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Plastic chairs

“It’s a struggle keeping people comport themselves with discipline in such a large crowd.

Jun Vallecera

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Three days ago, our barangay chairman sent word for us residents of Loma de Gato to prepare for the arrival of the provincial governor, a former actor who’s popular with the ladies and apparently not so much with the male of the species. The message was in the form of a tiny stub, citing the approximate time by which the provincial executive would make his appearance and distribute the latest batch of goodies helping sate the hunger of quarantined Bulakeños.

Some of us, especially those monitoring the Facebook page of local government officials and their minions, keep tabs of the next announcement of freebies, but are often frustrated because the latest distribution was happening somewhere else. This time, however, the message was clear: Write your name on a clean sheet of paper with your name and address, tack or clip it on a chair and place the dang thing at the basketball court where the distribution effort would take place.

Right away, I could see the mayhem that would ensue, social distancing be damned — and that’s exactly what happened. Barely had our community leader delivered the announcement when residents began convening at the assigned place just a stone’s throw away from where our house stands. One could quickly see that people are desperate because the basketball court, which could accommodate a stand-up crowd of probably a thousand, quickly filled with people and chairs even this late in the morning when the temperature was in the high 30s. Gawd, it’s a struggle keeping people comport themselves with discipline in such a large crowd. I cannot imagine how the kagawad or those in authority keep the residents reasonably behaved in the stifling heat.

Long story short, the good governor did not show his face and good for him because the community was mad. At least one gets the feeling most residents were unhappy, and who wouldn’t? Right away, I told my household no one should go out and fall in line like the rest of the herd out there. It was just too damn dangerous. Like in many places across Metro Manila, quite a number of people throw away caution and walk around making conversation with neighbors without masks. One could not believe these casual nuts with brains the size of their balls ride cars — SUV no less — and still be nonchalant about the risk they are taking in public. All for three kilos of rice, a can or two of sardines and two packs of instant noodles. And, of course, the promise of seeing a good-looking person, a celluloid personality that could charm the ice lady herself in no time at all, the star of the whole show.

I would see the lines of household seating items elsewhere near our place for days after the no-show provincial executive stood up his constituents. Further down this stretch of road, just past the point where a two-year-old 7-Eleven makes good business, erected are huge warehouses that have since replaced a track of rice land that had grown green around May as the rains begin and turn gold three or four months later. This used to be my favorite stretch of road where the scent of ripening rice wakes one up from an often stressful commute typically lasting 2.5-hours to three hours from Manila one way.

At the Bahay Pare Road just outside our multiphase community, long lines of plastic chairs stand in the sun three, four or five-seats deep for up to 50 meters long, forlorn, getting hotter by the minute. Further down Camalig Road, still long lines of plastic chairs dot the side of the road past the point where the new City Hall building stands. And in all those hot and dangerous places, people mill around waiting for manna to come down and sate hungry bellies, quench thirsty throats.

As I understand it, many more such plastic chairs have been lined all across Bulacan not just this week but the past week as well. No doubt, more such desperate lines of hunger and thirst would appear and hopefully the executive-as-messiah would have the grace to show his face, say a few words of compassion and may, just maybe, encourage his constituents to have the good sense to wear a mask, observe social distancing and, for goodness sake, behave like people.

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