Thursday, February 18, 2021

Conversation with Sen. Leila, detainee (1)

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

No need for an introduction here because Sen. Leila de Lima’s answers to my questions give the whys and wherefores of her being in detention for four years. Hear ye!


Q. As the 4th anniversary of your detention draws near what thoughts and feelings are uppermost in your mind and heart? What was it like on the first days, what is it like now?


A.  Feb. 24, 2021 will mark my 4th year as a person deprived of liberty—1,462 days of injustice. How I long for my family and the simple things I used to enjoy outside.


I recall being sleepless on my first nights inside Camp Crame. But each passing day has made me stronger. Now, I sleep soundly knowing I’m fighting for what is right. Always on my mind is my intense vow to be vindicated for

my family to keep carrying with dignity the De Lima name.


Back then, there was a very palpable sense of surreality: how could this blatant abuse of the criminal justice system be allowed to happen so publicly and with undisguised impunity? Part of me kept on thinking this can’t be happening, and even as it quickly dawned on me that I really was being arrested and unjustly detained—part of me continued to have some confidence that the institutions put in place to check these abuses would correct this huge injustice. To be candid, the most painful part was not the attacks from my political enemies and those who hold a grudge against me for my track record for fighting corruption and abuses of power. It was in the weaponization of the people’s voice and of the justice system. These were the things I fought for, and they were manipulated and corrupted as a weapon to silence political dissent.


One by one the witnesses against me crumble. With that thought, the strongest feeling now is anticipation of my personal vindication and for the return of my liberty, which will allow me to keep fighting for human rights. But most of all, anticipation for the triumph of justice and democracy for all Filipinos.


Q.  What it is like to be in solitary confinement?


This has made me more contemplative and prayerful. Sticking to a daily routine and allowing myself moments of stillness has made my intuitions and thought processes sharper.


Q. Why do you consider your detention and the cases filed against you unjust and/or illegal?


The cases against me were built on fabricated lies. Orchestrated stories of my alleged links to the illegal drug trade within the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), put together by a cabal of operators on Duterte’s orders. But no amount of lies will change the fact that I am innocent. There are worldwide calls for my release because they know the truth that I’m politically persecuted for speaking truth to power in defense of human rights and social justice.


Q. Please describe the cases against you and why they should be dropped.


I’m facing three cases of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court. Criminal Case Nos. 17-165 and 17-166 are being heard at Branch 205, with the Prosecution having concluded their presentation of evidence. Criminal Case No. 17-167, meanwhile, is being handled by Branch 256 which has so far only heard seven of the Prosecution’s intended 36 witnesses.


The following case developments serve to prove my innocence:


1.   There’s no corpus delicti or body of the crime, meaning, the kind or volume of alleged drugs that is a basic premise for any drugs case was never identified.


2.   There’s no money or paper trail linking me to any illegal drug transactions.

 3.   There’s no conspiracy because in the first place, no one has admitted to being a co-conspirator who has personal knowledge of illegal drug transactions, let alone to dealing with me personally.

 4.   There’s no drug case, instead, what became apparent was (1) a kidnap-for-ransom case involving crooked cops who extorted money from a Bilibid convict whose niece they kidnapped; and (2) a bribery case involving Bureau of Corrections officials who took money from convicts in exchange for certain favors—neither of which had anything to do with illegal drugs, let alone with me.

 5.   There’s no credible testimony from witnesses who are mostly Bilibid inmates—their accounts were mere hearsay, riddled with inconsistencies and without any proof.

 (To be continued)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

QR-ed, ID-ed, bar coded, tracked, tagged


Philipine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Wired magazine published the article “Digital IDs are more dangerous than you think” by Brett Solomon, founder of a global conference that addresses human rights in the digital age. It says that digital identification systems are meant to aid the marginalized but actually, they are ripe for abuse. More later.

Why am I thinking of the military’s sloppy intelligence gathering and red-tagging of critics of the present dispensation?

There is no escaping the fact that the current coronavirus pandemic and other events have a way of turning us individual human beings into digital data that could be stored, retrieved, downloaded, uploaded and deleted like some electronic bits. Out there, there exist proofs of our being that enable us to engage in certain humanly activities otherwise not allowed those who cannot prove who they are with only laminated IDs.

