Together we rise
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - March 21, 2020 - 12:00am

For the past several days, my biggest problem is boredom. I have finished cleaning the house, arranging and rearranging furniture, updating my law school lecture notes. Just like my friends, I alternate between watching the latest news about COVID-19 and Korean telenovelas on Netflix. I cook my meals, exercise using videos on YouTube, read books, just to pass the time.

But then my problem is nothing compared to what many Filipinos have to deal with nowadays. Those living a hand to mouth existence, those who earn just enough to put food on their table for the next day, are the ones who have to suffer the consequences of the enhanced community quarantine implemented in the whole of Luzon by the national government and by local government units in other parts of the country.

Imagine the problem of jeepney, tricycle and pedicab drivers who now have to rely on whatever help their barangay captains can extend, on the promise of the national government that they can get alternative work in the form of sanitizing their homes and other places and receiving the minimum daily wage in return at least until April 13. In the meantime, prevented from plying their trade by the enhanced community quarantine measure imposed by the government for one month, where will they get the money to feed themselves and their families?

There are some who are lucky. For instance, the Makati city government announced that it will give the 5,936 registered tricycle drivers in the city an initial P2,000 for the first two weeks of the quarantine period to take care of their unemployment. But how about those who live in cities and municipalities that do not have as much funds as Makati?

Frontline workers, meaning health workers, law enforcers, among others, put their lives at risk every day just to make sure that sick people get the treatment that they need or to make sure that the quarantine measures are observed.

One health worker posted on social media how she cries every time she leaves her house everyday because she knows that by doing so, by going to work, she is exposing not only herself but also her young child at home to the dreaded virus.

This crisis has also brought out the worst in people. There were reports of robberies, of poor people demanding for money or food in exchange for not damaging your vehicle, of people disregarding social distancing just to make sure that they get a share of the 100 packs of food that a local government unit was distributing.

But it has also brought out the best in many. Big businesses have extended a helping hand. The Metro Pacific and PLDT Groups are donating an initial 4,000 liters of alcohol from Roxas Holdings for government and MVP Group hospitals, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE). To ensure the well-being of their employees, the group has also advanced the 13th month pay in full for PLDT, Smart Communications, and Meralco employees, has maintained the salaries and benefits of the employees, has distributed 500,000 vitamin tablets to them, and has announced that their vacation and sick leaves will not be used.

San Miguel Corp. has used its Ginebra San Miguel facilities to produce 70 percent ethyl alcohol and has started delivering free rubbing alcohol to frontliners in Metro Manila. SMC has also delivered free alcohol and powdered disinfectants to hospitals across the National Capital Region, delivered food donations to LGUs in Metro Manila, and has started production of nutricious bread to address hunger. In a text, message to this writer, SMC president Ramon Ang said: “We have to assure the public of enough food for everybody.”

The Gokongwei Group, meanwhile, has allotted P100 million to support health workers. PPE for health workers and rapid test kits will be provided, not to mention food for health workers produced by its food manufacturing arm URC. The same amount was promised by the SM Group to help public hospitals. And like Robinsons Land, SM has announced that it is waiving rental charges for tenants while the malls are closed.

The Ayala Group of Companies has likewise allotted a P2.4-billion COVID-19 emergency response package, which includes salary continuance for displaced workers at construction sites, malls, and retail spaces while the Jollibee group has also donated P100 million worth of food to health workers.

The Lopez Group, through ABS-CBN president Carlo Katigbak, also announced Thursday night that it is giving P100 million to assist those in need, even as ABS-CBN called on its viewers to donate to a fund that will be used to buy food for the needy. Century Canning and the Lucio Tan Group were among the early responders to Katigbak’s call. The LT Group earlier donated alcohol, PPEs and drinking water to the Department of Health, hospitals, and troops manning border patrols.

Metrobank and GT Capital Holdings Group have also pledged over P200 million for initiatives to support the fight against the crisis, including efforts to produce the test kits developed by the UP National Institute of Health and purchase of PPEs for frontline health workers.

Meanwhile, Andrew Tan’s Alliance Global Group is donating one million liters of disinfectant ethyl alcohol. Megaworld is also donating food  and has waived rental charges for its tenants and retain partners for March 16 to April 12, just like Robinsons and SM.

Worth mentioning also is the early response of public utilities, banks, insurance companies, among others, which have extended the payment deadlines for their customers for at least month. Some of these are Meralco, Smart, Globe, SkyCable, Maynilad, Manila Water, Cignal, banks like BPI, RCBC, Security Bank, PSBank, Union Bank, EastWest Bank, BDO, Metrobank, insurance companies including Sunlife, FWD Life, Manulife China Bank Life, to name a few.

Smaller companies, and even individuals, have also taken it upon themselves, to help by donating food to hospital workers and other frontliners, by raising funds to buy face masks and PPEs to donate to public hospitals like the Philippine General Hospital, by helping even in the smallest way possible just to help in these trying times.

Things can get worse before they become better. Let us do our share to help.

For comments, e-mail at mareyes@philstarmedia.com.

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