Of the three must-do’s mandated by health authorities to keep people COVID-free, the third is the most difficult to follow. Wear a mask. Wash your hands frequently. Observe social distancing. How to tell Filipinos to keep their distance from family, friends, neighbors, lovers and other strangers?
Social distancing is not in the DNA of Filipinos. Zenaida Seva, who is better known for her long-distance love affair with the stars – not those shining on the ground as screen celebrities – notes from the chronicles of Magellan’s amanuensis, Pigafetta, that the people they discovered on the islands had two major interests, dancing and gambling. President Duterte recently scolded Cebuanos for their hard-headedness. Maybe, but inside that stubborn exterior breathes a fun-loving, easygoing soul so different from his hardy Ilocano cousin up North.
“Culturally, Filipinos are the most ‘sosyal’ or sociable in Asia,” said Ms. Seva, whose 9-to-5 job is astrology. To the puritanical Spaniards who had come to conquer Cebu for Crown and Cross, the hedonistic ways of the natives were an irresistible siren’s song; no wonder scores of them deserted and disappeared into the forests. “It was easy for Lapu-Lapu to invite Magellan and his men to their feasts” under the tropical sun or in the romantic moonlight. The rest, as we know, is history. Ms. Seva does not need an ephemeris to conclude that “Pinoys need parties!”
In the time of 120-day quarantines, isolation is a fate worse than death. At the risk of being picked up by some killjoy cop, the happy-go-lucky among the menfolk gamble on the street with their cards, roosters, beer and alcohol, using government funds meant to tide them over the pandemic. They’d rather risk jail than be without their buddies and besties.
Magellan’s men might have been converted by our sensual, sociable nature, but when Spain’s COVID-19 infections were among the highest in Europe last April, an AFP correspondent described how the Spaniards spread the virus by being “close to each other, hugging, eating out, drinking, kissing even at work, touching.” Sounds familiar? “Families are much tighter, interaction between youths and seniors are very high.” In contrast, older people in Northern Europe were “more secluded” and families kept their distance, which explained why they had a lower rate of infections.