The hustle and bustle of the streets in the metro are all gone now and people are packed not in the malls, but in hospitals. Many line up for long hours in the grocery to have their stocks replenish. This pandemic has surely changed our lives in so many unthinkable ways. But in this darkness, there’s a group of people that keep the light shining, the frontliners. They are the shining beacon of hope who keep our society from crumbling.
The world has been shell-shocked and might be in mayhem due to coronavirus. But at the helm of this pandemic are these people who are risking their lives every day to hold the fort. They are the warriors in this invisible war.
But in spite of all said and done, do we truly honor and give the reverence they deserve or is it just loose talk and empty regard? Are we doing enough to give back their sacrifices? The reality is what we’re seeing is a stark contrast to what they’re supposed to receive. They are a bunch of champions who should be celebrated but we’re scarcely recognizing that.
How are we treating the frontliners?
In the groceries, due to their commitment, an express line is provided to them. But some people are even pissed, saying that there shouldn’t be special treatment, that they also fell in line for hours. How outrageous and backward can that thinking be?
The financial sector specifically bank tellers and remittance outlets staff have been in the forefront of this fight as well.
Clarene Jhane Culala, a banker from Tarlac, shared her worries and struggles in this time of crisis. “As a banker, we have an obligation to the community as well as in our country in keeping our economy intact. Working in this fast-paced environment during this time of crisis also makes us worry about our family at home, about their safety, and what kind of virus i might take home while working outside,” she said.
“Just like other people we want to stay home, but being here who is anchored to service excellence we need to give our best to be first-rate bankers. Bankers really don’t have a sworn oath but at times like these, even if we are worrying about our health, we are here to provide your financial needs,” she added, emphasizing that their duty to serve Filipino people will never faze.
Imagine how crippled will the entire nation be without them doing their jobs.
How about the grocery store workers, do they have health insurance provided by their companies just in case they get infected? Yes, there is Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (RA 11469). This law makes sure that our healthcare workers will be taken care of, and given just compensation for their incredible efforts to keep coronavirus from making more of our fellow Filipinos ill, but how about the grocery store workers? Shouldn’t their efforts be recognized too?
The grocery owners impose stricter measures to protect their employees. Aren’t they supposed to do anything that reduces interaction and promotes greater physical distancing from the public? A careless customer can be the biggest threat to their very lives just like what happened in a grocery store chain in BGC. It rings a bell, right?
Those in the line of fire, particularly in the hospitals aren’t protected enough. Our hospitals are facing a scarcity of protective gears. With this dire situation, it has been endangering the lives of our health workers. “The risk of transmission in health workers is really high and some hospitals don’t have enough PPEs that’s why they don’t have a choice but to reuse it. With our hospital, we’re fully supported, but the general frustration is that we can’t be with our families since we have to stay there,” Dr. Oliver Ole of St. Luke’s Hospital said. Some have already been infected and others have lost their lives.
In general, the problem is there are not enough doctors and nurses because most of them have already migrated due to their low wages. This has caused a lot of problems since some hospitals are overwhelmed,” Dr. Ole added.
Las Piñas City Health Office resident physician Dr, Julio P. Javier II, MHA, FPPAI shared the major inadequacies in their city health care sector. “With a very limited budget that the city has, providing the basic needs of the people has always been a major struggle for Las Pinas city. Our city is not capable of feeding its people all throughout the quarantine period,” he said.
According to Dr. Javier, in this time of crisis, everyone should be careful and mindful. More than anything else, the government, private entities, and people should work together to survive this global chaos. “With the pandemic, there is no rich and no poor. All people are equal and can get the virus. Everyone’s life is affected. The government’s effort to support its people through LGUs and barangays is not enough to sustain us throughout the quarantine period. Let’s work together,” he ended.
With all that’s been said and done, they also receive a low paycheck. Don’t they deserve a huge lump sum for being exposed to this pandemic? There’s a supplemental budget approved by the Congress, is there an additional budget allocated just for them? Their one foot is even in the grave.