Proof of our existence on this planet now requires, in many instances, digital identity. According to what I have read, “Digital identity is the body of information about an individual, organization or electronic device that exists online. Unique identifiers and use patterns make it possible to detect individuals or their devices.”

Yes, individuals and/or their devices. Else why would I get a notice on my cell phone about when and where I was this past month, and with pictures of the places at that! I have yet to learn to undo this creepy stalking.

A city in Metro Manila has an ordinance requiring visitors to have a QR code that would serve the city’s contact tracing efforts. So starting February 15, guards in the city’s establishments “shall implement the NO QR NO Entry regulation.”

A friend mused: “While valuable for contact tracing in the time of COVID-19, we are naturally suspicious of how this government will use these tags.”

No microchips yet, I jested. Correct, she replied, like having GPS in the body, like Jason Bourne (in the movie trilogy) in whom a microchip had been imbedded and which later had to be torn out of his flesh.

But remember, early conspiracy theories circulated in social media had already warned about microchips in the anti-coronavirus vaccine. Preposterous, yes, but people suffering from pandemic-induced paranoia became even more fearful of the vaccine. To start with, people already worried about personal info they had to write on slips of paper before they could be allowed to go in any public place with a door. Worried because who knows in whose data bank the gathered info will end up.

But this much is true, we are increasingly moving into some kind of Orwellian future where Big Brother is always watching. Not so unlike the ubiquitous CCTV cameras that while being a boon to crime solving and prevention they also caused people’s privacy to be compromised.

I just received my Quezon City online digital ID that pops up on my phone screen with a tap. It has a QR code while my UMID card has only a bar code. Suddenly I thought of the chips in ATM and credit cards that may also be carrying so-called identifiers. And that somewhere out there are imprints of ourselves stored in some data bank—the whorls on our thumbs, the design in our irises, the contours on our faces—that had been captured for some temporary ID and data base while we were in this or that high-security gathering abroad or on a cruise ship. Next, our DNA.

Solomon writes: “From airports to health record systems, technologists and policy makers with good intentions are digitizing our identities, making modern life more efficient and streamlined…But as someone who has tracked the advantages and perils of technology for human rights over the past ten years, I am nevertheless convinced that digital ID, writ large, poses one of the gravest risks to human rights of any technology that we have encountered.” Over time, he adds, the risks will become more severe.

 “For starters, we are building near-perfect facial recognition technology and other identifiers, from the human gait to breath to iris. Biometric data bases are being set up in such a way that these individual identifiers are centralized, insecure, and opaque. Then there is the capacity of geo-location of identifiers—that is the tracking of the digital ‘you’—in real time. A constant feed of insecure data from the Internet of Things may well connect you (and your identity) to other identities and nodes on the network without your consent.”

There is more to send shivers down our spine. #

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Vax day dry runs and other vexations

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

I always have this nasty feeling that some agencies tasked to put order and safety in our lives end up messing up if not making life difficult for us Filipinos. My frequent refrain: Ang galing ninyo magpahirap ng tao. (You are such experts in making life difficult for people.) That said, let me ruminate.

Here in Metro Manila earthquake drills had been held regularly in the past in anticipation of the Big One that has yet to shake and rattle our lives but which experts say is a matter of not if but when. These drills have now been put aside because of other natural calamities that recently visited our lives, some of them unprecedented and catching us ill-prepared.

And so this once-in-a-hundred-years virus pandemic that has been running for one year all over the world should no longer stun and petrify the likes of us. After almost a year and more than 10,000 coronavirus-caused deaths in the Philippines, Filipinos should have gotten the hang of it and continue to obsessively observe health protocols. No, people are beginning to get lax and throwing caution to the wind by cavorting with bare faces, despite the so-called new strain of the virus crash landing on our shores.

With the imminent arrival of the vaccine, a new day is dawning, to use a cliché, but are we—the vaccinators, the willing vaccinees and those in charge of delivering the goods to our 7,000 or so humanly inhabited islands—prepared for the monumental process?  Or will we be falling all over ourselves like we do whenever there are new processes that involve crowds and queues, novel systems that need smooth implementation, discipline and order? Do we have enough systems specialists (or whatever they are called) or chaos control experts?

