During the early months of the pandemic last year, the demand for ginger surged all over the world. But due to the virus, import shipments of goods including ginger were delayed. Because the supply could not meet the demand, ginger prices drastically rose in many countries. According to this article, these include Ethiopia, wherein the “wonder root” was sold almost three times more than its original price.
The focused interest in ginger came when global health authorities were still churning out initial information on COVID-19. At the same time, social media blazed with claims of ginger being a COVID-19 cure. This prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to nullify such claims, stating that “There is no scientific evidence that black pepper, honey and ginger protect from COVID-19 infection. In general, however, some spices are considered to have properties that may be beneficial for health.”
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine goes further by saying that
“Viral infections spread in your body when the virus enters your cells and makes copies of itself and then those copies enter new cells and repeat the process. Ginger will not destroy the virus in your body or stop the copying process.”
This article stated that during a press briefing, Executive Director of WHO Health Emergencies Program Michael Ryan acknowledged that herbal teas such as ginger are beneficial. Still, he warned against false statements that may lead to pandemic risks. “Anything that makes one feel better, anything that provides that reassurance and anything that you believe can help your health that’s not dangerous certainly has a positive impact on your health, but it’s a different thing to say that something is effective in treating the disease,” he said.
Powers of Ginger
For centuries, ginger has been an important part of Filipino cuisine and folk medicine. This comes as no surprise because ginger originated in Maritime Southeast Asia, which includes the Philippines. During the spice trade in 1500 BC, ginger even reached Europe and was used by ancient Greeks and Romans.
Ginger is a popular ingredient of our local dishes such as tinola, arroz caldo and pinakbet, and is known to effectively eliminate fishy odors in seafood-based recipes. But when it comes to home remedies for colds and sore throat, one of the most popular is salabat, traditionally made from boiled fresh ginger.
In a Panahon TV interview with Gab Labrador, a nutrition officer at the National Nutrition Council, he explained in a mix of Filipino and English that ginger became popular during the pandemic because “it helps reduce inflammation brought by respiratory diseases.” In fact, a 2008 study by the Common Cold Center at the Cardiff University in Wales concluded that hot drinks like salabat can soothe “runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chills and fatigue” better than beverages in room temperature.
Labrador also shared ginger’s other health benefits:
- Has a good amount of fiber that’s good for digestive health
- Can calm an upset stomach and acts as a laxative
- Alleviates dizziness and nausea
- Is high in antioxidants that reduce cell damage
- Boosts immune system
- Reduces the risk of heart disease
- Controls blood sugar levels
But is there such a thing as ingesting too much ginger? Labrador said that though the effects of eating excess ginger are rare, they are still possible. “It can lead to an upset stomach and heart burn. There may be some people who are allergic to spices like ginger. The allergy manifests through skin inflammation.” He also added that ginger may interact with some drugs. “These are the anticoagulants or blood thinners. If you’re taking these drugs, you might want to ask your doctor if you can still take ginger tea.” To avoid complications, Labrador recommended limiting the salabat we drink to one cup a day.
Staying Healthy During the Pandemic and Beyond
Though ginger is undoubtedly beneficial to our bodies, staying healthy this pandemic is still all about avoiding exposure to the virus. “That’s basically following health protocols— social distancing, proper hygiene…and it’s better for the population to take the vaccine once it’s offered to them,” said Labrador.
Echoing WHO, Labrador is all for taking salabat if it makes people feel better. But he warned, “It’s not really good to brand natural remedy as a cure of a certain disease. So, it’s still better to get proper medical action from a medical professional during these times.” Moreover, we can strengthen our immune system by having a holistic approach toward health “Number one is to eat a variety of foods including fruits and vegetables every day. Prioritize natural and fresh foods over highly-processed or fast food. We also want to maintain a physically active lifestyle during these times. Just go to the internet and search for body weight exercises that you can do. That can definitely help us in improving our immune system and maintain a healthy weight which…in the long run, will benefit us.”
How to Prepare Salabat
Labrador gives these steps in preparing your own throat-soothing ginger tea:
- Thinly slice ginger into 5-6 pieces.
- Boil them in a cup of water.
- Boiling time depends on how strong you want the ginger flavor to be. 10 minutes will result in a mild ginger taste, while 15-20 minutes will bring out the ginger’s spiciness.
Watch our interview with Gab Labrador here.
A year after the pandemic, the World Health Organization updated its health advisory last April, stating that COVID-19 may be acquired through airborne transmission. This is in addition to the droplet transmission, which was previously the widely recognized mode of spreading the virus.
But what does this new discovery entail? Panahon TV sought the advice of Dr. Rontgene Solante, chairman of the Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine Department at the San Lazaro Hospital, and a member of the Vaccine Expert Panel of the Department of Science and Technology.
