If there is a silver lining to this pandemic, it is that courageous individuals emerge from the fold, helping to restore our faith in humanity.

Through their selfless acts and generous sacrifices, they help others rise above the storm and remind us that there is, indeed, something that we can do to help. Whether it’s serving at the frontlines, helping a neighbor in need, distributing relief goods, or opening up our own homes to those in need, we can contribute in our own unique ways. In the face of tragedy, ordinary Filipinos will do the extraordinary.

 

 

ROSALIA DUCUT While her entire family stayed in Metro Manila, Rosalia Ducut, 52, a barangay health worker and barangay nutrition scholar of Sta. Lucia Health Station decided to head back home to Lubao, Pampanga, hoping to help others in time of need.  Taong 1997 nang manirahan kami sa Pampanga. Nang magkatrabaho ang asawa ko sa Makati, naiwan sa akin ang mga anak ko. Pero nang umabot na sila sa kolehiyo, napagdesisyunan naming mag-asawa na sa Manila sila mag-aral.

Ako naman, nagpaiwan at nag-volunteer bilang barangay health worker. Mahirap ang trabaho namin. Bukod sa tulungan at ipagamot ang tao sa komunidad, kami’y may responsibilidad din na magturo at magbahagi ng tamang impormasyon sa kanila. Isa sa mga biggest challenges namin ay ang pagkumbinsi sa mga magulang tungkol sa kahalagahan ng pagpapabakuna ng mga sanggol, lalo na ng nagkaroon ng kontrobersya sa dengvaxia. Ang bakuna ay isa sa mga paraan upang maprotektahan ang sarili sa mga virus. 

Simula ng maging BHW–BNS ako, may mga araw man na nakakapagod, nararamdaman ko ang self-fulfillment sa mga naseserbisyuhan ko. Kahit sa maliit na paraan ay alam kong nakakatulong ako sa kapwa ko. At lalo na ngayong nasa panahon tayo ng pandemic, mahirap talikuran ang tungkulin dahil nangangailangan ng mas maraming taong pwedeng tumulong.

 

ENGINEER SONNY DACUMOS Saudia Airline aircraft ground engineer Sonny Dacumos helps to bring home hundreds of OFWs from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. At our company, safety is our top priority. We are trained to approach emergency cases and crises with a sense of calm. There is always a protocol to follow. And in our line of work, we’re trained to be extra careful. And so when it came to bringing home the 200 to 300 OFWs (unconfirmed cases) from the Kingdom (Saudia Arabia), we were ready. 

With the lockdown in place and flights cancelled, this was the first time we had ever gone back to the airport. The roads were eerily quiet, and the airport – aside from a few colleagues – was equally empty. Before, we would be at the office before our shifts to catch up with officemates. This time, to ensure the safety of the team, we kept our distance, wore extra protective gear, and limited our interactions. We had to follow the guidelines to ensure the safety of all, as any lapse in judgement may have serious consequences. Typically, the pilot and crew from our flights from KSA would disembark, but not this time. They flew in just to drop off the passengers and headed back in, yet another example of how we take the safety and security of our people seriously. Following rules, protocols, and orders keep us safe, so we hope that everyone remains vigilant even as we reemerge from the lockdown and ease into the “new normal. 

 

DAN RAMON P. GEROMO a.k.a. SpiderDan Distributing bags of vegetables while dressed as Spiderman, Dan Geromo—associate creative director of IdeasXMachina Hakuhodo—became a real-life hero to the hundreds of workers stranded in Pasig City during ECQ. I have been wearing a Spidey costume in public since 1999, way before cosplay became a thing in the Philippines. Cosplay became a natural progression of this weird hobby of mine. I chose Spider-Man because I’ve always related to him. I sometimes feel like we are the same person.

Then when COVID struck, a question came to me: if Spidey were real, what would he do in this time of crisis? I found out that not all of us are fortunate enough to stay home, and there are those suffering from hunger. I volunteered because I think this is what Spider-Man would have done.

As I went around the city distributing goods, what touched me the most is that all of us are still truly Spider-Man fans deep inside! Whatever their age or predicament they’re in, people will always still scream with glee when they see Spider-Man in person. Though it has, indeed, been fun, this has actually been a healing process for me personally. I was having a difficult time mentally and emotionally during this lockdown, and being able to go out, meet people, and help them probably helped me out a lot more.