Look at the chaos that happened in the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) when it was announced that RFID compliance would be required, that is, no more cash payments in the privately-run tollways. Valenzuela City where the traffic nightmare happened got the mayor so riled up he had to step in and call out the tollway people.

I commend the Ayala-run AutoSweep system (for SLEX etc.) for an orderly process. I got my RFID sticker from the Ayala Mall at Cloverleaf in Quezon City. But for EasyTrip (for NLEX etc.) I had to ask someone to please use my car and get my RFID sticker from either the Balintawak or Tabang exit as I had yet no plan to drive northward and how was I going to turn back? Irate motorists ask, why not one RFID for both?

Remember the requirement of a plastic barrier between two people (couples mostly) riding in tandem on motorcycles? That was to prevent the virus from being passed on from rider to back rider or vice versa and, in most cases, from spouse to spouse who sleep together in one bed every day of their married lives. Who was the genius…

Now comes the not-so-new requirement of protective child seats in cars so suddenly sprung at motorists who are still reeling from the RFID via dolorosa. And what is this I hear about new requirements for car registration renewals?

Another pahirap: Using Quezon City e-services online for getting a QC ID (for vaccination, etc.) one must fill up a form, upload photo and scanned ID and write a digital signature. My application was rejected because my digital signature did not match the one on my driver’s license. ALL CAPS (am shouting): How can you write with the tip of your finger or with a mouse a good digital signature on a small rectangle on a gadget or PC screen?

Drum roll. After the complicated process of ordering the vaccines from Big Pharmas, fund sourcing and political maneuverings with vaccine-producing countries, are we prepared to hit the ground running when the tens of millions of vaccine vials arrive? Have the national and local governments and agencies, as well as private entities done dry runs, drills and, as in theater performances, dress rehearsals? Or will it be hit and miss? I dread the chaos and cacophony that might ensue on the first day or weeks.

The Girl Scout motto I live by: Be prepared.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

First vaccinees as test bunnies

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

I do not like to use the words guinea pigs because they are off putting, so how about test bunnies? These words are used in the context of lab experiments. I am using test bunnies to refer to t Ihe first Filipino vaccinees. Not that they are being primed to be test bunnies. But by being first, they will show one and all the immediate and short-term side effects, if there be some at all, of the anti-COVID-19 vaccines.  The long-term effect that we expect would be immunity from the corona virus (and its variants too, we hope) that causes COVID-19. Nothing adverse, we pray.

Vaccinee refers to the one injected with the vaccine and vaccinator to the one who administers the vaccine. The latter was called vacunador in our Hispanic past according to historian Ambeth Ocampo, hence the family name that some Filipinos still bear. We still use the word bakuna, and also for those unsightly bakuna sleeves that are in vogue.

 When the Big Pharmas abroad were still in the thick of discovering a wonder vaccine that would end the pandemic and lockdowns worldwide, Filipino politicians and bigwigs were announcing with braggadocio their eagerness to undergo the tusok-tusok. Why, some in government even admitted to have had their shots on the sly, using contraband vaccines from undisclosed sources on the pretext that it was their way to fiercely protect their Commander-in-Chief, President Duterte. With their shadowy feat, they might have unwittingly put their own lives at risk and also the life of their boss who exhibits different shades of unhealthy grey.

 First the President said he would be the first to get the vaccine to show one and all that there is nothing to worry about as regards its safety and effectivity. He must have been referring to the China-made vaccine that many are hesitant about as mini-surveys have shown but which, if one read his lips, were his preferred vaccine for the masses.

 Then he and other presentado eager beavers changed their tune. They appeared to be conceding to the idea that the most vulnerable or at high risk be the first the get the vaccine. Sila muna. These would be the health-care front-liners, senior citizens, persons with disabilities and the underprivileged.

 Now, from the chorus line: Why us? Why not them first? We will wait and see. Why make the vulnerable your test bunnies? These are some common reactions—mine, too—to the so-called priority list of vaccinees. The biblical adage that “the last will be first and the first will be last” does not apply in this iffy situation.

