I HAVE been checking the pieces that I have written for this corner and noticed unsurprisingly that most of the commentaries that I have churned out thus far, and for the most part of 2020, were about the pandemic. Now that cannot be good, can it?
Around this time last year, Baguio was due for another extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) but only because the mandate was encompassing as it was Luzon-wide. I took note of the information that Baguio at that particular time has not had a single positive Covid-19 case for ten days straight. The city was celebrated for that feat. It is different this time. This past week alone, we have been trending at over a hundred cases per day with symptomatic cases noticeably matching the numbers of those who tested positive from contact tracing.
That is the extent of what we know and what we can mention with a measure of confidence and competence – which is not a lot. We can of course speculate about the alarming increase in symptomatic cases and say that there are more individuals asking to be tested and seeking treatment because they have not felt well enough, and that leads them to suspect that they had caught the virus. We can only speculate that (1) the optimism brought about by the existence (not necessarily presence) of the vaccines might have led people to let their guards down compromising safety measures and exposing them in the process and/or (2) we might be confronting a more transmissible variant of the virus increasing the chances of exposure.
One or both of these propositions cannot be good for either health or sanity. Only a fraction of the Baguio population has been vaccinated and that hardly makes a significant impact in the larger objective of establishing a safer environment for the rest of us to undertake so-called “essential” activities. On the contrary, the extent of protection afforded in those who have been vaccinated is that they may have lower, thus tolerable, viral loads but are no less contagious.
However, the need to go for “essential” errands fosters untold levels of anxieties in terms of not wanting to get sick, and/or spread germs to vulnerable members of the household. Yet nothing could be more indispensable at this time than a job and a salary. The choice could not be starker, aggravated no less by the apathy of the government that could have offered more relief in all aspects of this crisis for a population ravaged by a pandemic.
Talk about being ravaged. About 79 years ago, the Philippines also went through one of its darkest days when the combined Filipino and American troops were finally overrun by an invading Japanese force on April 9, 1942, which eventually led to what we know in history as the Death March. What was left of the troops who did not perish during the March were incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp (O’Donnell) in Tarlac.
I was browsing through the website of the US Command and General Staff College when I chanced upon digitized archival material called “Philippine Postscripts.” It is a four-page monthly newsletter published in Charlotte, North Carolina, and edited by a certain Marie Grimes. Apparently, it was published for the purpose of sharing information about the American prisoners of war (POW) from the Bataan campaign who, gleaned from the earliest uploaded issue which is February of 1945, have been transferred eventually to mainland Japan and have been allowed to send regulated mail to their families and loved ones in the United States. Excerpts from these mails thus appear on every issue of the newsletter.
Note that the MacArthur landing in Leyte happened on October 20, 1944. Historical accounts state that the “retaking” of Bataan took place in February of 1945. At this time as well, the February 1945 issue of the Philippine Postscript mentions that they have had back issues circulating as early as November and December of 1944.
In some of the accounts, Ed Milam says that he had a brother, Sgt. Harold Milam, “who went down with Corregidor and General Wainwright.” Camp O’Donnell was simply referred to as “Camp No. 1, Philippines” and Ed just received word that Harold is incarcerated at Honshu, Japan. Catharine J. Pierce says that her son Capt. Henry J. Pierce is held at Zentsuji. Capt. Pierce informs her mother that he is able to receive mail as early as June 6, 1944. Mrs. Pierce is able to determine that her son now weighs “12 pounds less when he wrote in December of 1943, which was received August 1944.”
In the April 1945 issue of the newsletter, Elizabeth M. King whose husband is held at Manchukuo, reveals that she finally was able to send her husband a pair of reading glasses. “He told me that he had received his package in July,” she said. “Everything was fine and just what he needed. His glasses fitted perfectly. Two days before the package was to leave, I thought of glasses for him.” She had the optician write a quick prescription and asked that he work through the night to make the glasses.
Why am I rambling like this? In a way, this work-from-home setup and the stay-at-home edicts might as well feel like a prison. And, like Johnny Cash who sang about being “stuck in Folsom Prison,” time certainly keeps dragging on.