Back to work
The crew of the Philippine Airlines flight that flew home stranded OFWs in Riyadh and Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Members of the crew are wearing PPE suits designed by Edwin Tan.
Cielo Villaluna’s Facebook page
Back to work
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - May 22, 2020 - 12:00am

It felt like the first day of school after a two-month summer break. Adjusting to new waking hours, shifting to baon from freshly cooked food from the kitchen, weaning oneself from CLOY and other Netflix hits, fitting into one’s old “uniform” with bated breath, trying on new masks instead of new shades of lipstick.

The government had eased Metro Manila into the so-called “modified enhanced community quarantine” starting May 16 and was allowing certain industries, including media outlets, to reopen under very strict guidelines. It said it was a tough decision but it was necessary to prevent the economy from tanking.

“We advise the public not to be complacent and to follow health protocols set by authorities,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said. “We must understand that we have started to slowly ease restrictions in order to revitalize the economy, and not because we are safe.”

Used to dressing up for work virtually every day of my life, I had somehow eased myself into the more relaxed routine of working from home, which, however which way you look at it, is not the real deal. Returning to the workplace came in the nick of time — I was starting to feel the inertia of being virtually home-bound for two months. I had to practice walking in pumps again after two months of being in tsinelas. Wobbly at first, my first steps into the new normal were just that — I had not quite regained a foothold, but I was willing to take a step forward.

I told my son (who drove me to work last Wednesday, my second day at work), that if I didn’t get back to the workplace soon I would be feeling lethargic (tamad) already, and he said, “Mom, that’s why there’s a meme about humans now understanding clearly why they have to walk their dogs regularly.”

The drive to work during the first few days was blinding. Being up on the skyway with virtually no obstruction between the sky and myself made me squint and wear dark glasses. It was disorienting, being on the road again for more than a grocery run. Seeing how blue the sky was, how clear the air had become made me even more disoriented — was I in some twilight zone at 10 in the morning? Metro Manila’s skyline had transformed — the backdrop got a new splash of azure.

The people that you meet when you’re walking or driving down the street have all eyes on you — for their eyes were the only things visible on their faces. We are now a nation of people who must smile with their eyes, not just with their lips. Made me think — the only person you can smile to nowadays is yourself. Not a single person I saw walking down the street was without a mask — the latter had become as essential as underwear.

The tough ribs of PeopleAsia’s alternate skeleton force.

Outside the first mall we passed, there were chairs, about a meter apart, outside two popular fast food outlets. Each chair was occupied. There was a definite buzz outside the mall as people queued up to get in. Everyone was eager for a day out. Everyone wanted his lingering cabin fever to subside.

***

In the PeopleAsia office, people were bright and cheery — you could see it in their eyes. Because of social media, there wasn’t much fighting for airtime in telling stories about “What I did last summer.” What you did last summer has been all over your FB, IG and IG stories. There was no tan to show off. No new arm candy to display. No new haircut or color to flaunt. Curiously,  no one had more bulges either, as befitting the description of a skeleton force.

I did not see fear or paranoia in the eyes or mood of my colleagues. Like me, armed with masks and face shields, they all had this sense that it was time to face, or face-off, with reality. I didn’t even feel that I was  going to battle — or taunting danger — the way I did when I marched during the 1986 EDSA revolution (despite being eight months pregnant) or reported for work at Malacañang during the 1987 and 1989 coup attempts against the Aquino administration.

Aside from having faith, and believing in fate, most Filipinos are arming themselves to the teeth against the enemy. Perhaps, it is because knowledge is as strong as a Kevlar helmet against a volley of bullets. We know how the enemy, COVID-19, attacks; we know how to reinforce our armor by a volley of vitamins and minerals. We know the enemy is lethal.

During war or coup attempts your home or office isn’t safe. With COVID, as long as you stayed home during the prescribed period, you were safe.

What COVID has claimed if we’re fortunate to be alive today, is not our life but our lifestyle. The way we shop for groceries. That way we socialize. The way we celebrate. The way we dress. The way we enjoy our leisure time. The way we worship. The way we wed (the Archdiocese of Manila says only immediate family and one set of principal sponsors).

Today, all travel photos are throwback photos. Another meme airs the plaintive yearning of walking down the aisle someday and hearing those “magical” words, “This is your captain speaking…”

Some airlines are flying the skies again for repatriation and mercy flights.

Philippine Airlines marked another milestone with its first ever, 16-hour Manila to Miami flight on a Boeing 777 (RP-C7772). In terms of distance, this was PAL’s longest flight, as it swooped over 9,314 miles.

PR 5112’s mission: to fetch 345 Filipino seafarers of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, which chartered the flight. Earlier, PAL flew home stranded Filipino nationals from Riyadh and Dammam in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

PAL flew from Manila to Riyadh to fetch more than 200 stranded Filipino OFWs. From Riyadh, PAL’s A330 flew to Dammam where more than a hundred stranded kababayans joined the flight. The Department of Labor and Employment and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration organized this repatriation flight.

So whether on the ground or 30,000 feet into the clouds, it’s back to work for most of us. Armed with faith, fortitude, knowledge and the eternal hope that a vaccine is forthcoming, we carry on. And even if we can only smile with our eyes, we still have many reasons to smile.

MECQ
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