IN THE silence of the night, when everyone has retreated to the comforts of their homes because of the liquor ban, curfew, and the community quarantine situation, a few people answer to the call of duty. These people brave the possibility of virus in their surroundings and continue to serve the people in situations they are mostly needed.
Many have heard of the word ‘frontliners’ in the past but it is only recently that they were given appreciation and utmost understanding. The Coronavirus Disease (Covid)-19 situation is actually more like a world war, but instead of countries fighting against each other, they are faced with an unseen enemy. Instead of soldiers in camouflage, the main line of defense are medical practitioners.
A certain physician in Manila Dr. Mike King posted on March 25 on his Facebook account: “The resident doctors being the frontliners will soon get tired and burn out if the epidemic continues. The next line of defense will then be the consultants. They are the senior physicians who have finished their specialty trainings. They are older and high risk for infections. The third line of defense are the interns and medical students who are inexperienced and untrained. In such a scenario, we don’t exactly know what will be the outcome because there is no fourth line of defense.” This is how we arrange our platoon of soldiers going to war now.
It was only February of this year when Dr. Janna Bron was designated as the Rural Health Physician in Alabel, Sarangani Province. Originally from Davao City, she was among the 37th batch of Doctor to the Barrios program, a project created by the Department of Health in 1993 to address lack of doctors in the rural communities in the Philippines. Only a month after her designation in the municipality, the Covid-19 broke out in different parts of the world.
“Since the beginning of this epidemic, nag-activate kami ng Incident Command System (ICS). Ang ICS is a system ng different agencies ng area, sa case namin is sa munisipyo, so that we have an effective and efficient way of handling the disaster. Sa ICS assigned ako as Operations Chief. May deputy ako and under sa akin yung different services like sa peace and order (AFP, PNP), BFP, health sector, and transport sector. Everyday we have a meeting to discuss if we met the objectives we set the day before and if we have problems encountered. In case may problems, hahanapan ng solution,” Bron shared.
Although, fortunately, there has yet to be positive Covid-19 patients in Alabel as of writing, Bron said being a community physician also has its challenges. They are the ones creating protocols so health workers working under them would understand the situation. They also have the responsibility for logistics for every barangays and coordination with different agencies.
“Nakaka-overwhelm ang dami ng dapat iconsider pero good thing dito sa amin, there was never a day na nagdoubt ako sa kakayanan ng team namin – sa mga barangay health workers, nurses, midwives, policemen, LGU, and the admin staff," Bron said.
But despite being one of the nation’s beacon of hope and healing, some of the frontliners are being treated with disrespect and cruelty. Just last Friday, March 27, one of the hospital workers of St. Louis Hospital in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat was attacked by unknown men by splattering bleach on his face while he was on his way to work. Fortunately, he was able to rush himself to the hospital where he was given prompt treatment. St. Louis Hospital issued a statement condemning this cruel act and demanding respect for the frontliners in the midst of this pandemic.
“Instead of discriminating the healthcare workers, to the point of committing untold violence against them, we, as a community should show solidarity with these individuals who risk their lives so that continued medical service remain unhampered. We demand justice for our healthcare personnel. He heeded the call of duty when others would not,” read the hospital’s official statement.
In Davao City, this discrimination towards frontliners has also been experienced by some. Erry Weiry, not her real name, works as a nurse at Metro Davao Medical and Research Center, J.P. Laurel Avenue, Davao City. Despite working in a private hospital and not specifically attending to Covid-19 patients, some people she would encounter on the way home or to work look at her as if she’s a virus-carrier.
For now, she is grateful that the hospital management allows them to not wear their uniform when commuting to and from work to avoid weird gazes from the people.
Despite this, she still feels like others appreciate medical workers’ importance.
“Dapat magtinabangay lang unta ta aron dili na maglala ang sitwaasyon. Dili dapat mahadlok ning mga tao kung pangutan-on about travel history ug medical condition kay dako gyud tabang kung mutug-an unta sila og tinuod (We have to help one another during these times. Do not lie if you are asked where have you been or about your medical condition, ths details could help us),” she said on lying patients.
Making our lives more convenient
In this pandemic, with the local government declaring a community quarantine and limiting foot traffic around the city, it is no longer just the medical personnel that we consider modern heroes. For example majority of the schools and business establishments have decided to send their students and employees home to work. These online classes and work-from-home set-up is but a new thing that people are forced to settle with for safety.