Droplet vs Airborne Transmission
Dr. Solante mentioned that the COVID-19 virus is expelled through coughing, sneezing, or talking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adds to this list by stating that “People release respiratory fluids during exhalation (e.g., quiet breathing, speaking, singing, exercise, coughing, sneezing) in the form of droplets across a spectrum of sizes. These droplets carry virus and transmit infection.”
“The droplet is composed of virus particles within the saliva,” explained Dr. Solante in a mix of English and Filipino. “This means it’s much bigger and heavier. When you cough or sneeze, the droplet can travel up to 3 feet. It falls quickly on surfaces.” It’s because of these reasons why COVID-19 prevention involves regular hand washing and regularly disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces.
On the other hand, COVID 19’s airborne transmission involves the aerosolized form of the virus. “Why is it aerosolized? It’s because when you cough, you expel not just droplets but also tinier particles. These particles are lighter so they stay in the air longer. This is what we call airborne.”
While droplets are most infectious within a 3-feet or 1-meter distance between people, the airborne particles, which can remain suspended in the air for up to two to three hours, may infect people within an 8-feet distance.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), medical procedures and treatments that produce aerosols may also transmit COVID-19. These include endotracheal intubation, open suctioning, administration of nebulized treatment, manual ventilation before intubation, turning the patient to the prone position, and disconnecting the patient from the ventilator.
The CDC states that the higher the amount of virus a person is exposed to, the higher the risk of infection. Through the airborne transmission, you are more likely to catch COVID-19 when the following factors are present:
- Enclosed spaces with poor ventilation. This includes air-conditioned spaces that let droplets and aerosol particles build up in the air.
- Increased exhalation of an infected person’s respiratory fluids. This person doesn’t need to cough or sneeze to spread the virus. He or she may simply be shouting, singing or engaged in a form of physical exertion such as an exercise.
- Prolonged exposure to these conditions for more than 15 minutes.
Though bikers are required to wear face masks, they do not have to wear face shields as these pose safety risks according to the Department of Health. (photo by Jire Carreon)
What Airborne Means
“Airborne diseases are easily transmitted when you are not wearing the proper face mask, when ventilation is very poor, and more importantly, when you are in a closed space,” warned Dr. Solante. Tuberculosis is an example of an airborne disease. “The reason why the Philippines has a high case of Tuberculosis is because many of us live in communities with houses built close to each other. When one has this disease, he or she is likely to transmit it to family members. In a way, this is similar to COVID-19, which easily spreads within the household because of the droplet and airborne modes of transmission.”
The fact that COVID-19 is airborne and may be transmitted beyond 6 feet only means that more than ever, we need to be vigilant about health protocols, and stay in well-ventilated areas. Dr. Solante said, “Chances are, if you are in a room without ventilation or with poor ventilation, the virus can stay longer— for about 3 hours. The minute you remove your face mask or face shield, then you can get the virus within 15 minutes of staying in that closed space.”
But what does proper ventilation mean? Dr. Solante said this is achieved when air inside the room is able to flow out, while air outside the room is able to flow in. “Without air ventilation, the aerosolized virus can stay in the air for two to three hours. But if you open the windows, and there’s ventilation, the virus will only be airborne for less than 15 or 30 minutes, as long as there are only a few people inside the room.”
Sign inside a jeepney. This year, face shields were also required inside public transportation. (photo by Paul Michael Caisip)
How to Prevent Airborne Transmission of COVID-19
Dr. Solante offers these prevention tips in various settings:
- Open windows to encourage ventilation.
- If the heat is too much, and you want to turn on the air-conditioning, make sure to have less conversations and interaction among family members inside the room. Wear face masks, and limit the number of room occupants.
In the office
- Maintain a distance of at least six feet from other people.
- Limit the number of people in the room.
- Always wear your face mask and face shield inside the room. Dr. Solante doesn’t recommend doubling your masks as this may make breathing difficult.
- Avoid unnecessary talking. Use chats or other forms of communication that don’t require you to open your mouth.
- Always practice cough etiquette and regular hand washing.
- If ventilation is poor in the office, Dr. Solante urges the management to consult with engineers on how to improve air flow.
In Public Transport
- Always wear a face mask and face shield. Make sure your eyes, nose and mouth are covered.
- Try not to open your mouth. This means avoiding activities such as eating, conversing and talking on cellphones.
- Maintain physical distancing. Passengers should at least be a seat apart.
In a nutshell, Dr. Solante gives these 5 important tips during the pandemic:
- Practice regular hand washing.
- Wear your face mask and face shield.
- Maintain a physical distance of six feet or more.
- Avoid crowded areas.