Garbage collectors, police officers, BPO Employees are frontliners too
Not all superheroes wear capes — and not all of them wear medical scrubs either.
Garbage collectors are also at the frontline. We are advised to keep our hands clean and sanitized, what if your job can’t let you do just that. Garbage collectors come in our doorsteps each day just to keep our communities clean. Just like the health workers, because of the massive quantities of waste that they have to collect, they make themselves susceptible to exposure. Is there a hazard pay for doing that? None.
Charlie G. Obispo, a garbage collector from Cavite, believes that their job is essential in this time of health crisis.“Naisip namin na mahalaga pala ang papel na ginagampanan namin bilang tagakolekta ng basura. Malaking tulong ang suporta ng aming punong barangay. Nakakataba ng puso kapag binibigyan kami ng mga pagkain at inumin habang nangongolekta kami. Sa gitna ng krisis, nakitaan ko ang pagiging disiplinado ng aking mga kabarangay sa paglalabas ng basura.”
Armies and police officers are not able to be with their loved ones due to long shifts. They are bound to protect and secure our safety. A touching video online even showed a kid so excited just to see her father after not seeing for a long time due to this outbreak. Others have resorted to posting pictures, begging everyone to stay at home because they miss their loved ones too.
“One of the biggest struggles at the moment is the limited manpower controlling the borders and maintaining order considering the large populace of the city of Bacoor, not to mention the lack of discipline in some areas,” PLt. Col. Vicente S. Cabatingan shared his experience in imposing Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) protocols.
How about the BPO sector, aren’t we supposed to recognize them as frontliners? According to Nikkei Asian Review, the BPO Industry generates around $25 billion a year in revenues, nearly a tenth of the economy, and employing around 1.3 million people, the business process outsourcing sector could be decimated by the pandemic crisis and a subsequent wave of automation.
“We’re having difficulties because the agents are losing the will to come to work and are not motivated. There are lots of instances wherein my staff are being called out on checkpoints for coming to work. We’re forced to provide accommodations and they are homesick because they’re so far from their loved ones. These things happen because the government doesn’t recognize us as frontliners too. This has created an undue pressure on our staff. We helped so much in keeping our economy to withstand this challenge but we’re not getting the credit we deserve,” Chance Agulto, Concentrix ExxaTeam Leader said.
How about the stigma that comes along with being at the frontline?
Socially, they’re facing a huge challenge too. Some are being evicted from their homes. An incident cited by Reuters wherein a janitor named Ritchie Estabillo was on his way to work when he was confronted by five men who poured bleach over his face, one of a growing number of hospital staff suffering abuse across the globe. This incident could have cost him his sight.
On Facebook, Adrian Franco shared that his sister who is a nurse at a hospital in Quezon City got kicked out from an apartment she previously rented due to potential contamination fears of her neighbors. “It is disheartening to know that the very people you swore to serve and protect are the same ones who will discriminate and would wish to render you homeless in the middle of this global battle,” Franco wrote on his post.
These are some unfortunate tales of stigma frontliners are facing. Many have offered cheers and rendered songs to encourage them, but some have received social avoidance and rejection because of the fear of being infected by a health worker.
In the face of shock and terror, are we overcome by the mere fear of survival that we forget about compassion? Such ignorance and brutal antagonism should be stopped. Aren’t we supposed to celebrate their heroic acts and not discriminate against them?
“As a flight attendant we already knew and prepared that we will be exposed to various people that we don’t know. Given the fear that I might get the virus, to serve is where my heart lies. More than fear, I am actually honored to have this opportunity to help and see our kababayans and other nationalities bring back home at this time of pandemic,” Neo Cordova, flight attendant
A call for mass testing of frontliners
The immediate solution is mass testing for the frontliners. Our hospitals are overwhelmed and are already complaining about the lack of protection at the frontlines. What are the odds that they can acquire the disease? 99%. The death toll of our health workers is increasing each day. “If it were up to me, test the frontliners first, and test them again after seven days. Doctors could be carriers themselves,” Dr. Benito Atienza said, the vice president of the Philippine Medical Association.