This is a challenge to the Philippines’ internet connection and stability. Ahiezer Caballero is one of the frontliners working for a telecommunications provider here in Davao City. As some of their staff work from home, Caballero’s function requires them to go house-to-house to ensure that the subscribers have stable internet connection and that they can do their work well.
“Since maka encounter man gyud kog subscribers, ako ginabuhat kay ga-wear kog mask tapos alcohol gyud every after installations. If possible, maghugas gyud kog sabon sa akong kamot. No direct contact sa mga subscribers, social distancing gihapon tapos vitamins gyud everyday. Hadlok ug kabalaka lang gyud since sa field mi. Pero maayo na pud mag work-at-home ang pwede maka-work-at-home para safe sila (I usually encounter our subscribers. To ensure my safety, I wear a mask and use alcohol after installations. I also make sure that I wash my hands. We also practice social distancing and I make sure to take my vitamins everyday. It can be scary out in the field. Therefore it is good that some are working at home, where it is safer),” shared Caballero.
In this situation, too, when people stay in the comforts of their homes journalists are all the more expected to be present. They are the ones tasked to relay to the people the latest updates about the situation. Their work, although sometimes can be done from home, still requires them to be proactive and on top of the issue.
“Diri makita unsa ka importante ang media, mapa unsa pa man ka nga network. We are the eyes and ears sa mga tao outside their homes while sila naka home quarantine (No matter the medai outfit you represent, we can see now the importance of those in the media. We journalists serve as their eyes and ears while most are at their homes),” Berchan Louie Angchay of ABS-CBN News Davao said.
Before the partial lockdown was declared in Davao City, Angchay was assigned at the Task Force Davao Checkpoint at Sitio Licanan, Barangay Lasang.
“Challenging siya kay more than a hundred ang mga gasulod nga sakyanan...taas ang risk nga isa sa ilaha kay possible carrier sa virus or nay direct contact sa mga nagpositive (It was challenging. Hundreds were entering the checkpoint and there is the risk that one of them may be a carrier of the disease),” said Angchay who also added that hygienic measures and wearing of masks is of double importance for them working in the field.
When faced with a surprise situation that gives very little time for preparation, most often than not, the frontliners are on the losing end. The resources are limited, the training and orientation not prepared. Oftentimes, they are just sent to the battlefield without the adequate armour. One of the places where people often flock to are the supermarkets to buy the essentials. And so next to the medical practitioners, supermarket staff encounter many people, who could be possible carriers of virus, on a daily basis.
Rico, not his real name, is a supermarket staff here in Davao City. Although they wear masks, use sanitizers, and have their temperatures checked upon entrance, Rico said it is still quite difficult for them to balance between being an approachable customer service staff while practicing social distancing.
“Tanan kami naglisud og adjust kay mahitungod nga sa paggawas aning issue nga virus wala kami formal nga orientation c/o HR batok niini kung unsa ang dapat namong pangandaman sa ing-ani nga krisis, unsaon pag-react nga dili kami mahimong carrier since frontliner kaming mga empleyado (We are finding it hard to adjust. The human resource office did not provide us any orientation on what to do during these times or how to prevent ourselves from becoming carriers),” said Rico adding that the only Covid-19 preparation their company gave them was a bulletin board notice about the virus. No internal memo was cascaded to their level.
“Apan ang nahitabo mura man og save and protect our own lives na. Ang among mga customer pa gud ang naga-inform sa mga cashiers and baggers to wear masks sa una (The situation was it's every man for himself. It was the customers who were educating the cashiers and baggers on what to do),” he added.
He also felt bad that they even have to personally provide for their own alcohol, masks, and germicidal soaps given that they haven’t really prepared a budget for this from their measly salary. As they watch their customers buy alcohol and sanitizers, they wonder when next they would be able to provide for themselves. Rico shared that some of his co-workers even re-use surgical masks by ironing them in the evening.
Now, Rico feels envious for others who chose to not work despite the nature of their job as they receive P5,000 assistance from the Department of Labor and Employment. Upon asking their HR to the hazard pay and additional premium, they have yet to give him concrete answers.
But challenging situations like this are not reasons for people like Rico to quit. He knows that at times like this, his family and the people need him now more than ever. What he only wishes is for the city government to look into the situations of the frontliners and to check how they’re doing every now and then.