- Only visit places with good ventilation.
Though the airborne transmission is cause for alarm, following health protocols is still an effective countermeasure. Complying to guidelines set by health experts and being vaccinated are still your best bets in safeguarding your health and that of other people.
*interview by Trisha Garin
In a recent public address, Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez stated that over 3 million Filipinos have been vaccinated since March 1, 2021. But it is still a far cry from the 70 million the government targets to vaccinate by the end of this year to achieve herd immunity.
The Department of Health (DOH) stated its plans to inoculate 100,000 to 200,000 individuals daily once vaccine supplies become stable. But from the 7 million vaccine doses received by the country so far, over 3 million have only been administered nationwide. A tweet from ABS-CBN Data Analytics Head Edson Guido two days ago (May 19, 2021) further brought to light how far the country is from herd immunity. He stated that at the rate we are going, the 70-million target will be achieved in 3 years, and not this year. “We still have a long way to go,” Guido tweeted. “To reach the target of 70 million by end of 2021, the average should be around 600,000 daily. That’s 5.5 times the current pace. We need more vaccines.”
(screenshot from Twitter)
Adding to the challenges of vaccine supply and vaccination processes is the sensitivity of some vaccine brands. To ensure their safety and efficacy, they need to be maintained in very low temperatures in every step of the way— from their arrival in the airport to storage and delivery. With the country’s limited infrastructure especially in remote areas, vaccine quality may suffer, and along with it, the health of many Filipinos.
Fr. Nic in the Providence College laboratory (Courtesy: Providence College)
Developing a Different COVID-19 Vaccine
Such issues are what a new type of COVID-19 vaccine hopes to resolve. Fr. Nicanor “Nic” Austriaco, who is developing this product, has taken his cue from oral vaccines such as the one for polio. “It’s not unusual to have oral vaccines,” he explained. “In the Philippines, we have 110 million people in 7,000 islands, and we have to bring the vaccine to them. Right now, all the (COVID-19) vaccines require very cold refrigerators. I want to develop a vaccine that is shelf-stable. In other words, you can put it on the shelf without the need for refrigeration, and it would still last.”
Biology and theology are Fr. Nic’s fields of expertise, having been trained in molecular biology at the Massachusetts Institute Technology (MIT) in the U.S. more than two decades ago. Currently, he is a professor at both the Providence College in Rhode Island and our very own University of Santo Tomas. He is also a fellow at OCTA Research, an independent and interdisciplinary research group of faculty members that has been providing pandemic data for the country.
The vaccine Fr. Nic and his team are developing is yeast-based, with a shelf life of two years even without refrigeration. “The idea is that we take probiotic yeast, which you can buy in drugstores, and we genetically engineered it. We changed it so that it will produce the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This spike protein is the part of the virus that Pfizer, Moderna , AstraZeneca, Gamaleya all put into your body. So, we are just changing the delivery system.” The yeast, which could be drunk or taken in pill form, would stay in the intestines and produce the spike protein, which would trigger the body’s immune system.
Despite the promising benefits of this oral COVID-19 vaccine, Fr. Nic warned that it may take 6 months to a year before it can be released to the public. “This is why I call this a second- generation vaccine. The expectation is we’re going to be vaccinated nearly every year or nearly every other year. So to save the Philippine government [from spending] billions of pesos to be paid every year to foreign companies, we’re trying to develop a vaccine for the Philippines that is relatively cheap but safe and efficacious.”
Fr. Nic named the oral vaccine development as Project Pag-asa, precisely because he hopes to give hope to Filipinos, especially the poor. “I read a story about a Filipino jeepney driver who lost his job, who lost his house because of the first ECQ, and I realized that we have to protect the poor—the poorest kababayans. The first-generation ones will be great for them but if we do this every year for a long time, we need a vaccine that would be easily accessible to our poor kababayans.”
Like other vaccine developers, Fr. Nic’s team is developing two versions of the oral vaccine—one for the original COVID-19 strain, and one for the other variants. Regarding questions on the oral vaccine dosage, Fr. Nic said that it would depend on the clinical trial. Once the yeast is developed, the first step is to do animal testing. “Once the animal testing is done— if that is successful— then we have to go to clinical trials in the Philippines. So, there are still many steps that we need to do before we can make it available to the public.”
Developing the COVID-19 oral vaccine (Courtesy: Providence College)
Importance of Vaccination
Fr. Nic has already been vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine in the States. He was part of the priority list because he resided in a community of priests, which had elderly members. “The side effects can be rough, especially after the second dose. I was very sick for about one day. I had headache, body ache, fatigue, chills for many hours. But after that day, it was gone.”
