By JANNELA PALADIN
IMUS, Cavite – When working student Joe Mari Tabat heard that the province of Cavite will revert to a stricter lockdown, he braced for the worst.
“The restaurant where I work was affected when Cavite was declared to be among those reverting to MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine). Customers may dine in only at our al fresco area but the rest of the restaurant’s section is closed. If we do not have work for the day, we have nothing when payday comes,” the 21-year-old working student told Bulatlat in an interview.
On August 5, the Philippine government’s pandemic response team put the province of Cavite under MECQ from August 6 to 15. This is part of the supposed efforts of the national government to curb the spread of the dreaded COVID-19, particularly its more transmissible and deadlier Delta variant.
The province of Cavite, as of August 3, has more than 61,000 total COVID-19 cases, where 15 percent of these were documented in Tabat’s hometown, Dasmariñas. Of late, however, Cavite is among the two provinces in the so-called NCR Plus bubble that has the fastest increase in new COVID-19 cases.
“It is okay if they want to impose a lockdown. But I think it would be better if they can come up with plans and strategies, instead of just telling people that they must stay at home. Those who are out there are not merely sauntering but are rather working hard to survive this pandemic,” Tabat said.
Pandemic, a family nightmare
Tabat became the family’s breadwinner at a young age, following his father’s death when he was still an elementary student. He has since made efforts to earn a living and support his studies, like selling delicacies like Smores and Graham cake in school, where he earned about $5 to $10 a day.
When COVID-19 broke into the country, face-to-face classes stopped. Then, his eldest sister lost her job. With both of them having no means to support the family, their mother was forced to borrow money from neighbors to get by. They initially put up a small business, where they sold food and drinks but they were not able to sustain it.
Tabat then began to apply to different companies – all while taking a business management course at the Cavite State University, where he has a full scholarship. Soon, he found a job at a restaurant near their home. He did not think twice of accepting it, even if the pay was lower than what he had expected.
It was, no matter how small, still a big help for him and his family – his mother and two sisters.
More workers worried
Tabat, however, is not alone.
Millions of Filipino workers were laid off from work in the Philippines as the country suffered the worst decline in its economy in recent years. In the first quarter of 2021, the country’s economy again declined by 4.2-percent, making it the longest recession since the Marcos era.
As such, it was not surprising that hours before President Rodrigo Duterte’s last State of the Nation Address, Filipinos were hoping that job creation will be among the issues he will discuss. This and how the government will face the deadlier Delta variant, however, were not discussed.
The labor department, on the other hand, earlier promised that there will be cash aid for workers as they will tap their P4-billion ($79 million) emergency employment program. There are, however, no guidelines yet on who will be covered and how affected workers can avail of it.
With the MECQ in place in the whole of Cavite province, the restaurant he is working for will be closed until the stricter lockdown has eased. Between now and then, Tabat is worried about what lies ahead for him and his family. (JJE, RVO)