Locked down and out of luck.


Can a typical PH family survive the Restrictive Quarantine?

By VJ Mariano

I’m writing this to share my personal experience with the ‘Enhanced Community Quarantine Program’ in Manila.

I am near my fifth month as an appointment setter for a BPO company based in Ortigas Center Pasig City. I’ve been in the contact centre industry for 6 years now, always doing the night shift. I live in Tondo in Manila.

On 30 January 2020, the Philippine Department of Health reported the first case of COVID-19 in the country – a 38-year-old female Chinese national. On 7 March, the first local transmission of COVID-19 was confirmed.

Here’s what happened to me in Quezon City, Pasig and Manila when the Enhanced Community Quarantine Program was implemented.

From early this year my company followed preventive safety measures due to rising COVID-19 cases being reported. Security guards were assigned at the main lobby and on our floor who took a quick temperature check before we are allowed to enter the premises. Employees with a high body temperature or suspected fever were advised to visit the clinic immediately for further health evaluation.

Our Team Manager kept us updated on what was going on internally between the BPO (outsourcing) company and the clients we were supporting in the US.

During the 1st week of March we were asked if we were set up for WFH (work at home). In case there was to be a lockdown within Metro Manila we still could manage to support our clients from home and not lose our jobs.

Everyone was worried if some of us may already have the virus, since it is asymptomatic and may have brought it home to infect our loved ones. If this was the case we might we might even lose our jobs.

On March 13, Friday, after shift duties, some of our office mates brought home the necessary equipment needed to support BAU (business as usual). But I was one of the employees who opted to report to the office the following Monday instead of using WFH.

Upon opening my email I realised that 68% of our staff had not turned up and were using WFH and that only a skeletal work force was on site.

Then the government announced that the entire island of Luzon was to be placed on an ‘enhanced community quarantine’ from March 17, 2020 to stop the spread of COVID-19.

We were still in the office on March 16, with only 3 hours to go before the midnight deadline and had to scramble to bring home the necessary equipment. We were all afraid that we might get caught at the checkpoints or worse still have to walk home because during that time of the night all PUVs (public utility vehicles) are limited.

I waited 30 minutes for a city bus that took me to Monumento.

As I was carrying a monitor, a Dell Mini PC with webcam, mouse and keyboard, it was necessary for me to ride a cab for the rest of the way to my house in Abad Santos, Tondo, Manila.

Luckily I was able to get a cab within Monumento Rotunda and had a quick chat with the driver. “Manong sa inyo po ba itong taxi o nagbaboundary lang po kayo?” And he said, “nagbaboundary lang ako dito, wala ngang masyado pasahero.”

During our chat, I discovered that he was not fully aware of the announced ECQ late that night of March 16.

I do not get it; why was the EQC announcement made so late in the night? We were waiting for a 6pm announcement that ended up past 10pm that day. Very Filipino time.

The following day it was BAU. I was able to complete my work schedule with the WFH set up at home.

The came another twist to this tale. Unfortunately, with the rapid spread of the coronavirus in the US, our clients decided to trim down the members of our team and I was one of the four people who were retrenched.

At this juncture a lot of questions popped up in my mind regarding our survival. How do we cover our daily expenses and pay the monthly bills? Will the LGU (Local Government Units) provide for our daily needs? Will we get support from government agencies like SSS (Philippine Social Security System) during pandemic calamities like this?

How is a typical Filipino family able to cope in this situation?