Still, Fr. Nic reiterated that the sick feeling after vaccination is a sign that the vaccine is working. “It’s your body fighting the vaccine already. That is why the second dose is worse than the first dose. The older you are, the easier the side effects, If you are young, you can be really, really, really sick because you have a stronger immune system. So, the immune system fights back stronger and you feel sick more— but only for one day. And if you had COVID before, especially if you didn’t know you had COVID, the first dose would be harder than the second dose.”
As for those hesitating to get vaccinated, Fr. Nic said, “I’m one of them who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. I can now walk around the city. I can get on a plane. I can visit other people. It is the quickest way to end the pandemic, right? I am sure you are tired of ECQ. You are tired of lockdown. The only way we can stop this is if all the Filipino adults—70 million adults choose to be vaccinated.”
For Fr. Nic, vaccination is not only a self-protective measure, but also a caring decision.
“Why do we get vaccinated? We get vaccinated to protect ourselves, but more importantly, to protect those around us who are more vulnerable to the disease. When I was being injected by the second dose, I thought ah, my mom is safe now. I was so concerned about my mother’s well-being. She’s a senior citizen, so every time I visit her [in Manila], I was worried that I would secretly bring the virus to her. Now, I know she is safe because I am vaccinated. We are vaccinated not only to protect ourselves but also to protect our parents and our grandparents. Those are really important to understand, especially in the Philippines.”
* interview by Blueberrie Recto
Only a week to go before the end of April when the government will decide whether to change or maintain the current MECQ (Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine) status in NCR Plus. But with the Department of Health’s report on having 66% of the country’s ICU beds solely for COVID-19 patients already utilized, it is clear that the healthcare system still needs more time to recover. In fact, PGH (Philippine General Hospital) spokesperson Dr. Jonas del Rosario stated, “Extension of MECQ will probably help in further decreasing the transmission, and then fewer people will get hospitalized.”
As of writing, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recorded over 143 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and over 3 million deaths worldwide. Because this scenario may be difficult to imagine, Dr. Anna Lisa Ong-Lim, division chief of the Department of Pediatrics’ Infectious and Tropical Disease in PGH offers this explanation: “That means every man, woman and child who lives in the Philippines has tested positive. When you talk about the deaths, that’s kind of saying that everybody in Quezon City has died of COVID.” She added that she wouldn’t be surprised if the DOH’s current tally of over 971,000 cases hit 1 million very soon. As of April 22, the country’s total active cases are almost 108,000 with over 16,000 deaths.
With NCR hospitals in almost-full capacity, alarming stories of patients having to go outside of Metro Manila to seek medical care abound. But with DOH stating that more than 97% of current COVID-19 cases are mild and asymptomatic, home care may be feasible. To learn more about this, The Sanctuario de San Antonio Parish Team held the webinar entitled What to Do When COVID Hits Home with Dr. Ong-Lim as guest speaker.
When COVID Homecare is Feasible
In March last year, WHO began releasing homecare guidelines for mild cases when “in-patient care is unavailable or unsafe”, which is currently the case in NCR. To determine which cases are eligible for home care, Dr. Ong-Lim proposes asking three questions:
- DOES THE PATIENT QUALIFY FOR HOME CARE?
According to WHO, the following cases qualify for home care:
- Asymptomatic or those with mild or moderate disease
- No risk factors for poor outcome. Risk factors include being more than 60 years old, smoking, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic lung or kidney disease, immunosuppression and cancer.
Dr. Ong-Lim expounds on this by saying that the patient should not have difficulty in breathing to qualify for home care. This can be concluded when the patient is able to do the following:
- Comfortably breathe and does not have any shortness of breath
- Comfortably speak in full sentences. Patient doesn’t catch his/her breath when speaking.
- Has a respiratory rate of less than 30 breaths per minute at rest
- Oxygen saturation without any oxygen supplementation is at least 94%. This can be measured by using a pulse oximeter device.
- IS THE HOME SETTING SUITABLE FOR HOME CARE?
Though both isolation and quarantine seek to limit the patient’s movement to avoid passing on the virus, Dr. Ong-Lim enumerated their differences.
|For someone who tested positive for COVID-19||For someone who had been in close contact with a positive case|
|Duration is about 10 days|| |
Duration is 14 days
|Patient should have no fever or symptoms for at least 3 days before he/she is discharged from isolation.||Quarantined person should watch out for symptoms, check temperatures, and avoid contact with others, especially those at high risk.|
Physical requirements for home care include:
- A separate room and bathroom for patient. Patient’s door need to be closed to contain airflow.
- A delivery system for patient’s daily needs that allow minimal exposure for caregiver.
- Only one caregiver for patient. Caregiver should be in good health without underlying chronic conditions.
- If contact and exposure with patient is necessary, caregiver should wear a face shield and face mask, and maintain a distance of 1 meter from the infected person.
