By GEELA GARCIA
ANTIPOLO, Rizal — The Duterte administration’s lockdown ladened approach to the pandemic has already been proven to be fruitless, yet the government continues to refuse to listen to the calls of the people for mass testing.
A year later, the situation of the working class Filipinos remains the same, even worse, especially for workers under “non-essential” industries as categorized by the government.
When the Duterte administration declared that the NCR Plus would be under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) for two weeks, this meant another two weeks of loss of income for small barbershops and salons, forced to close down for another indefinite duration.
“Because the government keeps on putting lockdown restrictions, we think it’s just using the pandemic as a business. The numbers of active cases are so high, we doubt if the numbers are even real,” Banban, a small-time barber, expressed his apprehensions in Filipino.
“The government corrupted P15 billion from Philhealth. This whole pandemic has been dragged on for so long, that now it feels like it’s not real,” the 36-year-old barber added.
Banban has been working as a barber for five years and feeds a family of four. His only income is from the barbershop, which was now reduced to 50 percent. The barber said that from earning $10 a day, he only earns a meager amount of $5 now.
“We only have customers now since the government released cash aid, but before that, when the people had no money, there were hardly any people coming,” Banban added.
His limited savings saved his family when the three-month lockdown in 2020 began. Although aside from the financial toll, the barber shared that he also feels the effect emotionally.
“I suffer emotionally because life is so difficult. Some of my friends went home to their provinces since they can’t afford to survive here,” Banban said as he remembers fellow barbers who did not survive in the city.
“Our job is different from office jobs, we’re not assured of how much we’ll earn. It always depends on how many people would come in a day,” Banban explained.
Sixty-five-year-old barber Romeo also shared the same experience.
Romeo has been a barber since the 1980s, but he shifts from different kinds of jobs depending on what’s available. Due to the lack of accessible public transportation, he’s trapped in the city and is unable to go back to the province.
During the ECQ, Romeo has been unable to receive cash aid and only earns by rendering service in his friend’s barbershop.
“If I were to compare how many people come to get hair cuts now, I think it’s only 25 percent from the numbers pre-pandemic,” said Romeo.
Joy, the owner of the barbershop Romeo works in, has been a barber for 26 years. His barbershop, to save rent, is a portion of their home. According to Joy’s wife, Gina, 50 percent of their income goes to their rent.
“It’s a relief that our landlord isn’t greedy. During the lockdown, he didn’t collect payment, but I know that he also needs money, so as much as possible I paid half of it,” explained Joy.
In terms of cash assistance from the government, Gina recalls that they had to complain just to receive P4,000 (US$83).
“They said we weren’t supposed to receive cash aid since we had a business. But how could they say that when our business has been closed down? Where will we get the money to buy our needs?” Gina lamented.
Aside from closing down during hard lockdowns, most of their customers don’t come to the shops anymore.
“Since there are no face-to-face classes, most of our student customers don’t find the need to get haircuts. Elderly people do not go out of the house as well,” added Gina’s husband.
Other barbers like Jun say they are fortunate to get calls to do home service when barbershops were closed. However, what they earn for home service is also not enough.
“My rate for home service is $2, from my $1 usual rate. I earn a maximum of $6 when I do home service, which only covers my family’s food expenses,” Jun explained.
Jun fears the virus, but being a barber requires him to be in close contact with his clients.
“We can’t do anything if they impose lockdowns, it’s always up to the government, so I just let it be, I don’t have control over it. What I can only do is ensure that we eat nutritious food to boost our resistance to the virus,” said Jun.
He said he cannot stop working, especially now since he always has to save up money to pay for the internet connection of his children’s online classes.
Being a barber for 20 years, Jun says that investment in a barbershop is affordable. All he has to pay for are the blades, electricity, powder, alcohol, and rent. His skill in cutting hair was developed over time.
Macky, a local salon owner, regrets voting for Duterte. “I trusted Duterte for the first two years, but after that, I realized it’s enough,” Macky said.
He said that the administration is so untransparent, he wishes he doesn’t need to blame the President, but he realized that all the incompetency traces back to the palace.
He said he didn’t come from a rich family, and at the age of 12, he already had to work to survive. It was only under Duterte’s administration that he first experienced that he had to stop working because of the lockdown.
Macky was one of the 4.2 million Filipinos who lost their jobs in 2020. He said that business was starting to thrive slowly, but then the Metro was put under ECQ again.
“You know that feeling when you think you’re already getting back on your feet, but then some uncontrollable force destroys what you’ve built all over again,” Macky described his frustrations.
Similar to Banban, he shared that his mental health also suffers because of the uncertainty of these times. “My friends and l feel depressed because of what’s happening, but we also only get strength from each other,” Macky explained.
The salon owner said sometimes he catches himself staring blankly at the window, wondering how everything happened. However, he reminds himself not to lose faith and instead widens his perspective.
“I employ people in my small business, I can’t give up, because if I do, that will mean people losing their source of income. I hope the country can be united amid all this so that we may overcome the pandemic, the problem that all of us are facing,” said Macky.
He recalled what he was told when he was younger. “Barbershops and salons are easy to maintain. As long as you know how to cut hair, you will not go hungry,”
Macky said that a P50 ($1) haircut may provide them their lunch, but better governance through the unity of the people is the key to keep their business stay afloat.
Disclaimer: These well-ventilated barbershops were allowed to operate under MECQ as per barangay.