As of April 27, The Department of Health confirmed on Monday that a total of 1,245 healthcare workers have been infected with COVID-19, with 27 succumbing to the disease. Of those who died, 21 are doctors while six are nurses. The health department said the infected healthcare workers are composed of 464 doctors, 471 nurses, 69 nursing assistants, 41 medical technologists, 25 radiologic technologists, and 10 midwives, CNN Philippines report said. The spike in the numbers is alarming without us seeing an end to it.
Why hasn’t mass testing been done yet? Are we supposed to wait for a surge in death tolls of our health workers? There are proven ways to mitigate it, like mass testing for them, why hasn’t it been implemented yet? As of now, high-risk patients are prioritized in the first wave of expanded testing. It’s a must that they should be prioritized as well.
What can we do to help them?
Government bureaucracies should not get in the way. We’re dealing with a crisis that’s been wreaking havoc in all of us. An effective and immediate response is of the essence. On the other hand, a lot of private entities are doing their fair share and are mobilizing efforts to solve this.
Many celebrities have raised some funds to help like Angel Locsin with her #Unitent Campaign. With this, she has provided a comfortable sleeping arrangement for our frontliners. As she said it best, in this type of emergency, the smallest act of kindness can spell out the difference between hope and despair.
There are reports that some people crowd public markets like Balintawak and Pasig Markets in spite of the strict implementation of social distancing. Are we truly helping or just causing more burden to our frontliners? “Our frontliners are working hard to keep you safe. When you evade the rules of the ECQ, you not only endanger yourselves but others also. You also take time and valuable resources from areas where they are most needed,” Taguig City Mayor Lino Cayetano said in a statement.
Vietnam, a Third World country just like us, with its limited resources has done a good job thus far in fighting the coronavirus. Dr Kidong Park, WHO representative in Vietnam, attributed the success to the government’s ‘proactiveness and consistency throughout the response’.
“The country has activated its response system at the early stage of the outbreak, by intensifying surveillance, enhancing laboratory testing, ensuring infection prevention and control and case management in healthcare facilities, clear risk communication message, and multi-sectoral collaboration,” Park, the WHO official, Al Jazeera reported.
These collaborative steps and consistent measures can be effective in our country as well. For that to be effective, we have to take our part by staying at home. An escapist mechanism such as bingeing on Netflix might not be a bad idea after all.
With regard to the stigma, efforts to stop it should be done as well. We’re not here to question every step being done for our frontliners. This is just a call to action to prioritize them and make us understand how important their role is nowadays. We’re all being asked to stay at home, but they’re out there in the heat of the battle putting their lives at risk.
It’s easy to feel powerless in a time like this when the number of people who get infected is rising rapidly. The only thing that we can do to help is to stay at home, be safe, and stay out of the hospital. Doing everything-anything that we can do to stay OUT of the hospital is very important. It will be a great injustice not to do our part. This way, we won’t be a bother and those people who are in greater need will get the medical care they deserve.
The world is a perilous place to live in but this pandemic has made it more terrifying to everyone, especially to the frontline workers. We are seeing an unprecedented time in history. They are showing a tremendous amount of courage and unimaginable selflessness that can only be seen during times of war.
We need to step back and ask ourselves, are we doing enough? Shouldn’t it be our social responsibility to give back and fight this battle for them while they’re waging the war for us? This is the time that we need to look out for them and have their backs. After this crisis, it will take time and a huge amount of effort from the government and its people to fully heal our land. The end of this pandemic is just the start of a bigger war. We have to start from something that is by treating them right. Only when we can give the frontliners what they truly deserve, that we have the right to call them “HEROES”.
Produced by Arthur Tolentino
Illustrated by Ehrran Montoya