My eighty-seven-year-old father cuts holes in his masks. He says he can’t breathe otherwise. The fabric—whether stretchy, cotton, or woven—keeps him from taking full breaths, he protests. When we’re out, he pulls his mask below his nose, irreverent about public health guidance. His breathing, iyan ang kailangan (that’s what’s needed), COVID-19 be damned.

He was in Quezon City, Philippines, at the time of the first round of global coronavirus lockdowns. The numbers did not abate with the summer heat, and neither did the extrajudicial killings the present-day Philippine president rains on the populace. My father lived alone and preferred it that way. Until he couldn’t. The people he saw regularly—the buko (coconut) vendor, the titinda ng saging (banana salesperson), the labandera (laundrywoman) who helped with his weekly washing—retreated indoors to avoid the contagion. Local officials delivered cans of sardines to his apartment...

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