 Social media posts about the vaccine’s possible untoward effects add to the hesitancy. Comic relief there is--memes, cartoons and video flicks that show a variety of side-splitting effects. There is Queen Elizabeth’s likeness gyrating Bollywood-style to a heady Indian tune, a bunch of skimpily clad ckicks who have transmogrified into candidates for Mr. Universe, not quite like Caitlyn Jenner but more like Arnold Schwarzenegger in drag. From my cinematic mind: a Chinese in Wuhan suddenly speaking in chavacano or sing-song Hiligaynon.

 Filipinos turn their agam-agam and their compatriots’ stupidities, proclivities and hesitations into something funny.  Pulse Asia survey results released January 7 showed that nearly half of Filipinos would not want to have themselves vaccinated even if the vaccine would be free of charge.

 Vice President Leni Robredo stressed last Sunday that Pres. Duterte shown in public getting the first shot of the vaccine would boost Filipinos’ confidence in the vaccine. The pambansang photobomber Sen. Bong Go had challenged the VP to have her vaccine jab in public. She said yes to the challenge. Et tu, Bong Go?

 Well, palace spox Harry Roque said that the President had agreed to be vaccinated “as soon as it is available” but it will be done in private. Is the President one of those men who turn deathly pale when they see women bearing syringes?

 There is a lot down the road that we do not know. Not only about the vaccine itself but about the whole operation in bringing the vaccine to millions of qualified and willing Filipinos.  Daunting is an understatement. #

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Book review: ‘Promise Me, Dad’ by Joe Biden

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

I read in one sitting “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose” (2017) by then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden who, any moment now, would be sworn in as President of the world’s most powerful nation.

“Promise me, Dad, that you’re going to be all right” were words of Beau, Biden’s eldest son, to his father. Beau died of glioblastoma or cancer of the brain in 2015 at the age of 45. He had served as an army major in Iraq and, at the time of his death, was attorney general of the state of Delaware.

Biden tells the story in first-person about what he and his family went through while Beau battled cancer and until he died. It is one family’s story.

But “Promise Me, Dad” is also about what it was like to serve as Vice President while coping with a crisis in the family. Biden was no sitting spare tire to Pres. Barack Obama who had handpicked him despite the former’s initial hesitation. “I never had a boss,” he told his wife Jill, “What it is like to be number 2.”

Words from his 90-year-old ma: “So let me get his straight, honey. The first African-American in history who has a chance to be president needs your help to win—and you say no?”

The rest is history. The Obama-Biden tandem served from 2009-2017. Before becoming the 47th US VP, Biden represented Delaware as senator for 36 years. Obama would later speak of their relationship as “instant chemistry.”

While the book’s subtitle says “a year,” Biden puts the story in a wider time frame so that the reader may know where he is coming from. Of Irish origin and raised a Catholic, Biden looked to his faith for strength. In 1972 his first wife Neilia and infant daughter Naomi died in a car crash. His two sons Beau and Hunter were injured but survived.

But it wasn’t until Biden married Jill Tracy, PhD, a professor of English literature, in 1977 that joy returned to the bereaved family. Their courtship story is one for the books.  Joe and Jill have a daughter Ashley. The three Biden children are now married with families of their own but Biden shows in the book how they held together especially when Beau was ailing.  

Oh, but there is a lot about family bonding, the vacations in Nantucket or just chilling out at home while the Secret Service kept a comfortable distance.

While it is about family, Biden’s book is also, in a big way, medical and political. One reads about the procedures Beau had to go through with so much courage and hope, the medical specialists weighing their options, family decisions.

Biden: “I put my head down and looked at the floor. I felt like I had been knocked down. I reached for my rosary and asked God to give me the strength to handle this.”

“As I explained to (Pres. Obama) that the next procedure was uncharted territory, but they were our only hope to save Beau, I looked up and found Barack in tears.”

Very political, too, as Biden put out fires locally and internationally—the assassination of two policemen and reaching out to their bereaved families, the conflagration in Iraq instigated by the ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), Russia’s occupation of parts of Ukraine (“Russia would pay a price for bullying a weaker nation”) and eyeball-to-eyeball with the intransigent Pres.Vladimir Putin (“I don’t think you have a soul”), wading into the problem in Latin America. His hands full, Beau on is mind while flying on Air Force 2.

“My son was in one room in extremis and I was sitting in another. The previous night ISIL had flown into the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, under the cover of a blinding storm.”

