Since the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon on March 16, 2020, various Filipino frontliners have shown their devotion to their oath and service in spite of the life-threatening risks of the pandemic. And these aren’t merely our healthcare workers, but rather, those with equally noble professions who sustain the nation’s well-being.
In a series of interviews with The Benildean, the frontliners unraveled their personal stories of sacrifices and grit in their own words.
NONIE SALES, ABS-CBN News Cameran, 41
“Mag co-cover kami ng balita na parang normal lang ang lahat... Minsan hindi ko na naiisip ‘yung sarili kong condition para lang magawa ‘yung trabaho ko bilang cameraman.”
Mr. Honorie Nonie Sales has been working at ABS-CBN for nine years already. Aside from being the news cameraman, he’s also the Director of Photography.
As a media frontliner, he is thankful for the support given by the management, including training such as how to cover during this pandemic. “They [ABS-CBN] also give us all the equipment we need... including PPEs, masks, [and] gloves. Most importantly, they oversee every minute detail to ensure safe ang lahat ng crew,” he added.
With regard to the government’s response for COVID-19 in the Philippines, he firmly stated: “Sapat? No...Ramdam? No...Do I see sincere effort[s] in advancing people’s lives during these tough times? No!”
Experiencing a pandemic has been challenging, indeed. At times, he had to buy the necessary hygienic products instead of food while struggling with higher prices of commodities during the pandemic. He also added, ”Kailangan ng tests to make sure na hindi ako [COVID-19] carrier.”
“‘Yung pag-iisip ng para [sa] kinabukasan... I think is the worst. ‘Yung pag se-secure ng para sa bukas,” he explained.
Leaving and going back home without the fear of being sick and spreading the virus are some of the moments he missed doing aside from speaking and going outside without using any facemasks. “‘Yung nakakamayan mo ‘yung mga kaibigan mo…’yung mayayakap ko mga relatives ko,” he added. Meanwhile, the ECQ paved the way for him to spend more time with his family since there are days when the corporation would limit the people attending in the office.
When going to coverages, no one will know for sure which places are infected with the virus. He even forgets his own convenience just so that he will be able to continue his work as a cameraman. For them, they had to cover the news like it’s “normal” even when they knew the great risk of it all.
While working, he would never forget how he saw the lives of Filipinos get worse everyday firsthand. “Ang kapwa mo Pinoy, pinapasaya ang kanyang sarili kahit lugmok na. Araw-araw may gumagawa ng masama to make it through the day.”
But within these challenges, he believes that God placed him here to make a difference. He believes that because he is alive at a time like this, he needs to continue pushing forward and to fight for life.
“Kailangan ka ng Pilipinas. Kailangan ka ng isang kaibigan. Kailangan ka ng kapwa Pinoy.”
Going forward, he wants to be of help, even through simple ways.
“Yung simpleng makita nila na nakangiti ako kahit pagod na—I hope I can uplift them kahit sa ganoong paraan.”
MRS. H and MR. E, Marketing Officer and Branch Head of a Bank, 38 & 50
“Sa akin, lakas ng loob talaga noong unang nag-lockdown kasi papasok ka pa lang, ‘di mo alam kung sino meron. Malakas ang fear sa virus pero as officers, kailangan pa rin pumasok kahit every now and then may nagpo-positive.”
Mrs. H and Mr. E both used to be co-workers in the same branch of a bank. Now in separate branches, Mrs. H has become a marketing officer with 14 years of experience in the industry while Mr. E has had 19 years of experience and is now the branch head of a bank.
While working at a bank is stable financially, workers are still not exempted from the fear of the virus the pandemic has brought upon a lot of people, especially to frontliners.
“Noong nag-lockdown, walang gustong pumasok. Konting ubo lang, pwede ka na eh,” she said. Mrs. H expressed her fear of catching the virus but not having any choice but to work unlike most who have shifted to work from home. “Pagpasok pa lang, risk na ‘yon eh. Everyday, iba-iba kinakausap namin.”
As limited to no face-to-face interactions became the protocol, bank workers are left with no choice but to adjust. A branch head like Mr. E discussed how personal touch with clients is needed in their field of work, but this time, with online, the difference is heavily felt especially with the limited time of only four hours of office shift unlike before. However, it is also not possible for them to switch completely online as they try to match with what fits their clients best.
