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Road trip and COVID-19 in the Philippines

In the face of the new coronavirus pandemic, going to the province and coming back to the city is a tough experience.


            One of the sources of its toughness is the unavailability of public transport. Prior to the quarantine phases in March, there were PUBs of all sorts. For instance, in and out of CALABARZON, there were Batangas Laguna Tayabas (BLTB), Barney, P & O, Mandigma etc. From Alabang in Muntinlupa City to Lopez, Quezon would cost P300.00 on a discounted fare. There were also a lot of transport means anytime of the day especially at night or on weekdays. There were no travel documents or health protocols to secure a trip.


            The emergence of COVID-19 pandemic had altered the landscape of provincial road adventures.


            Had I not important and pressing concerns to go home to, I wouldn’t lift a finger to make a fuss about going home.


            It was coincidental that entertainment writer Dave Rojo was set to go home to his town in Panganiban in Camarines Norte province. I didn’t know about Dave’s immediate plan to go home except that I took chance calling him on his landline because I already didn’t have his cellphone number with me as my new phone or my hardcopy directory have no list of him. I happened to drop by a friend’s house in Pacita 2 who had a PLDT landline. Mine wasn’t restored yet.


            “Paalis na ako (I am already prepared to leave),” volunteered Rojo when he sensed my voice saying “dalawang linggo na akong walang landline (I don’t have my landline for two weeks already).”


            “Papuntang Amerika (Going to America?),” I asked.


            “Hindi. Papuntang probinsiya (No. Going to the province),” he clarified.


            “Hindi na nga kita natatawagan (I didn’t bother to call you anymore because I was readying my departure),” he said implying his business.


            “Sinabi ko na lang nga kay Art na siya na lang ang magbigay ng birthday gift ko sa’yo para masorpresa ka, ay (I told Art that he just give you my surprise birthday gift to you, oh!),” he quipped with matching slip of his tongue.


            Art was Art Tapalla, another entertainment writer.


            “Ay! Hindi na sorpresa (Oh! Not a surprise anymore),” he giggled.


            “Ay! Baka makasabay ako sa’yo, puwede (Oh! I might ride with you, could I?),” I requested.


            “Oo naman (Of course),” he sounded off.


            “Naku, ano bang mga kailangan pag magbibiyahe (Oh! What could be the requirements for travel?),” I queried.


            “Ako, nakakuha na ako ng travel pass at health certificate. Ang dali lang sa Quezon City Hall (I have already secured a travel pass and a health certificate. They’re just easy from Quezon City Hall),” he reported.


            It was a Thursday evening and Dave would live on Saturday.


            “Pero tatawagan kita bukas para malaman mo kung tutuloy ako. Marikotitos kasi (I’d call you tomorrow to confirm my ride with you. It’s intricate),” I advised.


            Rojo was able to hire a car home. It was only him, the driver and a hanger-on in the car. Another passenger was still allowed.


            I thought about it deeply. With all the documents required and other health hazards, would I still go home and be dropped off in Lopez, Quezon on Dave’s way to Bicol?


            I had a fickle mind, though.


            But an errand and a very important concern of borrowing photos from the family of the late owner of Felros Theater in Lopez were considered.


            “Why not?” I said to myself.


            A convenient ride was already available.


            Still, I had second thoughts.


            Although I did my homework in getting the necessary travel papers the day after for as early as two o’clock in the afternoon I was already in Barangay Pacita 2 to secure my travel pass. It was a fast lane, anyway. No sweat as the staff was conveying a clear advisory. “N-14 naman po kayo kaya okay lang. Kahit hindi na po kayo kumuha ng (You’re under N-14 category so you don’t need to secure) health certificate o police clearance,” advised the lady barangay staff.


            But I wanted certitude because there were other mindsets and power tripping individuals along the way as my wisdom dictated on me.


            On I went to the San Pedro Jose L. Amante Emergency Hospital in San Pedro City in Laguna for the health clearance. Because a bus ride was a near outing and there was a scarce jeepney ride, I decided to walk from Pacita Complex to Barangay San Antonio in the community.


            From the gate alone of the hospital, the security guard and a civilian keep were unclear of their description where to queue up for a health slip. I stood before a desk covered with plastic for prevention of the spread of virus. A woman was seated on the reception. She explained why I was to be entertained later because I said I came first than the group of men who was on application as well. I should have been on the long bench to her right instead of fronting her. It was too late, though. When she gave me a piece of paper to write my name, address etc., I tried to borrow a pen from her. “Ay! Wala po akong gagamitin sa interbyu (Oh! I don’t have anything to write on for my interview),” she said. When I saw the idle pen on the table beside her fellow receptionist, he also didn’t want to lend me his. “Ano ba naman ‘yan? Ang dadamot n’yo! Ito lang naman ang fi-fill-up-an ko (What gives? You’re too stingy. These are just the small spaces I would fill out),” I exclaimed showing them and referring to the short time I would spend writing on the spaces. Surely, it would only take a minute.


            The lady called the attention of the civilian gatekeeper. “Ang dadamot daw namin (He said we’re stingy),” she exclaimed. I didn’t see or hear what he had to do.  Until a kind mature man lent me his pen.


            I was expecting that a public estate like a hospital entertaining application forms would have spare pens. Where do my taxes go?


            Wait till I was informed by the doctor that I had to pay P150.00 for the health certificate.


            When I narrated that incident to Dave in the car, he said that he didn’t pay any single cent for the health clearance. “Ako rin po, walang bayad ang (I also didn’t pay for my) health certificate,” said Annie, Rojo’s companion.


            Meanwhile, on our road travel to the south was a smooth one despite the heavy traffic at the Calamba toll gate.  


        Photos courtesy of wikipedia

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