Beau died on May 30, 2015. The grief was profound but Biden found enough words to let the reader in. Condolences poured in, people came to pay their last respects but there was one totally unexpected presence Biden would never forget. (Here I teared up.)

With Obama’s two terms as president ending in 2017, was Joe Biden going to run as a Democrat presidential nominee, or will he give way to Hillary Clinton? By now we know.

Let me end abruptly with US President Biden saying he is “nostalgic for the future.”

Sunday, January 17, 2021

FOTY runners-up Essential workers: The many faces of pandemic heroism



Essential workers: The many faces of pandemic heroism

 / 05:40 AM January 17, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — While health care frontliners focused mainly on COVID-19 patients seeking or receiving treatment in medical facilities, people from other sectors and fields also labored and risked their own well-being to keep the rest of the population alive, healthy and informed.

Without them, families, groups and individuals under lockdown and in isolation would have been rendered helpless, much like voyagers in a listing ship amid a tempest, its captain stricken ill, and with no safe haven in sight. 

Classified by the government as essential workers, they delivered the necessities and services that keep the business of life going: the food producers/providers (fishers and farmers) and manufacturers, the delivery people, those who minded drugstores, markets, groceries, banks, water stations, cash remittance centers and telecommunications facilities. Count, too, the power providers, law enforcers, drivers, security guards, contact tracers, garbage collectors and those engaged in funeral services.

Also highly at risk

Many other medical workers, not at the front lines but also highly at risk, continued to respond to various health emergencies, such as child deliveries, broken bones and sudden ailments.

Essential, too, were persons in spiritual ministries who assisted the dying and gave balm to the grieving.

And not to forget: the media practitioners who continuously provided the latest data on not only the pandemic but also the world at large, separating the chaff from the grain, to prevent misinformation and false reports from adding to the fear and confusion of people groping in the dark.

With the government suspending school operations, classes were held online notwithstanding the sorry state of internet connections, gadgets too expensive for poor families, and teachers ill-prepared for distance learning. Teachers, alas, were left out of the list of essential workers as they were expected to work from home (and not climb onto rooftops or scale hills to catch internet signals).

Prominent 2nd place

While work-from-home became the new normal for those who mercifully did not lose their jobs to the pandemic, essential workers continued to ply the deserted streets and alleys—the government having also suspended the operation of mass transportation—to get to their posts, or stayed behind desks in near-empty establishments to keep watch and make sure that someone would answer calls.

And so the essential workers, or “front-liners in general,” as the Inquirer editors called them during the voting, take a prominent second place as the Inquirer’s 2020 Filipinos of the Year (FOTY).

Why? Said one editor-voter: “The battle against the virus needs all hands on deck. They also played a key role in ensuring the public’s protection, because they also put their lives at risk, because they kept the country, the economy and society functioning through their supporting role.”

Many of them may not have realized in the beginning that they are that “essential,” and that they, too, have streaks of heroism in them. But they got their special vote, their time of day, their time to shine.

And so, in fine: “Everyone has come together in an unprecedented way in this crisis. Everyone is heroic in his/her own way. They have bravely put their lives on the line every day since the start of the pandemic. They have been unwavering in their commitment to help save as many lives while coping with delayed salaries and government incompetence. They are also the face of the modern Filipino hero—courageous, competent and compassionate.”

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2020 Filipinos of the Year: Health care frontliners


2020 Filipinos of the Year: Health care frontliners

 / 05:42 AM January 17, 2021

(Editor’s Note: Every year since 1991, the Philippine Daily Inquirer has sought to recognize the Filipino individual or group who, in the judgment of the newspaper’s editors, made the most positive impact on the life of the nation.)



Masked and hooded, or covered from head to foot with protective suits, their eyes peering into a world threatened by an unseen, merciless enemy that they themselves fear, they heeded the call to serve and put their own lives on the line so that others may heal and live.

Many of them could have been the last to gaze into the eyes of those in the throes of death from COVID-19, their comforting words the last to be heard. Their gloved hands held the very sick, the frightened, despairing and lonely in medical facilities where many fear to tread or are not allowed in. Never have their oaths as medical practitioners been so tested.

