days for rapid-testing kits. León Gallery’s online Summer Auction last weekend earmarked funds for PPEs to be the distributed by the Helping Women and Others Foundation to various government hospitals.

There’s also a roaring trade in immunity-enhancing eating: vegetables and fruits that strengthen one’s body from COVID-19 now come in bottles, cans and shakes. It’s also become not just medically sound but also patriotic to buy up the produce from farmers whose crops would otherwise rot on the vine by the closure of hotels, restaurants, and export companies.

It’s what Nielsen calls “the pandemic pantry.” Nature and “namaste” are also taking a backseat to very aggressive methods of hygiene and sanitation.

US Gen. “Howling Jake” Smith gave orders to “kill everyone over 10” during his assault on Samar. The Influenza Pandemic meanwhile struck down even those aged two and above; no one was immune.

Of course, there are those who are re-creating their former lives at the office. Viber now brims with laptops and surge protectors, office desks and swivel chairs, even Starbucks bottled Frappuccinos and UCC beans to duplicate that lost corporate coffee break. Hair-clippers and shavers are must-haves to make you DIY Zoom-worthy. (However, you can hire consultants to figure out not just how to make clever TikTok memes but also how to construct your online conferences.)

Going back to our numbers guys: as of this writing, the Philippine COVID-19 death toll stood at 437. It has taken the country about a month to arrive at that grim figure since it began counting.

On the other hand, the Influenza Pandemic spanned two years from 1918 to 1919 and claimed around 77,000 lives here. The country’s population was only 10 million at the time, compared to the 110 million we stand today.

According to an exhaustive study written by Francis A. Geolago for the Philippine Studies issue on Health in History, there were two major waves of the “trancazo” in 1918. The first was from May to June, which overwhelmed Manila and the surrounding provinces of Laguna, Batangas, Tayabas, Bulacan, Pampanga and also Bataan. This was followed by a second, even more lethal surge, that spanned October to December 2018 and that infiltrated additional areas “that were mostly open to global commerce, most notably Cebu, Iloilo, Pangasinan, Negros and Camarines.” Finally, there was even a third onslaught that traveled to the rest of the provinces in 1919, which should give the IATF something to think about.

The Influenza Pandemic struck down not just “able-bodied Filipinos from the ages of 20 to 39” but also children from the ages of two to nine years old. In hard-hit Manila, no family was immune. My mother’s older sister, Gemma Guerrero, perished from that fatal flu, since she belonged to that vulnerable demographic. Mom would also tell us tales of how my grandfather would leave his doctor’s coat and bag at the door and change into a robe in the foyer. No “mano po”s were allowed and the only kisses permissible were planted lightly on one’s forehead.

A last word of cold comfort: as high as the 1918 influenza death toll was, it paled beside the civilian casualty list for just three years of the Philippine-American War from 1899 to 1902. That terrible number is variously estimated at 300,000 to 700,000 lives lost. In a single campaign, conducted by the infamous General Jake Smith, an estimated 50,000 men, women and children were killed. He had ordered the island be turned into “a howling wilderness” in retaliation for Balangiga and in one stroke had singlehandedly matched more than half of the influenza figures.

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