IN A fast food outlet, a large group of Chinese walked in. Were they tourists, students learning English as a second language, or workers of Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogo)?
The slow Sunday tableaus inside the diner froze then restarted. The manager, who had been chatting with crew members in the table beside us, intercepted the middle-aged man leading the group.
We are a group of 80, the man said. We have no space for 80, the manager said.
No, we are only 18, the man clarified. Sorry, no room also for 18, the manager replied.
There are many gaps in my story. Perhaps the second floor was also occupied. Perhaps there was a backlog of unwashed plates and utensils. Perhaps I misheard the conversation while adjusting the straps of my face mask as we left the diner.
In the novel, “The Plague,” Albert Camus shows contagion as a wedge exposing our differences: between the dead and the living, the sick and the healthy, the ones afraid for their bodies and the ones fearing for their souls, us versus others.
Lockdown, quarantine, ban, isolation. The outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus resurrects not only systemic reactions to a virus but also human manifestations: fear, suspicion, anger, ostracism. Citizens versus authorities; health workers decrying government insensitivity to their risks as frontliners in disease control and protection. Communities rejecting the local quarantine of migrant workers. Western banning the Chinese and other Asians. Asians banning Asians. Us versus others.
In her 1980 study indexing the 1915 to 1927 issues of “Bag-ong Kusog,” a widely read newspaper published in Cebu during the American colonial era, Wilhelmina Bono Cabellon uses the jargon of library science to paint a familiar trajectory of human responses to leprosy:
Hits Cebu (Oct. 1918). Is still in Cebu (Nov. 1918). Death toll decreases (Apr. 1926). 25 lepers die because of injection (Feb. 1926).
Sugbuanons request for boat to visit relatives in Culion (Jan. 1917). Sugbuanons visit family members in leper colony (Jan. 1917).
Dr. Liborio Gomez finds conditions in Culion penal colony improving (Oct. 1921). Leper describes Culion as hell and having leprosy as purgatory (Oct. 1924). Only serious cases will be brought to Culion (Feb. 1925).
Campaign to free lepers gets support (Aug. 1924). Luz strongly recommends that lepers be set free (Aug. 1924). Members of Asociacion de Damas sign manifesto to free lepers (Aug. 1924).
Sotto sponsors bill prohibiting lepers from marrying (Dec. 1915). Sponsors bill freeing lepers in Culion (Aug. 1924).
Are lepers allowed to leave Carreta? (Feb. 1926). Lepers in Carreta, Cebu form organization (Oct. 1926).