“Sa financial institution, ang kliyente pa rin namin nasa generation na hindi masyado online, more on text or call. For the old generation, hindi ko naman io-online, so I have to call them or pupunta ako sa kanila kahit naka-face mask,” Mr. E explained. Being a branch head, client calls outside and setting appointments were previously done frequently, but now has been significantly reduced. Corporate appointments and meetings are now not allowed.
While there are risks the pandemic has brought, both Mrs. H and Mr. E do not see their situation negatively. For them, banking is not that much affected by the pandemic. Mrs. H even expresses her gratefulness to her work, saying, “Very thankful kami sa work kasi kahit nagkaroon ng pandemya and every other week lang pasok namin dahil ‘di pwede mapuno ang branch, full pay pa rin kami. Dito namin na-appreciate na swerte kami dahil dito kami nag-work. Long-term kasi and stable.”
There are many benefits in working in a bank during this pandemic, but Mrs. H does not deny their hardships either, but instead has accepted them. “Kung titignan mo as a whole, mahirap, pero kung nalampasan mo like ours, magiging okay din.”
As a message to their fellow frontliners, Mr. E advises to look at the positive side and to choose to be happy. To Filipinos, he wants to send a message to keep on banking and spending to help move the economy especially in this time of recession.
KABAYAN, DLS-CSB Security Guard, 58
“Sinisikap kong mag-bike papunta sa work mula Mandaluyong hanggang Benilde dahil wala noong biyahe.”
Kabayan started working in De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde in June 2007. Hailing from Nasugbu, Batangas, Kabayan is a father of three sons namely: Erickson, Roderick, and Enrique. Due to the pandemic, he shared that the time he could go home to his family has become limited. However, they still serve as his motivation.
As an employee in the College, Kabayan stated that he received financing support or hazard pay from the school. However, despite wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as a face mask and face shield, and following the protocol guidelines of social distancing, he explained that he is still fearful about contacting the virus.
Kabayan also shared that Benilde has shifted into an online type of health declaration instead of filling up in written forms. The use of QR code scanners have been used, where he specified that in Angelo King International Center (AKIC) Campus, security personnel shifts rotationally with nine guards from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.; eight guards for 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. schedule; and another set of nine guards for 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. working hours.
On the other hand, as an ordinary citizen, he also struggled budgeting finances. “Hindi po kami nabigyan ng ayuda ng gobyerno,” Kabayan added; as some of the challenges he had encountered were ”hirap ng biyahe, pagliit ng sahod, at pangamba sa kalusugan.”
Being one of the security guards in the College with a pleasing personality, it is no doubt that he is filled with optimism in the future. Moreover, he looks forward that everything will be okay and soon be back to normal “sa pamamagitan ng vaccine.”
With the pandemic still ongoing, Kabayan shared what he believes everyone should hold with great importance, “Maging maingat sa lahat ng oras. Tulungan ang mamamayang Pilipino. Mag-ingat, sumunod sa protocol at magkaisa.”
GARIE AQUINO QUIRANTE, Grab Driver, 44
“Mahirap ‘yung biglang nahinto ‘yung trabaho mo dahil hindi mo alam kung saan ka kukuha ng pera [...] Napunta lahat doon sa sasakyan na gamit ko sa trabaho bilang Grab driver, pero nagpapasalamat na lang at may nakuha kami ayuda galing sa gobyerno natin.”
Working as a Grab driver, Mr. Garie Aquino Quirante is the breadwinner of his family with two children. When the lockdown was implemented, earning money during the pandemic became a struggle for him especially in the three months when they were not allowed to travel outside with their Grab car.
“Ang hirap ng panahon na ‘yon dahil bawal lumabas kaya walang income.” All of a sudden, because his job as a driver was put on hold, he did not know how he would get by with their expenses. He could not help but want to go back to the time before pandemic when he was able to earn financially.
“Mahirap ‘yung biglang nahinto ‘yung trabaho mo dahil hindi mo alam kung saan ka kukuha ng pera lalo pa at kakabili pa lang namin ng sasakyan bago mag pandemic kaya wala kami ipon,” he stated. Not having any savings because he spent his money on a car he was supposed to use for his work as a Grab driver, he relied on assistance from others.
Thankfully enough, Grab Philippines offered him Grab Express and Grab Food so that he could at least survive with their everyday expenses. He is also grateful to the government because they were able to receive the aid they needed.
During the lockdown, he chose to work with Grab Express to deliver packages, but was disappointed that getting work was not as strong because of the pandemic. As a result, they found another way to earn where they sold viands so they could have money to pay for their additional expenses.
