Editorial, Philippine Daily Inquirer / January 30, 2021
A plague known as the “Red Death” haunts the countryside. A prince known as Prospero seeks shelter in his palace and orders its gates locked. But after a few months, the prince seeks the company of others and throws a fancy masquerade ball.
Everyone is having a grand time but at the stroke of midnight, a mysterious guest arrives. “His mask looks like the face of a corpse, his garments resemble a funeral shroud, and his face reveals spots of blood suggesting that he is a victim of the Red Death.” A furious Prospero chases the figure through the rooms of his palace, but as soon as he confronts the figure, the prince dies. The other guests rush to unmask the unidentified guest, but they find no body beneath the costume. The Red Death had found its way to the palace and crashed the party. Everyone dies: “Darkness and Decay and the Red Death” had triumphed.
This is the gist of the tale “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe. Partygoers and the “influencer” set would do well to sit down and read it before they traipse off once again to their next gig, maskless and shimmying in a conga line. For no locked gates, masks, security precautions, and even the presence of local officials can fully protect against an unseen but treacherous virus. And people partying in defiance of health guidelines and in the face of immense suffering by the rest of the populace is tone-deaf, callous, and arrogant.
Writing in her website “The Diarist,” former Inquirer Lifestyle editor Thelma Sioson San Juan points out that “in specific terms… people are dying; people are getting sick; frontliners continue to be heroic; people have lost their jobs, businesses or means of livelihood or are about to; people feel unsafe in their environment and are not confident about the governance; people are facing depression; poverty is more real now than ever. That is the new normal.”
Indeed, it rankles to see the well-heeled and well-connected whooping it up while ordinary Filipinos are not only left cooped up in their homes but, when forced to go out to work, are also left vulnerable at the hands of police and petty law enforcers ready to pounce at a mere infraction.
A dinner hosted by Sen. Manny Pacquiao showed the attendees posing maskless for the obligatory photos. Then, actor-host Raymond Gutierrez celebrated his birthday in a bar in Taguig again in violation of social distancing rules, with the unfortunate consequence of the bar being closed down by authorities, rendering its employees jobless.
But the “award winner” in this series of social faux pas was the three-day celebration hosted by self-proclaimed “eventologist” Tim Yap in Baguio. Yap brought about 30 guests to the mountain city, at a time when the region itself is recording a surge in infections. Highlight of the multi-day bash was a dinner into which Yap made his entrance astride a white horse, clad all in white with traditional Cordilleran accessories. Costumed “cultural workers” danced alongside the party host, pulling guests off their seats to join a merry-looking conga line. Among the guests were Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong and his wife; Magalong also happens to be the government’s designated “contact tracing czar.”
Scrambling to explain himself, Magalong said the guests had taken off their masks because they were eating before being asked to dance. Then he told Yap “not to worry” about a planned probe by the city government and the Department of Tourism, which said it would investigate the Manor Hotel where the party was held. Yap, said Magalong, had meant well, promoting Baguio as a tourist destination and having his group buy up a number of local artworks. (Following the backlash, Magalong tendered his resignation as contact tracing czar yesterday, but the National Task Force Against COVID-19 rejected it.)
In their defense, both Gutierrez and Yap said they and their guests had all undergone testing and tested negative. But as a doctor, quoted by San Juan, pointed out: “Your current negative result doesn’t mean you will not get contaminated after the test… Even in a room full of COVID-negative people, there are no guarantees. Many things can still happen from the time you were tested to the time you were at the party.”
It is also a question of privilege. The moneyed can pay to have themselves tested any time and for as often as they like, and then use that as an excuse to carouse; claim that it’s for a good cause—promoting tourism, boosting artists, raising charity funds—and even government officials who should know better are happy to grace the soiree. But the poor who can’t afford swab tests and swanky venues? Let them try a streetside karaoke session at this time and see the cops swoop down in no time. Pandemic or not, the rich are seemingly determined to stay different from you and me. Now where’s socialite Cat Arambulo and her infamous line—“Why can’t you motherf—rs just stay at home!?” directed at the toiling masses stranded by the lockdown in March last year—just when they’re truly needed?