Perspective from the Philippines

My Razorhorse colleagues in Italy and Ukraine haven’t been able to see their parents since the COVID-19 lockdown began. Like my colleague Vindhya in Hyderabad, I’ve spent the lockdown with mine, in my hometown of Don Carlos, Bukidnon in the Philippines.

I visited my parents in March, like I do every month. My mother wasn’t feeling well so I stayed longer than usual. I took her to the hospital for a check-up, and helped keep the house safe. I had considered bringing my wife and daughter with me from our home in Cagayan de Oro (CDO) to Bukidnon, but I wanted to protect them. We had heard about the virus and it is a four hour journey by “Jeepney.” 

The province issued a full lockdown right as I was about to go home in March. To prevent the virus from getting in, no one could go in or out. If I managed to leave, I couldn’t return to care for my mom. The Jeepney could expose me (and therefore my family) to the virus.  As a result, I’m four hours away from my wife and daughter. I have been for three months. I miss them every day but I had to keep them safe.

Hometown in the Philippines

Bukidnon means “highlander” or a “mountain dweller.” This rural area is a highland paradise. It’s a peaceful place to live, the air is clean, and most people are wealthy. Visayan is our native language but we’re required to learn English, starting in grade school and continuing through college.

In 2013, I moved from Don Carlos, Bukidnon to Cagayan de Oro City (CDO). CDO is a first-class, highly urban city. I attended Cagayan de Oro College and majored in Information Technology. I was an active student, a Scholarship grantee and an assistant facilitator. I loved basketball and playing computer games. I also met my beautiful wife in CDO and by God’s grace, we were blessed with our firstborn daughter.

Transitioning to WFH and the Gig Economy

My first job was a call center agent in a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Company. I worked there for a year but didn’t feel valued. I had to work Christmas and New Year’s. They also required medical certificates for any absences. My hours were the typical 9 to 5.  This was okay, but I had to commute two-hours on a Jeepney. I don’t own a car, so this was the only way. The commute exposed me to pollution and took away my home life. I was stressed and felt tired all the time. After the long ride home, I often went straight to bed. I was missing important milestones in my daughter’s life and wanted a change.

Cagayan de Oro City (CDO)

Luckily, a friend introduced me to Outsource Access (OA), a virtual assistant services firm.  OA provides high-quality, low-cost virtual assistants in the Philippines to CEOs and Entrepreneurs in the US. I have strong communications skills, a stable internet connection, and a working computer.  This made me a good candidate for OA. After several rounds of interviews, I was officially registered. I was introduced to Razorhorse in 2019, and have worked from home for them since.

Life is better now. I can support my family. I can work from anywhere, even my terrace. I’m free to celebrate birthdays or relax and unwind without filing for leave. I’m so happy I no longer commute! Razorhorse values me too, and they value my health. Most importantly, I now see my family as much as I want. I see all my daughter’s important milestones. She’s two years old, and she is starting to talk.  Sometimes I even sing her a song while she sleeps on my lap, and I am happy!

Since I was already working remotely, the COVID-related quarantine didn’t change my daily routine. I still work from home (albeit from Bukidnon right now). My hours are 8pm until 6am due to the time difference. It’s worth working through the night, though. I’m able to provide for my wife and baby. I can pay my bills on time. I know I’m lucky. Many of my peers are in a “No work, No pay” situation. The quarantine closed their businesses. They struggle to feed their families and are waiting for government assistance.

Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) Hits the Philippines

The government confirmed the first local transmission of coronavirus March 7 in Manila. After that, the Philippines continued report new infections every day. On March 16, the government imposed an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in Manilla. This was effectively a total lockdown. Two days later after locking down Manila, they locked down the entire country. Mass gatherings were prohibited, and social distancing became mandatory. We wear face masks whenever we left the house, and non-essential shops and businesses are closed. Checkpoints on street corners made sure nobody left home without papers, and that only one person from a household was outside.

People who disregard ECQ guidelines, even if they just leave the house without a face mask, can be arrested immediately and face inquest procedures. The penalty for breaking quarantine is up to 2 months in prison and ₱10,000 to ₱1 million (~$200-$20,000) fines! The penalty for not reporting COVID-19 cases to the DOH is up to six months prison-time and ₱20,000 to ₱50,000 (~$400-1,000) fines. I thought cases would stop escalating immediately when the government took action. Unfortunately, not everybody complied.

By April, there were 96 coronavirus deaths and 2,311 confirmed cases, all from the most recent three weeks. Hundreds of new infections were reported each day. Even as the virus spread aggressively, many broke the quarantine.  On April 1st, the KABATAAN staged a rally criticizing President Duterte’s administration for closing schools.  Dozens marched in Metro Manila demanding food and relief supplies. The mass gathering went against medical warnings and created a dangerous situation!

Scenery on the trip to my hometown in Bukidnon

Riot police broke up the protest and arrested at least 20 people. They urged protesters to return home peacefully, but not everybody did. The police intervened, armed with batons and shields. President Duterte had increased authority and powers to carry out national policy to fight the virus.  In a late-night address after the rally, he authorized police to “shoot [rioters] dead” if there was any violence.

Looking Forward

On April 30, the government lifted the lockdown on areas with low risk or with no reported COVID-19 cases.  They eased lockdown restrictions across the whole country June 1st. Bukidnon is one of the safe areas, so I’m lucky — I’m going home to CDO this month! Before I return, I must get tested for the virus. If I’m negative, I get a “Travel Pass” and self-isolate for 14 days when I reach home. I am excited though. I will soon be in the arms of my my beloved wife and child!!

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