 

Muriel Vega Perez Celebrity makeup artist and ShareTheLovePH founder Muriel Vega Perez had been initiating relief efforts since Ondoy, finding ways to support people and communities in every crisis, from the Marawi siege to all the calamities until this pandemic. Despite the restrictions imposed by the lockdown, he and his team decided to still go out, helping the oppressed, depressed, overlooked, and vulnerable. We started by distributing relief goods to nearby informal settlers in Quezon City where I live. We made it a point to do a census first with the cluster leaders to ensure that everyone was accounted for, and that no family or person was overlooked. And then from there, we usually received recommendations on where to head to next.

Through our volunteer work, I’m continually touched by the spirit of Filipinos. In one instance, it was our second time to give out relief in this particular area of informal settlers in Novaliches, along the Tullahan River. We only have an allocation of three kilos of rice per family, and there are around 350 families in the area. They were grateful that we came back to them after two weeks. 

 Then one of the cluster leaders pointed out that some families who lived down the river had never been visited before and had never received any ayuda from the local government. We didn’t have any extra goods, and so they suggested – why not give a part of our share to them? They willingly gave up one kilo from their own portions to help other families, even when they themselves were in need. The community quickly agreed. They bought plastic and borrowed a timbangan and repacked the rice for those who lived down the river. These moments remind us that humanity exists, and that people still do really care for each other. Even when you don’t have a lot, it is always enough when it is shared. That’s bayanihan.

 

Kris Ablan PCOO Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan wanted to help his kababayans who were struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic. Struck by inspiration and a strong desire to help, he then opened a Facebook page, bringing together donors and beneficiaries in this time of great need. 

I came across Facebook posts around the first week of April from friends and acquaintances who had complained that the middle class was also left vulnerable due to the no-work, no-pay policy. It was not just the poor who were affected by this pandemic. I learned that there was discrimination and an unfair implementation of SAP. Around that time, I had also gotten my salary. So I thought there must be some way workers like me who still receive pay can help out workers who don’t. And so I made a Facebook page. 

All of a sudden, I received hundreds of messages asking for help. And I got to work looking for donors. I matched them with beneficiaries. Donors directly deposited to the bank accounts of the affected workers. The initiative had very simple parameters. The beneficiaries had to only confirm that they had jobs prior to the lockdown, had earned anywhere between P10,000 to P35,000 a month, and that their company had not paid them during lockdown. They should not also have received SAP, CAMP, SBWS, or any other government assistance since the lockdown. 

Aside from requesting a work ID and government ID, I check their FB profile to further verify their identities. But that’s about it. I don’t ask any other questions. Like I said, I work on the presumption that ordinary people who go through this process must really need the money. 

 By April 19, I had collected 620+ applications in that span of 10 days. I did not want to accept more because I did not want to over-commit. Right now, I’ve managed to pair 367 recipients with donors. I still have 255 to go. So I intend to keep the project going until I find a donor for the remaining 255. I wish I could scale it and make it institution wide. I was thinking of having government workers commit 5% of their salary to help out a private sector, middle class counterpart. If there are donors, I would like to re-open applications and perpetuate the program for so long as quarantine exists.

 

Robert Alejandro Robert Alejandro, renowned artist and president of Papemelroti, hosts free art classes online, teaching kids—and the kids-at-heart—how to cope with the pandemic, while creating something beautiful.

Art is an important tool not just in trying times, but at ANY given time! But for now, I can see that my teaching art gives joy to the kids and the parents, as well as other adults. My daily 10 a.m. class brings some sort of regular “habit” and a sense of being stable, which I think is important right now. I do encourage everyone to create art with your child and your family. Take advantage of our days at home, because I believe this will be a wonderful, positive foundation of a great childhood. 

Read books, sing, dance, do opera, do theater plays, go into the garden, look at bugs, plants, clouds, stars, birds, pray, and exercise, among other things! The variety of activities (and play) will fuel your child’s thirst for life and this wonderful planet. All this will also find its way through the child’s expression of art.

I have learned so much from a lifetime of doing creative things, and art has literally saved me a thousand times from my own [demons and heartache]. I thank the people who think that through what I do, I am keeping things positive. I just want everyone to know that all of this will pass, and that there is so much more to be grateful for. 

 

Popburri is a small restaurant located in East Kamias, Quezon City, owned by Camille Dowling Ibanes. When the lockdown brought businesses to a close, they decided to open up theirs – transforming their little shop into a homeless shelter. 

