Arat’s ‘gara-gara’

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

The ‘Arat Na Cebu’ concert last Saturday drew a handful of concerns from local health authorities and rightly so. It’s not about the large gathering per se because as I understand it large outdoor gatherings may be allowed under Alert Level 1. It was how the organizers failed to manage the large crowd streaming into the jam-packed venue.

Aside from that, it was also the mood and attitude that underscored the event which makes it disturbing.

I’ll take up first the crowd management concern. Police officials denied that there was a stampede, so let’s give them that. But what’s clear is that hours prior to the event, a massive crowd of people pressed tighter toward the entrance of the Cebu City Sports Center, throwing aside social distancing rules. The total attendance to the event was later pegged at 100,000 people, mostly youngsters whose vaccination status could not be ascertained. There was also no mention about marshals having strictly implemented the mask mandate which, under Alert 1, is still part of the minimum health protocols.

If Cebu City officials are not worried still, DOH-7 chief pathologist Dr. Mary Jean Loreche is. Her worry is that the concert, or the way it was handled by organizers, can be a superspreader event. She, however, stopped short of blaming the organizers of the event and instead emphasized that it is now each person’s shared responsibility to police his or her own actions amid the still ongoing pandemic.

That brings me to my second concern regarding the mood and attitude that underscored the event.

We try to impress upon the public the need for shared responsibility as we hopefully (cross our fingers) transition from pandemic to the endemic stage of COVID-19. Yet the ‘Arat Na Cebu’ concert presented itself as a celebration of freedom, in the words of Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama according to reports, “from two years of deprived socialization of the public.” The mayor even assured that that there will be another concert, this time at the SRP, supposedly a bigger venue that can accommodate more people.

We have a Cebuano term for this kind of activity as advertised – ‘gara-gara’ – roughly translated to English as acting up or “acting in a silly or improper way”. Unfortunately, this isn’t the time yet to act silly and let our hair down simply because we survived the Omicron wave last January while our Southeast Asian and East Asian neighbors are still having it rough. We have not yet even achieved the ideal number for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots. And we cannot boast yet of high immunization rates in the island of Cebu.

‘Arat na Cebu’ betrays the emptiness of our local officials’ assertions that we must still be alert and cautious in exercising our regained freedom from most pandemic restrictions. How can you talk about attentiveness and caution when the pre-concert situation as captured by personal videos point to a lack of infection mitigation measures such as ensuring that concert goers adhere to mask wearing and physical distancing?

Instead of trying to outmaneuver this virus that causes COVID-19, it seems that the mindset being promoted now is to celebrate our regained freedom. There is always a way to celebrate initial victories without forgetting that COVID-19 will continue to surprise. Experts may be saying that we could be entering the endgame for COVID-19. But dwindling vaccination uptakes, failing to prepare for a possible next wave, and letting our hair down are not the ways to play this crisis.


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