Additional tips for infection prevention in the home include:
- Provide patient with medical masks. After use, masks should be disposed of in a separate trash bin.
- Patient should have his/her own utensils and linen. Before washing used linen, place them in a laundry bag. Don’t shake the bag so as not to aerosolize the virus. Use regular soap and water for washing. Wear gloves and a face mask when washing.
- Frequently clean and disinfect surfaces at home. Wear gloves and a face mask when cleaning. A disinfecting solution consists of 45 ml bleach for every liter of water. Prepare the solution daily because this evaporates, affecting its efficacy.
- If patient used a shared space such as the bathroom or kitchen, sanitize the area right away.
- Household members should constantly practice hand hygiene.
- Visitors should not be allowed in the home.
- CAN THE PATIENT BE PROPERLY MONITORED AT HOME?
Aside from having no risk factors and being below 60 years old, the caregiver should also also be reliable. This ensures the accuracy of information that will be relayed to the healthcare professional.
According to Dr. Ong-Lim, the caregiver should be equipped to do the following:
- Monitor vital signs of patient by recording the date, time, heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, temperature and blood pressure. Do this 1 to 3 times, or every 8 hours daily.
- Make sure patient takes his/her maintenance medicines.
- Maintain a supply of medication for fever, cough, and colds.
- Be vigilant of worsening symptoms that require urgent professional care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that these signs merit emergency medical attention:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in chest
- Patient being confused and disoriented, which may be a sign of decreasing oxygen levels in the body
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Pale, bluish gray skin, lips or nail beds
Dr. Ong-Lim added that patients with mild to moderate disease without risk factors could take about 10 days to recover. The important thing is that the patient should be improving, and not progressing toward severe or critical illness. When the latter happens, the patient needs to be transferred to a hospital.
A Side Note on Ivermectin
So far, three hospitals in the country have secured permission to use ivermectin against COVID-19. Oral ivermectin, which was previously used in the Philippines only for parasite infestations among animals, is now allowed by the Food and Drug Authority (FDA), under a special permission, to be given to COVID patients. Currently, ivermectin clinical trials in the country are underway.
However, health experts including the FDA and WHO have been vocal against the use of the drug, citing that there isn’t enough evidence to prove that its effectivity against COVID-19. About this, Dr. Ong-Lim said, “Even if there are scientific publications saying that there is evidence for it, unfortunately, the studies are affected by the fact that they involved different kinds of populations. Ivermectin in those trials may have been used with other interventions, so it’s very difficult to isolate and say that the effect is solely due to ivermectin.”
Aside from its lack of efficacy, health experts are also concerned about ivermectin’s possible toxicity. “Is it right to put our faith into something that needs more sound evidence?” Dr. Ong-Lim asked in Filipino. “We need more evidence before we can trust it. Otherwise, we have misplaced faith. We need to understand what we’re really afraid of. We’re afraid of getting sick. How can we prevent that? By just utilizing your mask and shield properly, your distancing, your circulation, and your time of interaction— if you put that all together, the numbers supporting prevention with the proper use of your PPEs is much, much higher than any intervention, whether that’s ivermectin or even some of the vaccines.”
Watch the full webinar here.
As the Philippines continues its COVID-19 vaccination drive, its active cases have spiked past 86,000, including the country’s highest single-day increase since the pandemic began. A year after lockdown was declared, the health system is, once again, overwhelmed.
While the Department of Health’s hospital referral system is swamped with calls about new cases, 30 hospitals in NCR have declared full bed capacities for COVID-19 patients. COVID-19 variants have been detected in all cities in Metro Manila, prompting the government to place the area as well as Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan in a bubble from March 22 to April 4. Within this period, only essential travel will be allowed into and out of these places.
More than ever, faster and more efficient processes need to be in place, especially since only over 500,000 have so far been inoculated—less than 1% of the 70 million targeted to achieve herd immunity this year. To better understand this issue, we discuss key points of an online discussion held by the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines, featuring health-sector heavyweights such as Former Health Secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral; Dr. Susan Pineda-Mercado, director of Food Systems and Resiliency at the Hawaii Institute for Public; and Dr. Tony Leachon, chairman of Kilusang Kontra-COVID.
The Parañaque government began its vaccination of senior citizens last March 22, 2019
The Need for Vaccines
In the online talk held last February, Dr. Cabral expressed her pro-vaccination views, stating how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) listed vaccination as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 21st century. “Vaccines have gone to develop into the most life-saving medical advancement in history,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mercado explained how the COVID-19 vaccination could protect one’s health. “You get a tiny bit of the virus, and that will stimulate the development of the antibodies. It helps you recognize the enemy because if you get natural exposure, your disease will not be moderate or even severe.”