Prior to the pandemic, Popburri used to share their unsold bread every evening with the local homeless community. “When the pandemic hit, we thought about this [homeless] community we have grown to love and how unfortunate it is that they won’t be able to wash their hands and shower. So we decided, let’s give them that opportunity. Let’s turn our little store into a shelter with bunk beds and provide all their needs—kain, ligo, tulog, laba. We just fundamentally believe that when we care for the most vulnerable, we serve the entire community,” Ibanes shared to LEAGUE.

On March 19, they announced Popburri’s transition to become a homeless shelter on their Facebook page. 

When they started, they expected only a few families around the Kamias area. But the post, which had over 6,600 shares as of writing, sparked a massive outpouring of support from Filipinos all over the world. “People gave food, toiletries, diapers, mattresses, beddings, pillows, fever guns, bunk beds, alcohol, masks, and gloves. Our customers, our friends, neighbors, our families, everyone responded with such generosity and selflessness, we were and are still in awe of them,” she added. 

Ibanes also praised the local government for their support, especially Kagawad Julius Sevilla who has been “an incredible supporter” from the start. Before Popburri opened their shelter, they asked for permission and Kagawad Sevilla immediately gave his approval. She also cited the help of Barangay Captain Octavio Garces, Councilor Peachy de Leon, Congressman Allan Reyes, and Vice President Leni Robredo.

Popburri complied with the mandatory quarantine protocols, such as a temperature checks, health interviews, bleach and soap foot washes, showers, face masks, bag checks, and physical distancing. Before the shelter was closed down, Popburri was catering to over 70 people every night. Ibanes shared that they utilized the unfinished three-story building behind Popburri to further accommodate more people. 

Unfortunately, the shelter had to be closed because it did not meet the requirements of the barangay. “Thankfully, Mayor Joy Belmonte, Kagawad Julius, and Captain Garces found a way to house our homeless at Quezon City Memorial Circle that same day. So out of the 72 homeless clients, 39 went to QC Circle and had a safe place to stay. The remainder of our clients needed to work within the area and couldn’t afford [to move to QC Circle] so they stayed in their karitons nearby,” Ibanes said.

Ibanes, however, shared that they are still feeding over 300 people a day at the QC Circle and those homeless within their community. She lamented the conditions and hardships that homeless people have to go through on a daily basis, especially during the pandemic. “This is why we are fundraising to build a permanent overnight homeless shelter in Quezon City and are appealing to Mayor Joy [Belmonte] to help us do this. A crowd-funding post will follow. We are so grateful that many want to help, and we believe that with Mayor Joy’s support, we can all do this together,” Ibanes ends.

 

Maureen Claro Three years ago, Maureen began feeding the stray dogs and cats around her area in Mandaue City, Cebu. And now, at the height of the pandemic and lockdown, she continues to feed and protect our furry friends, funding her feeding project through the generosity of the pet-loving community.

“[It is during this pandemic] when I started to post [on my social media] and asked for donations of dog and cat food. When I was just using my own money, I wouldn’t post online,” Claro shared to LEAGUE. “Before the lockdown, I would walk around three hours to feed the strays. But when the lockdown happened, I mustered up the courage and asked people on social media for a bike. Thankfully people pitched in.”

Aside from the dogs and cats she would feed on the streets, Maureen also houses 19 dogs in her foster home. She would also visit a shelter, which houses over 70 dogs. All in all, she feeds over 200 dogs and cats on a regular basis.

Maureen would also crowd-fund on social media to get medical help for her strays. She shared the story of Yna and Jack, two dogs who needed chemotherapy, and the donations poured in. She is raising more to help her furry friends through the generosity of donors. 

For donations, people may reach out to her through her Facebook account: Maureen Lacida Claro.

 

Merc, Molecular Biologist Tracking the spread of an extremely infectious disease is challenging, but it is an essential task; as accurate data is needed to form better mitigation plans. Merc, a molecular biologist, wanted to do his civic duty and volunteered to be part of COVID-19 testing staff at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

I voluntarily signed up as a lab staff augmenter for COVID-19 testing. I was nervous my entire first shift because I was facing an unfamiliar enemy, which was completely different from the bacteria that I routinely process in the Tuberculosis lab. I was uneasy and excessively conscious of my PPE if I donned it right.

