For people in provinces near Manila, inclusion in 'NCR Plus' more a minus

Geela Garcia - Philstar.com
For people in provinces near Manila, inclusion in 'NCR Plus' more a minus
A man receives his jab at one of the vaccination sites in Rizal province
All photos by Geela Garcia

RIZAL, Philippines — Ferdinand Oriel, a food delivery rider, points to the border that separates Rizal and Marikina from the parking lot of the fastfood restaurant he's parked in. 

"Lulusot ka lang, andun ka na (Just cross that line and you're there)," gesturing that a faster vaccine rollout is only a ride away.

Oriel resides in Cainta, a municipality less than an hour away from the National Capital Region, yet up to now he still hasn't received an update on when he will get to be vaccinated. 

He's one of the few riders in his group who hasn't been vaccinated yet despite working on the frontlines and delivering essential goods for customers in Marikina and Pasig.

Food delivery riders are consideres essential personnel, especially during lockdowns when people are supposed to stay at home.

"It can be frustrating since the access to the vaccine is so close yet also so far," he said. 

As of the August 22 report of the DOH, 43.5% of the eligible population in the NCR have already been fully vaccinated while 75% have gotten their first dose. 

While most NCR residents have received their doses, workers in the 'NCR Plus bubble' — a term coined for a quarantine area that includes NCR and the provinces of Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan together with the NCR for restrictions — who live in the provinces expressed disappointment about the slower rollout in their areas.

According to the Palace in June, vaccination efforts would be mainly in NCR and in the cities of Bacolod, Iloilo, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, Dumaguete, Tuguegarao, General Santos, Naga and Legazpi because of high incidences of COVID-19 there.

The Philippines' vaccination rollout has been described by the World Health Organization as sluggish, and according to data from Reuters, the Philippines has only vaccinated 14.1% of the population — ranking behind 97 countries on the Financial Times tracker. 

Riders rest in Cubao, Quezon City, where commuters can ride public transportation to and from provinces outside the National Capital Region but inside the NCR Plus bubble.

Oriel registered in two areas in Rizal, but admitted that since he lives in an area with a slower rollout, he also doesn’t feel the urgency to have himself vaccinated. 

"If I receive a text, then good, but it’s also tricky to find a schedule that would work for me if ever I do. They require you to be well-rested the night before, and I don’t think I can do that with the kind of job I have," he said. 

"And once I get my first dose, that would mean having to rest the next day," he added. The rider said he could earn up to around P800 a day for his deliveries and losing a day of work would mean a big loss.

Vaccine hesitancy, inaccessibility 

If for Oriel, a jab means a loss of income for the day, for Amary Erispe, the slow vaccine rollout in Imus, Cavite limits her chances of getting employed. 

Erispe used to work as a vendor at a school but has been unemployed for over a year now since classes shifted to modular learning. She has been working in the informal economy and is hoping to get a dose to have better chances of securing formal work that pays better. 

"I find it difficult to apply in factories because they prefer people who have already been vaccinated," she said. 

Although initially hesitant because of fear of the vaccine's side effects, she changed her mind after seeing the rise in COVID-19 cases and recognizing the importance of being vaccinated in getting hired.

The Department of Labor and Employment has said that employers cannot require vaccination but vaccination has been shown to decrease the risk of getting a severe case of COVID-19.

Erispe said she still finds signing up online troublesome. "I was also discouraged to sign up after hearing neighbors who did that but still encountered problems in getting a slot. Now I take my chances with limited barangay walk-ins," said Erispe. 

"I check our mayor's Facebook page every day to know if I could do a walk-in, but I haven't been fortunate. According to our mayor, there is a delay of vaccines in our area. I feel like I am not a priority, is it because I’m from the province?" she asked. 

RELATED: Delivery delays hamper vaccination in 'lower-risk' Quezon province

'NCR' only when it comes to restrictions 

Tourists and church-goers flock Antipolo Cathedral on a Sunday.

Dana Morante, a local of Antipolo, feels envious whenever she sees photos of vaccination sites in Metro Manila showing that a quicker vaccination rollout is possible. 

"Most residents of Antipolo work in the NCR so it is just fair to demand the same priority, especially when we live so near to the Metro," Morante said. 

Residents of areas that are part of the bubble are included in the heightened restrictions when there are surges in the capital, and when these restrictions are lifted, people from the NCR crowd their spots for quick getaways. 

However, these residents don't receive the same support and attention from the national government when it comes to public health services. 

"Resorts and open-air locations at Antipolo are the first in mind when it comes to team buildings or relaxations. They can easily enter our city, meanwhile, our citizens do not receive the same protection as them because of slower vaccine priority in the provinces," Morante said. 

"And yet when there are surges in the NCR, we become part of the lockdowns, which destroys these people's livelihoods," she added. 

A closed vaccination site in a mall in Rizal. That day, there were no vaccines available.

'Aren't we frontliners too?'

Jake Bartolome, an OFW whose address is in Rizal, said that he struggled to find a vaccine suited for his work, depriving him of his main source of income.

"I was supposed to leave for work last July, but I still hadn't been vaccinated so I wasn't able to get on the ship," Bartolome said in Filipino. 

According to the seafarer, he registered through his local government's app, but the vaccine that was made available to him Sinovac, a China-made vaccine that was not among those approved by his prospective employer.

It was burdensome to secure a vaccine schedule or even communicate his vaccine requirements. And the only way he got inoculated with the Janssen vaccine was through a friend who had an extra slot. 

Displaced from his livelihood for a year now, Bartolome survives by selling cakes while he waits for another call to join a ship crew. 

"Seafarers like me are also considered as frontliners at sea, but we can't leave because we don't have the required vaccine. It's a pity that OFWs could be working by now, yet some still have to wait for the arrival of their second dose, which is also uncertain," lamented Bartolome. 

"Ambon-ambon lang kasi ang nakakarating dito sa atin (We only get what trickles down to us)," said a marshall at one of the vaccination sites in Rizal. 

While the marshall recognizes the efforts of local governments to meet the demands of their constituents, he said he also understands the frustration of their citizens. 

He added he can't simply put the blame on the LGUs when there is little support coming from the national government. 

"At least the system at the vaccination site works properly," he said. President Rodrigo Duterte and his spokesperson have stressed in recent pronouncements that local governments bear the responsibility of keeping vaccination procedures orderly. 

"I think the problem really is in the lack of vaccines arriving in provinces outside the NCR which delays the process. It's just fair for the government to prioritize us because just like citizens in Metro Manila, we also contribute to the economy and pay our taxes," added a citizen in the queue. 

Rizal province has many spots that are popular destinations for people from Metro Manila who need a quick break. While tourists have easy access to the province, supplies of vital COVID-19 vaccines are slower to reach even the urban centers of Rizal.

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