When it became clear that the highly transmissible novel coronavirus had made landfall in the Philippines in the beginning of 2020, or even earlier, health experts sounded the alarm. But it took the government some time to gather itself and face the enemy head-on.

It did not take long for the virus to feel at home in a country where health protocols are observed more in the breach. Soon, when the infected and symptomatic became gravely ill, health-care practitioners became by default the first line of defense: the nurses, doctors, medical technologists and staff in hospitals and health facilities where many life-and-death battles would be lost or won. Like ducks to water, they went down to the trenches, the doctors and nurses with their Hippocratic oath and Nightingale pledge under their belt.

They came to be called health-care front-liners (the latter word heretofore rarely used except in shooting wars). Front-liners because they were front and center, in the enemy’s crosshairs, so to speak, directly receiving and caring for COVID-19 patients. Meanwhile, out in the field, equally indispensable epidemiologists, scientists, other public health experts and law enforcers tried to find ways to track and slow down the spread of the virus.

No one knew then what havoc the virus would wreak on the planet and on this country so rich in human and natural resources but so short in many other essentials, disaster preparedness among them, as well as compassionate, creative and proactive leadership.

FIRST FEW CASES Health workers begin tackling an unfamiliar and dangerous challenge in this April 2020 photo of a Covid-19 patient being brought into a public hospital in Manila. —RICHARD A. REYES

Death count

After the World Health Organization officially declared on March 11, 2020, that a Covid-19 pandemic was indeed sweeping the globe, and two months into a lockdown that began in the Philippines in mid-March and put major cities and provinces under various degrees of quarantine that spelled economic disaster, the count of front-liners infected and dead of COVID-19 began.

By Aug. 28, 2020, according to data from the Department of Health (DOH), 6,735 health workers had been infected. Of these, 40 have died and 6,070 have recovered. The death toll rose to 61 as of Oct. 1, 2020.

By the end of the year a total of 13,629 front-liners had been infected and 76 had succumbed.

The Philippines is said to have had the longest lockdown in the world. And yet…

While the government had promised material compensation befitting wounded and fallen health-care front-liners, there were instances where families, though grieving still, needed to collect on the promises. But they had to contend with the government’s “confusing guidelines on hazard pay” and what one bereaved described as “the penchant of government to say things that it would not fulfill.”

TILL THE VERY END For many Covid-19 fatalities forced to be isolated from their loved ones, the last voice they heard or touch they felt was that of medical workers. —LYN RILLON

Soldiering on

All these, while proof of massive corruption was surfacing at Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), the state-run health insurance agency.

The front-liners soldiered on as many other Filipinos ensconced safely at home whined about not knowing what to do with themselves and their time; as jobless breadwinners begged for food for their families and business people counted their losses; as some turned to prayer and pious works, or became inspirational gurus, preachy sages and poets on social media; as stranded persons camped out on the streets.

They may have had their share of personal issues, but the front-liners held the fort in their respective “war zones.”

Did they even have the time to contemplate how the world had seemingly ground to a halt but their lives had not—to the point that they could not even pee regularly because of the time it took to shed their protective armor under which they sweated profusely even in freezing, antiseptic hospital units?

At one point in August, the health-care system staggered dangerously under the heavy load of cases, and the front-liners cried out for a reprieve. But not everyone in the government, not even President Duterte, was sympathetic.

Yet, overworked, underpaid and underappreciated, they have learned to live with this national reality, all the while knowing that greener pastures awaited them elsewhere. But a ban imposed in April prevented nurses from leaving the country, dashing the hopes of those bound for dream jobs abroad.

FOR STRENGTH Prayers are said not just for the sick and dying—but also for the professionals risking their own lives as they perform their duty. —RICHARD A. REYES

Heroes in scrubs

The Philippine health-care system is in short supply of health practitioners. According to the International Labor Organization, there are 430 doctors and nurses per 10,000 people in Germany; 337 in the United States; 254 in Britain; and only 65 in the Philippines.

Why? As a nurse bound overseas put it, she was “better off in a war zone in the Middle East than at home.”

In the United States, a nurse can earn as much as $5,000 a month; in the Middle East, $2,000; in Germany, up to $2,800. In the Philippines, despite the emergency hiring efforts, the DOH can offer a starting salary of only $665 (around P31,900) a month, plus a COVID-19 hazard allowance at a maximum of $10 (P500) a day. 

