Bayanihan in the time of COVID-19
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - March 25, 2020 - 12:00am

I don’t think anyone could have predicted what was going to happen this year when we all celebrated the new year last January. It certainly does feel like the longest year ever, and March isn’t even over. Honestly, at this point, I’ll spare any talk about how could it get worse, because 2020 seems to be a lesson in Murphy’s Law. What we’ve been learning so far is that it can always get worse.

It seems as if we are just at the beginning of the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 story. Many experts predict that it is going to get worse before it gets better, and that the only way out is by staying home, staying away from one another, washing our hands, and doing our part. While this is the only way we can help, it’s understandable that – for some (most) – it’s a trying time of anxiety and fear.

I know many of us are lucky. We can stay at home, in a house with utilities, food, and television and books to help stave off the fear and depression – and yes, the boredom too. Some others are even luckier because they can efficiently work from home knowing that there is job security and they will be provided for in this terrible time. The reality though is that a larger part of our population in the Philippines has neither of those comforts and are living in a day-to-day spiral of worry and fear, wondering if they will have any food to eat or a place to “social distance” for the night.

That’s the hardest part of all – social distancing in the Philippines is almost a laughable concept. People are so stuck together here it’s almost a cultural problem. I don’t know why, perhaps it’s because it’s something they are used to, but Filipinos (generally speaking) tend to get really close to one another – in both crowded and non-crowded places. It’s just how they are. To tell them to stay apart is a bit of an alien concept and it’s been a struggle during these trying times.

What’s more – how can you tell people to social distance when so many of the underprivileged live in areas that squish them together? It’s terrifying because the illness can spread all too easily in barangays and areas where families of eight or more live in close contact and right next to other families. How can this challenge be mitigated? I suppose at this point we just have to do the best we can.

That’s not even the hardest part. We also have our brave frontliners – braving the battle every day to be able to help those in need and keep society running. I have to give my heartfelt thanks to our doctor, nurses, healthcare workers, drivers, delivery men, grocery store workers, restaurant industry workers, janitors, garbage handlers, security, army, police, contact center workers, and so many more who are not able to stay at home during this time so that society doesn’t collapse. They are the real heroes.

Whenever we think about what is happening now, it sometimes seems like it’s too much to bear. I know that many of us have to take a break from social media and the news when it just gets too toxic, resulting in anxiety to creep back in. But if we choose to look at silver linings – and let’s face it, at this point we have to – it’s also heartwarming to see how Filipinos have stepped up in times of great need.

We have always had a bayanihan spirit. Honestly, it’s because we’ve grown so accustomed to saving ourselves in times of crisis. I couldn’t be more thankful for that sense of helping and sharing than I am now. You see the bayanihan spirit in regular people stepping up and helping whenever possible. They’ve organized fundraisers, donated food to those in need, put together care packages, found PPEs for our health workers and just offered anything they can.

Private companies are doing the same. It’s a trying time for them as well, but instead of focusing on their struggling bottom line they’ve looked at the bigger picture. Some companies have helped by assuring their workers of job security, providing financial assistance, and flexibility. Others have provided meals for out frontliners or even provided them shuttles or places to stay. Even utilities have tried to help ease the burden by moving payment dates and waiving late fees.

Honestly, I am in awe of how everyone is helping. One of our most admired and generous low-profile tycoons has been doing his part during this time of pandemic too.

Manuel V. Pangilinan, or MVP as he is more commonly known, has been utilizing his resources and helping his employees and those in need. His spokesman, Mike Toldeo, recently posted a message that was really uplifting. MVP has approved 13th-month pay, in full, for full-time PLDT and Meralco employees. He has assured continued salaries and benefits for employees without using vacation and sick leaves. He has approved work-from-home policies and procedures, which are in place and has even ordered vitamins, in bulk (500,000), for the company’s field personnel to help keep them healthy. Finally, he has procured an initial supply of 400 liters of alcohol from Roxas Holdings for government and group hospitals to aid in their fight against COVID-19.

I truly admire everyone doing his or her part to help. Alongside the companies and the regular citizens stepping up, it warms my heart to see our artists trying to keep spirits up by sharing their time and talent for free online. They are also one of the groups hardest hit with events and performances being canceled or postponed. They worry about their job security or how they will earn enough to live, but instead of wallowing (and it’s very understandable to do so), they choose instead to host live online concerts, give art lessons, dance lessons, and more to help keep others focused on something other than the increasing COVID cases.

In the end, when we emerge from this crisis, the world will have changed. There is no denying that now. I hope it changes for the better and I hope we never forget the lessons we learned. We should never take for granted the people who are continuing to make the world spin right now. When the going got really tough – the supermarket employee you see every day kept you fed, the garbage men and janitors kept your surrounding clean, and art and artists kept you sane.

It’s a scary time right now, and we are all worried about what comes next. But when all is said and done, we can only continue to do our best. I know many of us are scared, but don’t let that fear win. Choose kindness every time because everyone needs that more than anything right now. Let’s all work together and we’ll all make it out the other side.

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