With mass vaccination enabling majority of the population to develop a considerable degree of immunity against COVID-19, Dr. Cabral stated the following possible benefits:
- Protects us, our loved ones and communities from disease and death
- Enables us to reopen our society
- Prevents our health care workers from being overwhelmed
- Frees us up to address the non-COVID diseases we suffer from
“Why are vaccines important to us? They are important to us because if there is a vaccine for a disease, it will prevent that severe disease and death from it,” Dr. Cabral said. “It will prevent symptomatic disease and importantly, it will also prevent the transmission of disease to others.”
Dr. Grace Pagayon-Uy received her first jab of AstraZeneca as part of the QC government’s vaccine rollout for health care workers this week.
The Importance of Starting Early
But as Dr. Mercado stated, mass vaccination does not guarantee an immediate victory against the virus. The changes are likely to be felt gradually, which is why early intervention is key. Dr. Cabral enumerated these results of Israel’s early vaccination drive, which started in January:
- COVID-19 vaccine was 98.9% effective in preventing deaths and hospitalizations.
- COVID-19 vaccine was 98% effective in preventing infections that prompted fever or breathing problems.
- Infection rate declined by 95.8% among those who received two doses of the vaccine.
To guarantee early vaccination, Dr. Leachon shared that acquisition of vaccines should start as early as the phase 2 of clinical trials—which is what Vietnam, China, India and South Korea did. He presented a projection of good economic growth among these countries. Meanwhile, poor pandemic response resulted in the plummeting economies of the US, Brazil and the UK.
AstraZeneca vaccine arrive in the Philippines from the COVAX facility last March 4. (Photo from National Task Force Against COVID-19)
On the Flip Side: Anti-Vaxxers
The World Health Organization included “vaccine hesitancy” in one of the top global health threats in 2019. WHO stated, “Vaccine hesitancy – the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines – threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease – it currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved.”
WHO identified the possible reasons for vaccine refusal:
- Inconvenience in accessing vaccines
- Mistrust or lack of confidence
Throughout history, anti-vaxxers—the term used for those who oppose vaccines—have cited various side-effects from vaccines. These included infertility, brain damage, and most recently, autism, which some claimed were an effect of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine for children. This resulted in a decline in MMR vaccinations, which, in turn, resulted in an emergence of measles and mumps in Europe and North America, which had not seen these diseases for many years. According to the CDC, studies have dispelled the claim linking vaccinations to autism.
Dr. Gladys Lacuna-Mendoza gets her first dose of Sinovac vaccine. According to Sec. Carlito Galvez, chief implementer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, almost 24% of the country’s 1.7 million health workers have been vaccinated.
Convincing the Skeptics
A recent survey from OCTA Research revealed that 46% of Filipinos are unwilling to get inoculated against COVID-19 even if the vaccine was proven safe and effective. To combat this massive vaccine hesitancy, Dr. Cabral urged the government to use “trustworthy and trusted talking heads, and use language that people can easily understand.” Messages should also be balanced and consistent, and widely reiterated across all platforms.
Dr. Leachon even warned that future travel might require COVID-19 immunity passports. “This is important to economic recovery and that’s why we need to have vaccination. The Philippines will be isolated from the rest of the world if we will not be vaccinated— tourists will hesitate to come, the international business people will not travel, Filipinos may not be given passes to travel abroad, thus curtailing business activities and even family leisure and travel. Our competitiveness will sink even further in the rankings.”
But even with vaccination, Leachon said health measures should still be improved such as contact tracing, quarantine and isolation facilities, and even government messaging. “We should invest in health care so we can prepare for the next pandemic. We have to take better care of our health care workers.”
Still, even if public acceptance of vaccination improves, the slow arrival and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines remain a major hindrance. All the health experts in the online discussion agreed that right now, there is no room for complacency. To save lives and the economy, vaccination needs to be a priority. “The economy will never recover as long as the virus is not controlled. And if you don’t understand that, then we’re part of the problem,” ended Dr. Leachon.
The new year is just around the corner, which means most people are making plans and resolutions to spark positive changes in their lives. By letting go of attitudes, habits and situations that no longer serve them, people are better attend to their needs, improving the quality of their lives.
One significant change some make is to literally move beyond their comfort zones—and by that, we mean changing their places of residence. According to a survey released by the Philippine Statistics Authority in 2012, internal migrants were at a whopping 2.9 million between 2005 and 2010. While 45.4% merely changed cities, more than half (50.4%) were long-distance movers who changed provinces. The latter movers came from Calabarzon at 27.7%, the National Capital Region (NCR) at 19.7%, and Central Luzon at 13%.
