Hi-tech, but no touch/UP studes need computers
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - August 13, 2020 - 12:00am

The “new normal” has truly changed our lives and our lifestyles.

Because of this overstaying coronavirus, we are compelled to adjust our lives to it and accept what they call the “new normal.” This global health crisis has forced us all to rethink the way we work, play and even pray – from the typical workplace to our homes, from the school-based library to a corner in our houses, from worshipping inside churches to masses and services delivered through live streaming.

Yes, we now have modern technology available to us, so we can move on with our lives in a 21st century setting. So we get minute-to-minute updates on the progress of the virus spread.

When all-too-physical interactions were declared taboo, our activities have increasingly been online. Traditional school set-ups are being replaced by distance learning. Professors conduct their classes in Zoom rooms, and students are seated in front of a small portable screen, instead of a giant white or black board. Concerts are streamed online, and conferences are by Zoom, by Messenger or by Microsoft meetings.

A good chunk of the healthcare sector has dedicated its workforce to address the pandemic. Telemedicine has provided a way for patients to seek medical advice and care from the comfort of their homes. Yes, the very ways in which we acquire, disseminate and manage information have changed dramatically.

Would a highly mobile society now screech to a standstill? Will our streets be empty of vehicle traffic, our trains empty? Would our buses cry for passengers to fill up their big space?

Would jeepneys now be stuck in their makeshift terminals for lack of riders?

No, the human enterprise is inventive. People on the move, after this current lockdown, would once again be riding trains, buses, jeepneys and other vehicles – with a difference: They have to install measures to maintain social distancing among passengers, implement wearing face masks – and now with face shields – and avoid human contact at all cost.

This is also true for our expressways. How does one prevent the virus spread at the points of contact within the tollways – the toll plazas, when toll tellers hand tickets and receive payments from motorists; at the toll booths when excited motorists establish quick connection with toll tellers with their verbal and non-verbal charm offensive, if you know what I mean.

The country’s leading tollway builder and operator, Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation (MPTC), precisely knows where virus transmission will mostly likely happen – at points of contact. And such contact must be reduced to the minimum at all cost.

How do you strike a balance between having no human contact but, at the same time, go on with the business of enabling people to use your roadways so they can travel from point to point – which remains the mandate and promise of expressway firms like MPTC?

That question was asked by the product development folks of MPTC, and they serendipitously came up with a not so ordinary innovation.

The technological answer: the Stick-It-Yourself Easytrip RFID stickers.

MPTC is the holding company of three major tollway firms: the NLEX Corporation, which operates the North Luzon Expressway, the Subic Clark Expressway and the Harbor Link; the MPT South Corporation, which runs the Cavite Expressway (CAVITEX) and the Cavite Laguna Expressway (CALAX) and the Cebu Cordova Link Expressway (CCLEX), which is still under construction.

So, these operating expressways now have dedicated RFID lanes, as differentiated from cash lanes. The RFID stickers represent the innovation of “contactless” and “cashless” transactions which, sorry guys, eliminates any human contact at all. Not only when your vehicle passes the toll plazas, but also in buying these stickers: You have to buy online through such virtual outlets as Shopee and Lazada – and soon maybe more outlets.

“We intend to minimize everyone’s risk of exposure to the virus as much as possible,” Pia Alimon told me. She is MPTC’s assistant vice president for branding and communications.

“The less contact, the better,” she added.

I was told that Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade’s DOTr agencies like LTO and LTFRB are already introducing cashless payments. Transactions such as driver’s license renewal and vehicle registration can now be done online too.

So, MPTC’s stick-it-yourself stickers are right on track with the nation’s combined and simultaneous efforts at arresting the further spread of the virus.

I also gathered that the Easytrip RFID is just for starters. Pia’s remarks simply strike a heartwarming note here, when she said: “As our products and services evolve, so does our service to our valued motorists. We are not only constructing roadways, we are building relationships – and, yes, saving lives.”

On this new service that helps save lives, my take is this: MPTC will surely introduce more innovations to sustain its public touch points with motorists – onsite then, and mostly online now. This is “hi-tech” that  truly reinforces “hi-touch” – but, wait … No contact!

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Bright and deserving students at the University of Philippines may not be able to continue their studies this semester. Why so? The Iskolars ng Bayan face the bleak prospects of not learning online because they have no computers to participate in online learning.

Of the approximately 60,000 students enrolled in all the constituent units of the UP System all over the country, some 5,600 have no desktop or laptop computers, plus internet connectivity – which are the basic tools they need to join the new learning system.

This, according to my friend Dr. Neny Pernia, UP vice president for public affairs, who is leading the “Kaagapay sa Pag-aaral ng mga Iskolar ng Bayan” fund-raising initiative.

Good-hearted people and UP alumni, including profit and non-profit organizations, may donate pre-owned or brand new laptops and desktops. Or they can give monetary gifts in cash, check or electronic funds through online money transfers.

COVID-19 has deeply altered our lives and lifestyles. We can’t congregate in churches, no physical presence in meetings, no time in the malls, no leisurely dining – and no hugs and other gestures of endearment.

“Now, this crisis is adversely affecting our teaching and studying,” Neny said in her remarks at the launching of the Kaagapay Fund-raising Initiative.

Let’s not allow this virus to frustrate the dreams of our students to finish their education.

The logo of “Kaagapay” features two sunflowers, the donor and the Iskolar.

Be that one sunflower, alongside the younger sunflower. Then face the sun together for a brighter future for you both!

You may now visit kaagapay.up.edu.ph to donate for the remote learning needs of our Iskolar ng Bayan. For more information, please visit publicservice.up.edu.ph/kaagapay or contact the Kaagapay Secretariat at kaagapay@up.edu.ph or 0916 7231200 or 0916 7231200.

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Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

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