Filipino frontliners appreciated all over the world
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - March 29, 2020 - 12:00am

Having come from a family of doctors my father, my mother, my brother and nieces are all in the medical profession I saw firsthand the kind of sacrifices that medical personnel make, and the dedication they put in their noble profession.

Which is why it is especially saddening to know that 10 of the 45 deaths reported in the Philippines due to COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) are doctors. I share the grief of the medical community at the passing of these selfless individuals who lost their lives as they fought to save the lives of many of our countrymen. 

They were fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters, and may have been a schoolmate, a family doctor, a mentor or a friend, and their memory will be etched in the minds of the Filipino people who see them as modern-day heroes who faced the danger and did not turn away from the call of duty. 

Among them was Dr. Israel Bactol, a young cardiologist at the Philippine Heart Center who put himself through medical school with the help of scholarships;  Dr. Raul Jara, one of the country’s top cardiologists who was looked upon as a tower of strength and leadership; oncologist Dr. Rose Pulido, a “good Samaritan” who helped other medical students facing financial problems; Pampanga Provincial Health chief Dr. Marcelo Jaochico who was a “doctor to the barrios” and served people in rural communities;  anesthesiologist Dr. Greg Macasaet III who knew he was risking his life tending after emergency patients but stayed true to his oath to the very end; Dr. Raquel Seva,  an ob-gynecologist in Laguna; Dr. Hector Alvarez of Novaliches District Hospital; Dr. Henry Fernandez of Pangasinan; and Dr. Sally Gatchalian, a top pediatrician who was president of the Philippine Pediatric Society and served as assistant director of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM). 

The identity of the 10th doctor who succumbed to COVID-19 has yet to be released as of this writing, but his memory will remain in the hearts of many, just like the others who sacrificed their own health – their lives actually – that they may save others. 

All over the world – from Singapore to Australia to Israel to Europe and South Africa – we have so many Filipino doctors, nurses and healthcare workers estimated at over two million who are right now very likely serving at the frontlines in this fight against a virulent, unseen enemy.

In the US, we have hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who are so much appreciated, serving in the thick of the fight against the new coronavirus pandemic. In true Filipino fashion, there are many who go on duty beyond 12 hours a day. So many of them are in the state of New York considered to be the epicenter with the number of confirmed cases at over 44,000 – almost half of the 100,000 number of people infected all across the United States, with 1,500 deaths as of this writing.   

Many Filipino-Americans also work as grocery baggers and checkout personnel, drugstore pharmacists and cashiers, bank staff and employees in the other industries and sectors that need to be operational even in the midst of this health crisis – the same in the Philippines where ordinary Filipinos continue to work in essential establishments such as gasoline stations, food manufacturing companies, and food delivery services among many others. 

Let’s not also forget the men and women in the uniformed services who man checkpoints and ensure that the community quarantine is enforced, enduring the heat of the sun and doubly risking their health in the process. One photo that has gone viral on social media is that of a policeman taking dinner outside his house while his young daughter looks on through the screen door – so as not to put his family at risk of infection. 

It is very unfortunate that there are some high government officials – and I don’t need to mention their names – who acted very irresponsibly and violated quarantine protocols. Because of their actions, many hospital frontliners had to be put on quarantine – making the burden even more difficult for the remaining personnel who need all the help they can get. While there are laws that will prescribe the corresponding punishment for their violation, it will ultimately be the people who will decide their fate.

We are glad however that both Congress and the Senate have quickly approved Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act that urgently addresses the need to mitigate if not contain the spread of the coronavirus. Aside from provisions that expedite and streamline the accreditation of testing kits, the new bill provides a special risk allowance for all public health workers on top of their hazard pay, while PhilHealth will also shoulder the medical expenses of all private and public health workers in case of exposure to COVID-19 or any work-related injury or illness during the period of emergency.  

Workers affected by the enhanced community quarantine will also be given emergency subsidy of up to P8,000 a month for two months, while indigent families will also be provided basic necessities with the cash assistance program of the government to be enhanced and expanded. 

The President has taken the bull by the horns, so to speak. And while it is strong political will that will help get us through these difficult times, it is our unity, cooperation and solidarity as a people that will make us “heal as one” in this time of the biggest health crisis the world has never seen before.

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