NCR is the top choice of migrants outside Metro Manila, as shown by the World Bank’s Philippines Urbanization Review in 2017. In the previous decade alone, the country’s annual increase of urban population was at 3.3%, making the Philippines as one of Asia-Pacific’s fastest urbanizing countries.
But what about the second-biggest population of long-distance movers who moved out from NCR? Their significant number shows that there are Filipinos who choose to trade the modern conveniences of city life for the slower-paced rural setting. We get to know some of these brave migrants, and the steps they took to make such a major change.
Current residence: Mangatarem, Pangasinan since 2018
Residence history: I was born and raised in Quezon City right up to when I started working in Makati. I eventually had to move away from our childhood home to be nearer my work. I was pretty much the city girl and enjoyed having everything accessible.
In 2007, I decided to try out the probinsya life with my family. We moved to Negros, in a house by the sea. I woke up to and was lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves— and I loved it. After about a year, I got pregnant with my second child. Just then, job offers in Manila started coming in, so I decided to move back to the city. My family followed, and we settled back in my childhood neighborhood.
Reason for moving to Pangasinan: I’ve been working from home full time. Meanwhile, my favorite cousin put up a farm in their family property in Pangasinan. My family and I would go for short visits and I would always enjoy my time there. My cousin needed help running the farm, and one of my sisters and I were getting really tired of the city life so we floated around the idea of moving to the farm for months before finally deciding.
Also, my kids were growing up and needed their own space. I needed my own space too and with how multi-bedroom rentals are in Manila, there was no way I could afford them. That and the fact that my sister and I can work anywhere as long as we have internet cemented our idea for the move.
Current residence: Bae, Laguna since 2016
Residence of history: I was born and raised in Ilocos Sur, and went to Manila to study in UP Diliman in 1997. Since then, I never left the campus, staying in dorms and rentals even after I graduated and took my master’s degree. When I became pregnant with my daughter, our family moved to Makati, and when we needed more space, we relocated back in Quezon City.
Reason for moving: I was coming home from a workshop I’d conducted near ABS-CBN. It was raining on a Friday before a holiday payday. I couldn’t get a cab or a free seat in jeepneys. My daughter was only a year old then, and in my desperation to go home, I started walking, hoping I could catch transportation along the way. But I only got inside a jeepney in Quezon City Circle, and even then, the vehicles weren’t moving. So I got off and ended up walking all the way to our house in Visayas Avenue, Quezon City. It was then I told my partner that we should move out of Manila.
We chose Laguna because my partner wanted to live somewhere near Manila. Because I’m a licensed teacher, I felt I could find a job anywhere. I also liked Laguna because I had fond memories of it—it was there I finished a part of my master’s thesis, and my older brother has been living in Los Baños since 2008. Knowing he was there was a huge plus because I knew I could count on him if we needed help.
Current residence: Antipolo, Rizal since 2009
Residence history: I have always been a Manila girl until I got married and moved to the borderline of Cainta and Antipolo in Rizal.
Reason for moving: My in-laws bought this house in the 1980s, and since it wasn’t being used, they suggested that we renovate it and live in it. My husband and I agreed because we didn’t have to pay rent. It didn’t occur to us that we would be far from everyone; we just wanted to have our own space without incurring so much cost.
Layla about to harvest vegetables in the farm
What are pros of probinsya living?
Layla: I sometimes miss not having everything at the drop of a hat or being far away from my friends, but waking up to bird song or seeing the night sky peppered with stars, feeling closer to the earth and things that grow are things that I cherish and am very grateful for. Anywhere you live, there will be challenges, but I feel like my soul is calmer here. My sister and I would often joke that we’re having an eternal summer vacation. We used to just spend short vacations here; now, we live here and we love it no less, maybe even more.
Liwliwa: We enjoy each other as a family. Before the pandemic, we’d often hang out at IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) and UPLB (University of the Philippines Los Baños). The air is fresher, and we get to see fireflies. We like exploring other parts of Laguna; we’ve gone camping in Cavinti and Caliraya. Our diet has become healthier because we directly source from local farmers. I think it’s more peaceful and safer here, and the rent is much cheaper. Right now, we live in a 4-bedroom house with two bathrooms and a backyard—and the rent is a fraction of what we’d pay in Manila with the same facilities.
Aya: It’s less dusty here. In Manila, it would take only two days to get a thick film of dust in your room. Back when we didn’t have neighbors, we could see the mountain, which looked dramatic during sunrise. Even when it’s summer, we don’t feel the heat. Over the years, the area has gotten more developed, with more small hospitals and community malls with groceries, so it’s now convenient to live here.
Liwliwa and her daughter at the Makiling Botanic Gardens
What are the cons of probinsya living?
