This weekend will be the second year that Filipinos are unable to partake of their beloved tradition of visiting their dead relatives’ graves only once a year.
The country’s cemeteries will be closed to the public once again because our government has failed, time and again, to stop the spread of COVID-19. Last year cemeteries were locked down because of the OG coronavirus and this year it is because of the Delta variant. Looks our government’s special strategy that passed responsibility to the people by making them use face shields aside from face masks wasn’t very effective.
Countries that ditched the face shield requirement and instead followed the path of mass testing, proper contact tracing and massive vaccination have already allowed the return of live sporting events, theatre, concerts and reopened businesses and most sectors of society but in the Philippines, we cannot even partake of the traditions we hold dear.
Along with Holy Week and the pseudo-Christmas break, this upcoming long Undas weekend is one of the biggest events on the Filipino calendar. In a pandemic-free world (or one with an effective government) little Pinoy kids would be donning costumes and wandering their neighborhoods or malls, imagining they lived in a first world western country throughout the weekend; and then come November 1, they would be dragged by their parents to cemeteries to visit their dearly departed.
That tradition has been canceled for two years already because our government has failed in its basic pandemic response and if you come to think of it, we don’t even know if these traditions that we’ve been losing can ever come back if this country doesn’t get the leadership upgrade it needs through next year’s elections.
To be honest, I don’t really care much for Undas. I don’t get why we have to visit our dead, all together, on one day of the year when their remains aren’t going anywhere the rest of the year. I don’t care about the traffic that comes with it. Sticky rice-based snacks are ok but they don’t transform into particularly special treats on that particular day. If this two-year gap can change our Undas traditions and make our cemeteries a little less crowded in future November 1’s, I actually wouldn’t mind.
If there is one thing we have learned about All Saints Day from the cemetery closures of the past two years, it is that we can actually visit our dearly departed anytime. We can go there before or after November 1, with our candles and suman, and they wouldn’t mind. SWAT and Tokhang teams can guard the nation’s cemeteries in camouflage BDUs, full battle armor and matching long firearms but we can still remember our beloved dead in our own special ways from the comfort of our quarantine quarters.
However, even if I am not a fan of Undas, it is frustrating to see how badly our government has been failing us throughout this pandemic.
We have been canceling everything for the past two years already. Traditions have been canceled, school has been canceled, businesses are closing, kids cannot leave their homes, travel is virtually impossible and life has been put on hold and the worst part of all this is there seems to be no end.
When a people have lost so much over the past 2 years, losing a tradition like Undas becomes a minor concern. We have to work so hard to get so much back that traditions can take a back seat for now. I don’t care that I cannot go to the cemetery anymore but I is painful to have not seen my 2 siblings and their kids who’ve been stuck in Manila for 2 years already. That’s 2 Holy Weeks, 2 Undas, and in a few months, 2 Christmases and 2 New Years. Losing the tradition is ok, but losing the connections that are made because of these traditions is not. I can’t even complain too loudly because I know many less fortunate and less privileged Filipinos have lost more than that in the past 2 years.
Our country owes us 2 years of our lives and the connections that make those lives meaningful but it feels like nobody in our government cares about what we have lost through incompetence and corruption. Our leaders and their minions are doing fine and dandy in their privileged bubbles of power and that is all that matters for them.
It was ok for us to postpone our lives and traditions in 2020 because the COVID-19 pandemic made it necessary. But it shouldn’t happen again in 2021, when the rest of the world is already busy getting back what they lost. However here we are, still postponed, still canceled, and still waiting for nothing with a smile because of our trademark Filipino resiliency.
Will our lives be un-postponed come 2022? That will probably depend on the kind of leaders we put in power by then.*