On leaving absolutely nothing behind in 2020

I’ll preface this by saying that I’m okay. I didn’t contract the coronavirus. I wasn’t rushed to the E.R. hanging on for dear life. I haven’t got any thrilling stories of me, down in the trenches, fighting for something bigger than myself.

But many others have. A great number of people lost their lives to the pandemic. Some were considerably lucky to have only had a brief face time with death, and not the actual meeting. Many have also witnessed the outward trampling of our democracy as we know it—in and of itself a horrible death that we all have had to suffer.

Around 11,000 talented people, good people lost their jobs because of ABS-CBN’s needless shutdown. 9,019 patients died due to COVID-19 in the Philippines. 5,810 persons that the government indeterminately presume as drug pushers were killed under Duterte’s “Oplan Tokhang” during the first half of the year alone. As I write this, I’ve been self-isolating for 297 days, during which time I’ve had zero chances to physically check on and socialize with family or friends in any significant way. It took the Executive Secretary and other government agencies involved a total of 92 days to take action on a possible importation of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. During Pride, 20 LGBTQ persons were arrested for peacefully protesting against the Anti-Terror Act, a malleable (read: easily weaponizable) bill that, despite how grossly unconstitutional the text, was ultimately approved by 19 soulless senators. After 6 years of Jennifer Laude’s family looking for justice, Duterte decided to pardon Joseph Scott Pemberton, a devil-dog who ravaged and killed the Filipina transwoman. Just last week, 2 civilians were shot dead, murdered in cold blood by a policeman who had sworn to serve and protect the Filipino people.

I look at these numbers and remind myself how they have pained me, a mere writer hunkered over his laptop, phased only from the other side of ones and zeroes. I constantly wonder how some can look at these as merely that—a number to use in an article, a statistic to report. I think about these numbers a lot, and how they cumulatively add up to the one nation I can call home, and how it’s starting to feel less and less so.

There can’t be a way out of how I’m feeling—I’m restless in my own country, I’m mad at my own country, I’m scared of my own country—which is why, as a last-ditch effort, I’m writing this.

We’re a week away from the New Year, a day that typically comes with a sunny feeling. The days leading up to it used to fill me with relief. January 1st, after all, is a day where people get to unceremoniously decide who they want to be, even if they only stick with it for a couple of weeks. I have yet to feel that this year, and think it unlikely that that feeling will ever come. 2021 doesn’t feel like a fresh start. It feels like a new lease on life.

The fact that I’m alive, despite the circumstances—a global pandemic, an oppressive leader, and a hovering cloud of fear and anxiety—is in itself a miracle. And yet it feels weird to celebrate, to carelessly resign the barricades that protect me, even just for a while. 

I’ve seen the numbers and understood what they actually mean. The right play is to take everything with us, to carry as a constant reminder of what had gone wrong and what we all could do to protect our agency as people, to disallow our oppressors to toy with human lives, and to make sure that the whole shitstorm that is 2020 never happens again.

As I write this I think back to a podcast episode I recorded for Pervision, where Dodo Dayao and I spoke about the pandemic. “If after all this, we still haven’t learned,” we both agree. “Everything we’ve been through would have been for naught.”

So I tell myself: Armand, you did not miss the movies for a year for nothing.