Health-care workers serving at home as front-liners are hailed as modern-day heroes in scrubs. They now receive heaps of praise and thanks from their fellow Filipinos, likened to soldiers in a war that has yet to see an end.

But these lifesavers have also been victims of discrimination and harassment, even regarded as life-threatening, because the ignorant saw them only as carriers of the dreaded virus.

Community ostracism was not uncommon: A nurse was driven out of her living quarters, another doused with bleach, the collective plied with tactless remarks by an elected official. A front-liner was barred from a business establishment. A nurse positive for COVID-19 was found seated on a sidewalk; she was made to leave her boarding house and she had nowhere else to go.

A number of front-liners demur, saying: “We are just doing our jobs, we are not heroes.”

But to COVID-19 survivors they are heroes, God-sent angels in protective suits. Nowhere is this more evident than in hospital scenes of survivors being wheeled out for discharge and applauded by medical staff. The survivors and their families return the applause. Behind their face shields and masks, the thanked and the thankful break into smiles and weep.

With COVID-19 vaccines now being manufactured, Filipinos wait with both relief and a studied skepticism exacerbated by the recent controversy on the illegal procurement and administration of contraband vaccines on the Presidential Security Group, which their Commander in Chief has defended and justified.

The health-care front-liners do not seem to be on the priority list.

To speak of the front-liners in general terms only is to miss the heart of the story. For more than just collectively adhering to their sworn duty and professing love for their work, they have given a human face, a human voice, and a human feel to the word “compassion,” and a breadth of meaning to the word “vocation,” what it is to hearken to the call not just of duty but also of something loftier, nobler.

During the Oct. 20 “Bayaning Nars” awards, the Philippine Nurses Association quoted Pope Francis as paean to their 15 honorees, 14 of whom were dead: “Nursing is more than a profession, it is a vocation, a dedication. During this pandemic, they have given an example of heroism. Some have even given their lives.”

An editor who voted for the health-care front-liners as the Inquirer’s 2020 Filipinos of the Year wrote: “Despite being unprepared for the massive and unprecedented health emergency, they held their ground, putting themselves in the line of fire and preventing an even greater number of Filipinos from getting sick and dying of COVID-19. Many of them lost their own lives in this epic struggle. They were fearful but were determined to serve in the early days of the pandemic when the prospect for relief was bleakest. They humbly said that they were the last line of defense in this fight, but in reality and in many instances, they were the only line of defense.” 

Time was of the essence in saving lives. In the early days of the pandemic a young doctor biked daily to the overcrowded Philippine General Hospital instead of waiting for rides that had yet to be arranged for front-liners. She was hit by a truck and died.

A young ER nurse only two years out of college tested positive for COVID-19 not once but twice. Each time she simply quarantined herself in her apartment, and after testing negative, went right back to work. It was her generation stepping up to the challenge.

BATTLE WEARY Forced to keep goggles and a face mask on during 12-hour shifts, a nurse has to apply a gel dressing on her face to prevent chafing of the skin. —LYN RILLON

‘Crazy yet rewarding’

Here is an excerpt from her journal in the early months: “It’s been tough psychologically. I leave my 12-hour shift absolutely exhausted especially when I go over worst cases in my head. It is all very scary, to be perfectly honest. It is really a crucial moment for all of us in health care during this time. It is crazy yet so rewarding. We show up strong, united and ready to provide care every single day. But we are also losing staff to sickness or quarantine.

“It’s been chaotic, people flock outside the ER just to have their swabs done. We have set up a ‘tent city’ outside the ER to keep us from being overrun by contagious people. We are triaging to alleviate the pressure on the ER. As ER nurses we cannot lose our cool, we’ve seen it coming, we come prepared but this one is different.”

Different and unprecedented, indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on every aspect of life. It has also drawn out the best from many of us and, without doubt, the best and the most from the health-care front-liners.

Long after this historic pandemic is over and, God forbid, when an unknown peril lurks again on the dystopian horizon, we will look back at 2020 with awe and gratitude for the health-care front-liners who pulled us from the brink. And hope they would be there again for us as they were, and still are.

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