When Grab cars were allowed to travel, it wasn’t a complete relief that he was able to work again as fear settled in.
GrabCar service only resumed on August 19, 2020 when Metro Manila, Laguna, Bulacan, Cavite, and Rizal were announced to be under GCQ, while reducing the operating hours from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. To ensure safety for both drivers and passengers, stricter safety and hygiene standards were implemented such as: wearing face masks and face shields, limiting to only two passengers per ride and only allowing them to sit at the back of the car, switching to contactless and cashless rides, and placing safety kits and plastic barriers inside of the cars.
“Noong pinayagan na kami maka-biyahe… Sa simula, nakakatakot dahil hindi mo alam kung ang maisakay mo ay may COVID-19 [virus]. Pero para sa pamilya, lahat ay gagawin mo,” he expressed.
Undeniably, his family serves as his strong motivation to keep working. Even with the risks involved in his work as a driver and the decreased number of customers he gets in his work compared to before, he still views his experience as a big help for drivers like him.
“Sana mabalik na ulit ‘yung normal na pamumuhay natin.” No one can say for sure how long the pandemic will last, but through this uncertainty, he aims to stay strong through being faithful.
Wanting to spread comfort to fellow Filipinos struggling like him, he shared, “Tulungan lang tayo, malalampasan din natin ito. Dasal lang sa itaas.”
MA’AM O, Public School Teacher, 49
“In my workplace, it is a totally different system now. How would a classroom set-up be realistic if there is no face-to-face interaction with your students? Virtual classroom setting is still foreign to many Filipino students. In fact, it played a very difficult scenario not only to the teachers, but also to the parents and students.”
Known as “Ma’am O” in St. Paul College of Bocaue where she formerly taught, she is now a senior high school faculty member at Guiguinto National Vocational High School in Bulacan for almost two years.
As a teacher who needed to adapt to a virtual setting in this pandemic, Ma’am O said “we, teachers in the public school are dealing with students classified as ‘poorest of the poor.’”
“Challenges like economics, familial, relational, are just some of the factors that our students face. To study and to graduate will just be secondary for them, our role is not only confined in the four corners of our classroom, rather it is extended outside [being a teacher].”
According to her, online classes already “restricted” them as teachers with the delivery of each lesson. Moreover, she explained that she isn’t the “techy type” of a teacher whereas she finds the present set-up difficult.
“In a face-to-face type, aside from the relationship inside the classroom, we, teachers, will have this chance to know the character and attitude of our students because we are interacting personally,” Ma’am O explained, hence, the opportunity to know as well as understand the student’s behavior is better in the previous face-to-face setup.
“Virtual classroom setting is still foreign to many Filipino students, in fact, it played a very difficult scenario not only to the teachers, but also to the parents and students,” she expressed. She also mentioned the struggles of commuting with the burden of wearing glasses, a mask, and a face shield.
On the other hand, Ma’am O shared that the Department of Education has been supportive to them. “They are providing us with materials needed for our subjects. There may be some sort of confusion with how the department is treating this new normal, [although] I personally feel that it is understandable, because nobody really saw this pandemic to happen. In time, I think, things will fall in their proper place and everything will be settled.”
Despite the hardships brought by the pandemic itself, Ma’am O stays firm with hope as good things still happened. Some include: appreciating the small things around us; people trying to return to nature with planting activities; and how local government provides service to people with supplication of “basic needs while many lost their jobs and companies’ decision of closure.”
“A brighter future for all of us, I guess. I am positive that things will get back to normal, COVID-19 vaccines are already available—though its efficacy is yet to be determined— but the important thing there is that, it’s here.”
Filled with optimism, Ma’am O may soon be drinking a cup of coffee at her favorite shop after school as a post-pandemic moment.
Regardless of the field they work in, these modern-day heroes continue to serve selflessly and must be appreciated. Their stories of resilience, providing services to those in need, inspire us everyday.
The pandemic has been challenging for all of us, but even more so for frontliners. Many sacrifices are still left untold, yet continuously made through the commitment to serve and survive.
As we all adjust into the new normal, it is our strict adherence to health protocols and respect to their noble professions that will aid in our recovery as a nation.
Disclaimer: For anonymity purposes, aliases are used instead of the interviewees’ real names in order to protect their identities.
This article is also published in The Benildean Volume 7 Issue no. 1: Confined