IT’S not only pandemic times that has made “Manila” an oft-dreaded word in Baguio.
Of course, there are certain things that can only be done, paperwork that can be processed, comfort food that can be had, in the big bad capital.
But despite the overly-Manila-centric political and economic setup that the country has to deal with, not everyone who lives outside of Manila regards it as the land of milk and honey.
To be sure, there are many Filipinos in the remotest barrios who still aspire to move to Manila for work opportunities. It may even be said for some ibag’iw, despite the fact that Baguio is a thriving city with numerous merits that Manila could never match.
And so such people with dreamy gazes in their eyes make the transition to Manila, even as a steadily-increasing number of Manileños dream of moving away, settling in Baguio or any other city which holds the promise of a less crazy pace. To each his own ambition, and to each his own poison, really.
I have had the fortune of spending this pandemic year in both places, Baguio and Manila. In the early months, and when the number of covid-positive cases was averaging less than 15 a day, I was in Baguio. Little did we know that that would be the short-lived heyday of Baguio.
The Man who was previously based in Manila and who shuttled between the capital on weekdays and the mountain city on weekends decided to wait out most of the pandemic in Baguio. The Older Boy who could not make it back to the US where he is completing his college degree had to make a hasty plane ride to Baguio via Clark on March 15th before the country borders shut down.
It was a mostly-comfortable quiet few months in Baguio, even if we grumbled about the ever-changing confusing system of quarantine passes and curfews. By the end of July, when The Older Boy managed to fly out back to the US, we had gotten used to the then-normal.
There was still the question of unfinished business in Manila, though, mainly in the form of an empty apartment rental and staff that was still dependent on us for their livelihood. By November, when it was possible for The Younger One who is under 18 to travel across regions, we applied for passes, threw a few clothes into small suitcases and the pets into the back of the car, and went down to Manila to tie up loose ends “for one week.”
It has been exactly five months to the day we left Baguio and we are still “stuck” in the capital. Many reasons kept us here, some of our own choices — like being present to a family member who had a stroke, or saving on the cost of multiple swab tests when we knew we had to be back for a family wedding in January. Others were not in our control — like legal paperwork processing being delayed by a big storm, or a lawsuit with baseless evidence that was taking too long to junk, and now sudden and uncertain changes in a quarantine status.
That the surge in covid cases has touched both Baguio and Manila is not entirely surprising, given that there is no master plan by this inept government. That many sectors in Baguio still continue to hold that tourists, not exclusively but especially from Manila, are too brazen and too careless and risk too many Baguio residents with exposure to the virus when they come to the summer capital, is quite a valid concern.
Because, you see, having spent an unexpected length of time here now in the capital, we have witnessed the vast difference in the way LGUs run the show. Despite the slip-ups and the dissatisfaction with the Baguio LGU, and in spite of the sharp increase in covid-positive cases in Baguio (regardless of where it originated), the plain truth is that Baguio is and has been coping with this pandemic much more efficiently than Manila.
The “strictest” measures of Manila are still way more relaxed than the eased-up measures in Baguio. Chalk it up to leadership or chalk it up to a disciplined constituency, the fact remains that Baguio simply makes more headway into combatting the virus. Perhaps it is the local culture. Perhaps it is the general attitude that nobody is (or at least should be) entitled. Perhaps it is the simple awareness of what “essential” really means – as in, food and medical care are essential; fancy-branded coffee and comfy pajamas to lounge around in during the quarantine are not.
Baguio and Manila have very different realities, you could practically say you’ve been in two different countries the way this quarantine period has been handled. Baguio has, hands down, been the more efficient and saner of the two.
Yes, despite all the anger hurled at the local government for the gung-ho tourism policies, for turning a blind eye to infractions of VIPs from Manila. Yes, despite the “unfairness” of the liquor ban. Yes, despite the seeming cha-cha of policymaking.
Baguio can bemoan all they want and Baguio can bitch till kingdom come. But remember this, please, Baguio. Things could be so much worse. You could be a Manila.