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As lockdown restrictions slowly ease in Metro Manila, more 'non-essential' workers finally get to work again

By NICK GARCIA Published Nov 12, 2021 6:24 pm Updated Nov 12, 2021 6:32 pm

After being left jobless by over a year due to the pandemic, a number of Filipinos are now slowly picking up the pieces as the lockdown restrictions in Metro Manila are being rolled back, and more businesses are allowed to operate.

Raven Marte is among such Filipinos who are now raring to get back to work, after over a year where only workers in essential industries were allowed to operate. A percussionist-vocalist for a Las Piñas-based acoustic duo called Pure Soul, he was barred from performing since 2020 due to the pandemic. But now that the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases has downgraded Metro Manila’s alert level to Alert Level 2, musicians like him are finally being allowed to play music again.

Marte recalled going through a “depressing” situation that’s still haunting him.

“Ang pagtugtog kasi ang bread and butter ko,” Raven said. “Wala naman akong ibang kabuhayan.”

The Philippine Statistics Authority on June 5, 2020, reported that in April that year, the country’s unemployment rate rose to 17.7%. This represented 7.3 million Filipinos without jobs the month after the very first lockdown. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts, meanwhile, estimated that that year’s May saw 400,000 cultural workers, most of whom are freelancers, were affected by the pandemic.

Sana magtuluy-tuloy na ito

Marte said he’s been doing the rounds across various bars in Metro Manila as a musician for years. So when the public health crisis abruptly pulled the plug on their profession, it cut deep for the 35-year-old Marte, especially that he has a wife and two children to support.

Cinemas are being allowed to operate again with limited capacity as lockdown restrictions ease in Metro Manila. KJ Rosales / The Philippine STAR

Out of a job due to the pandemic, he resorted to being a courier service rider, while his wife turned to selling fish, seafood, and produce online. 
 
His family also made do with the assistance of a few relatives, the ayuda from the government, and even the monetary and in-kind help from a few friends, some of whom are also fellow performers.  

Even before the pandemic, their income wasn’t that much to begin with. Marte said he and Olaes usually earn P1000 each per acoustic session. On good days, they split the tips that amount to a few hundred pesos. On some bad days, they go home empty-handed with nary a coin, as some bars fail to pay them on time. 

That’s why the capital’s de-escalation to Alert Level 2 gave Marte a new lease on life. 

“Sobrang saya ko noong mabalitaan ko,” Marte said.
 
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez on Nov. 8 estimated that 100,000 jobs will be restored under the more relaxed alert level.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua on Oct. 28, meanwhile, had forecast that the country would gain P3.6 billion more and generate 16,000 jobs weekly, if Metro Manila would be under Alert Level 2. If it further eases to Alert Level 1, Chua said there would be an economic gain of P10.3 billion and 43,000 jobs weekly. 

Raven Marte, righ, with, Jerick Olaes on guitars in a pre-pandemic gig

For the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, the “truly positive news” was most welcome, noting that the capital accounts for 30% of the gross domestic product. “Even more meaningful, it will…enable [Filipinos] and their families to enjoy the Christmas Season,” the group said in a Nov. 7 statement.

But though they can now play music again, Marte said earning money remains hard since many establishments had to cut costs due to mounting losses. They’re also taking home less tips with fewer people in attendance; only fully-vaxxed individuals are allowed (at half capacity) and many people are still afraid to go out.

Marte is even quite reluctant to be traveling and performing again due to the lingering fear of contracting COVID-19. But he said he needs to do what he loves, especially for the ones he loves. “Dasal na lang din, ingat na lang talaga.”

He and his wife have been fully vaxxed against COVID-19 just recently. Their kids, meanwhile, are already waiting for their schedule after the government opened the vaccination to 12 to 17 year olds.

After some time into our interview call, Marte was called back onstage in a bar they were performing in that particular night. They have to get back to work. 

“Sana magtuluy-tuloy na ito. Sana maging okay na ang lahat.”