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Lopez town in Quezon Province in time of COVID-19

This is my first time to go home to my roots, Lopez town in Quezon Province after the imposition of lockdown in March in the face of the spread of the global new coronavirus. I stay in the city of San Pedro in Laguna Province and I have just discovered a stark likeness between the two—distant although both are in the CALABARZON—places in just a one- or two-day experience.

 

            I decided to go home for a number of reasons.

 

            One, to see what’s like to be in my hometown in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

            Two, to look into the situation of some members of my family during this epidemic.

 

            Three, to gather materials for the pre-prod of my new book on Philippine cinema particularly photos of the two movie houses erected in Lopez in the 1960s and 1970s specifically Felros Theater and Vilar Theater. The latter was also called Lopez Theater during those decades.

 

            Four, to perform errands like monitoring the copra making activities in our estates.

 

            Five, to pay my friends and “select” town mates a visit.

 

            Etc.

 

            Except for the General Modified Community Quarantine (GMCQ) applied to the community, there’s nothing new in my eyes in Lopez. The same poverty stricken environment is prevalent. “Maraming walang trabaho ngayon dito sa Lopez (There are many jobless people here in Lopez),” informed a cousin.

 

            “Dito po sa Rospan, hindi na po lahat ng empleyado ay pinapapasok. Salit-salitan na lang po dahil konti lang ang nagpupunta ngayon dito (Here in Rospan Lodge, employees don’t report regularly anymore. We are already on alternate arrangement because there are only a few guests coming in),” said a room boy. 

 

“Mahina ang mga tindahan ngayon dito sa Lopez. Ang malalakas ay mga department store (Sari-sari stores don’t make as much money anymore. What clicks are the department stores),” volunteered a saleslady.

 

“Aywan ko n’yan. Ang hirap-hirap ngayon dito sa Lopez (I don’t know about it. It’s really a desolate condition here in Lopez),” exclaimed a housewife.

 

It’s the same desolation in San Pedro where many residents are unemployed, guests in local hotels come only in trickles, where neighborhood stores aren’t making much money unlike big groceries in the town proper or in the Pacita Complex commercial hub and the general depravation being felt by the city citizens.

 

“Dito po ay lalong dumarami ang kaso ng COVID (The cases here of COVID are increasing),” reported Loida Pañoso, a volunteer barangay health worker.

 

According to the advisory of a local convenience store located along the Maharlika Highway, there are four (4) cases—one (1) in Talolong and three (3) in Gomez, two of the barangays—of the contagion.

 

According to Loida, Sonny Ubana—the former town mayor and now Board Member of the Provincial Government of Quezon—had contracted the virus while his wife, Rachel Ubana, the incumbent mayor was positive. “Pero nakapunta man daw po sa Philippine Normal University para maging guest (But she had reportedly guested at the PNU),” said Pañoso.

 

Like in San Pedro, if one doesn’t officially consult the public records of the Department of Health ( DOH), one gets conflicting reports. “Sabi naman ta  ay negative naman si Mayora (There are talks, though, the mayor is negative),” interjected Loida.

 

Meanwhile, the phrase “ta ay” is a unique colloquial Lopez language or expression which contextually means “causative” or “accordingly” or “someone says” or “because” etc.

 

In Pañoso’s neighborhood (a block away from her house), a confirmed case of a young boy is under monitoring. “Meron din ‘yong anak ni dating vice mayor (The daughter-in-law of the former Vice Mayor has the virus,” she said. She was referring to the erstwhile vice mayor Arit.

 

When I dropped our ancestral house near the church patio, all my great grandniece and nephews were inside the house doing their online learning. “Hindi nga po kami lumalabas. Mahirap na. Grabe talaga po itong nangyayari sa atin (Actually, we don’t go out. We might be in danger. What’s happening to us if serious),” sighed my niece-in-law.

 

In Barangay Magsaysay, meanwhile, a lady barangay officer was ranting about the increase of COVID cases in her district. “May matanda nga pong namatay d’yan sa may likod namin (There was an old man in our vicinity who already died),” she narrated. Of course, the barangay official purportedly was referring to the virus as the cause of death. “Bukas nga po, pinapa-attend ako ng briefing sa barangay tungkol sa mga kaso dito. Tumataas po ang mga meron dito (As a matter of fact, we are requested to attend a briefing in the barangay hall about the current cases here. What we have now is increasing),” she informed.

 

Yet in another encounter, an acquaintance said that the old man in the barangay didn’t die of COVID but old age.

 

In San Pedro, there are also canards circulating in every nook and cranny of the city giving conflicting facts and figures about the disease.

 

In my research of old photos of cinemas Felros and Vilar, it was only Cora Navarro—daughter-in-law of the late Ditas Ballesteros, the owner of Felros—who was able to furnish me with pictures of the defunct theater. They were vintage photographs of the opening of the cinema in the 60s when the mayor of the town was retired general Vicente Yngente. Yngente was the official guest of honor and sponsor of the event. He—together with Ditas (fondly called Ditang by her kith and kin—cut the ceremonial ribbon. How exciting the memories of the mementos where first hand history was the evocation of the past when the world of illusion was already a tool to put people in ephemeral sphere to forget harsh realities in the grassroots.

 

Meanwhile, one of the surviving members of the Vilar clan no matter by affinity, Vida Rodelas, begged of providing the pictures of Vilar Theater because according to her gatekeeper and housekeeper as well, the memorabilia of the cinema was gone. “Inanod na daw po ng baha (The floods carried them away),” advised the man-helper.

 

Not only are disasters the nemeses of historical artifacts, the novel coronavirus is also an unprecedented war villain that brings about casualties in the preservation of life and memory.

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