Before signing up as a COVID-19 lab augmenter, I used to watch COVID-19 processing videos online. But here I am now, holding a pipette and isolating the viral RNA that could be present in the samples.

This is what I signed up for and I don’t regret it. I learn new protocols and practices inside the outbreak lab; all of which are constant reminders that I have chosen the right career path.

After this pandemic, I hope more people will support the call for more funding to research endeavors. A scientific approach to public health prevents another disease outbreak of this magnitude. I pray that we all realize how crucial it is to prioritize and strengthen public health programs—it’s about time we step up and see how strong our nation can grow.

 

 

Dr. Mia Dacumos A resident doctor at the Makati Medical Center, Dr. Mia Dacumos shares the heartbreaking moments experienced by those at the frontlines. As doctors, we’ve been trained to stay awake and go about our shifts that last up to 24 hours straight. It’s tiring, but not as physically, emotionally, and mentally draining as what the past months have been.

 I was assigned to the COVID ICU ward at the height of the lockdown. And in that span, we saw miraculous recoveries and lost esteemed fellows in our hospital. COVID is a cruel, cruel disease. Patients are admitted into the hospital alone, with no family by their side. We, as frontliners, understand the fear and loneliness, so we try to make their stay as comfortable as possible. In the best-case scenario, patients are released within a few days and reunited with loved ones. But as I am assigned to the ICU unit of the COVID ward, those that come into my care are those with worsening conditions. 

We cannot tell them directly that the prognosis is not good. Not because we’re not allowed, but because we do not have the heart to tell them. We offer them a phone instead and ask, “Is there anyone you would like to call?” We are not sure if they understand what we mean, but they usually – if they still have the strength in them – call a spouse, family, or close friend for a half-meant goodbye. We hear I love yous and goodbyes often, and hope that it will not be the last time that they say either. 

Death, sickness, struggle – we see these scenes every day. But this new illness is scary even to us doctors. It’s frightening to see patients gasping for breath and seeing the very virus ravaging their lungs and causing their health to quickly deteriorate, in some cases in a matter of hours. They fight for every breath. And in those moments, I’m sure they wish to have family to hold their hand. But we can only offer them ours. 

 There are a lucky few members of the family — who may have dropped by that day — who are able to peer from the window of the ICU. I remember one patient had passed away, and we were beside him until the last breath. In our hazmats suits, we could only give a nod to his two children by the window, and they knew. We could not comfort them. But more painful still, we could not grant them even a few more precious minutes to grieve. As per protocol, we had to immediately move the body. COVID is a cruel, cruel sickness, and I hope that we all recover from its effects. 

 

Dr. Erika Villanueva-Caperonce The Internal Medicine-Infectious Disease Specialist completed her fellowship training in Makati Medical Center, while fighting COVID-19 at the frontline.

I had signed up to train as an infectious disease specialist without really imagining that I would ever need to deal with an actual pandemic as globally life-altering as COVID-19. And there was nothing routine about what happened next.
We were fighting a new disease, with no books or published evidence to guide our management. We were forced to learn fast for the sake our patients. There was so much uncertainty and fear. I was prepared to be on my feet the whole day in a hot hazmat, rationing my water intake (because you can’t really afford to pee often). I was prepared for the 12-hour claustrophobia my mask would give me in exchange for my safety. I had even accepted that the fight meant being away from my own family. (I am a mom of a five-year old and a four-year old, and the COVID frontline meant no snuggles for months.) I had embraced and accepted the physical exhaustion that the fight implied.
In the beginning, we were losing more than we were winning. It was heartbreaking to see so many patients succumb to the virus. When you are a patient in the COVID-19 wing, there are no relatives allowed to be by your side. When patients die, they die alone. Our priests are not even allowed in to render anointing and final rites.
In time, we got better and better in understanding the disease. We fought COVID-19 as one hospital; we planned and improved together. While the virus threatened lives, economies, and the health of entire populations, it also brought out teamwork, generosity, and thoughtfulness amongst so many. The fight empowered everyone – from the doctors to the nurses, down to the housekeepers and security personnel. Soon enough, there were more wins than losses, and the victorious claps grew louder every time we sent patients home.

Like everyone, COVID-19 affected my normal. But rather than counting the things and comforts it took away from me, I choose to focus on the good things it brought out in me and others. Kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness, and the special kind of joy and fulfilment when the claps fade and your patient makes it home alive

 

 

 

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