Layla: What we really found challenging to adjust to at first was the early time shops would close. In Manila, restaurants, bars and stores would be open late at night. Here, only 7-11 and the evening pop-up carinderias would be open beyond 8 p.m. During the pandemic, closing times became even earlier, and a lot of the small shops and eateries closed down for good. We didn’t use to have delivery services for the various cafes and restaurants that started popping up early last year, but now we do. We often had power outages and I never thought I’d consider owning a generator but here we are.
Liwliwa: To get to Los Baños, which is where all the action is, you take a jeepney that has to be full before it leaves the terminal. So even if we’re near Los Baños, travel time takes about an hour. Public transportation is a real challenge, especially when I get home late from the occasional gig in Manila. When that happens, I’d call my brother, who’d fetch me with his motorcycle. Eventually, my partner and I were able to buy a car, which allowed us to move around during lockdown.
Aya: I had to get used to the silence. As early as 4 a.m. in Manila, I’d hear jeepneys warming up their engines. Noise was a constant companion, even at night. Here, I only hear birds and the tuko. I found it weird at first.
In my area, traffic is a perennial issue because there’s only one road to take if you want to go to the city—and that’s the Marcos Highway. The problem is compounded when there’s roadwork along the highway. If we’re traveling out of the country, we have to book a hotel near the airport because there’s no way we can leave at a decent hour and arrive in time for our flight.
Mostly retirees live in our huge village, so one time, when my daughter was looking for playmates, we had to walk several streets before we found kids her age.
Aya in her backyard with a flourishing malunggay plant behind her.
Are you happy with your decision to move?
Aya: We’re happy living here. If someone asked me advice about moving out of Manila, I’d tell them to always look for the nearest hospital, drugstore and grocery store. Since they would be living away from family, they need to know where to get their essential goods and services. Here, we learned to be self-reliant, especially when there’s flood. Our shelves have to be well- stocked all the time. Still, it’s more refreshing to live outside the city.
Liwliwa: When we made the decision to live in Laguna, I was ready for countryside living. I think we always idealize the province as a good place to bring up our families, but what matters more than the place is the people you’re be living with. I think our family will thrive wherever we end up because we get along with each other.
Layla: Living the probinsya life really drove home for me how we take many things in our life for granted. Whether you’re living in the city with the many conveniences that are easily accessible or here in the laid-back province, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. We always feel like we’re missing something; we want what we don’t have, so much so that we forget what we do have at this moment. I am thankful I have the luxury of looking out my window and saying hello to a beautiful bird, or eating sweet, seedless papaya from our backyard tree in the same way I am thankful now for the many years I spent in the city, and eventually (when things are better) being able to go back there for a quick visit to see friends and the places I missed. Probinsya life really teaches you to slow down, take in as much of the view as you can, enjoy the little things every day, and be thankful for each one.
In an effort to “build a kinder and more compassionate world,” the World Kindness Movement observes World Kindness Day on November 13 every year. It is “a day set aside to celebrate and appreciate kindness around the world.”
But how does one define kindness? This pandemic, simple acts of kindness like staying home and wearing a face mask can do a lot in curtailing the spread of the virus. Kindness can also mean getting to know something or someone beyond the general bias toward it—such as Wuhan City in Central China, which people all over the world now only know as the starting point of COVID-19. This World Kindness Day, we offer a different, kinder view of Hubei Province’s capital city.
It was once China’s capital.
From December 1926 to September 1927, Wuhan was the capital of the Kuomintang nationalist government. To create the new capital, China’s nationalist authorities merged the cities of Wuchang, Hankou, and Hanyang, from which Wuhan’s name was derived. However, the city lost its capital status when Chiang Kai-Shek established a new government in Nanjing.
It is directly related to the fall of Chinese monarchy.
The Wuhan Uprising in 1911 ended China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing Dynasty. The success of the revolution prompted other provinces to follow, and in 1912, 18 more provinces united to form the Republic of China. The abdication of the Qing Dynasty the following month marked the end of the kingdom.
It is one of the world’s largest university towns and is a center for research.
With over one million students in 53 universities, Wuhan is considered one of the largest university towns in the world. It has 4 scientific and technological development parks, over 350 research institutes, and 1,656 high-tech enterprises.
It is referred to as the “Chicago of China.”
Chicago is a hub of transportation, which includes O’Hare, the most globally-connected airport in the US. Wuhan is similar in a sense that it offers transport to almost all parts of China. It is a center for ships and railways, with the Wuhan Railway Hub offering trips to major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin, Chongqing, and Guangzhou.
Mulan probably lived in Wuhan.
Some theories state that Hua Mulan, the legendary female warrior and well-known “Disney Princess,” lived in the Huangpi District of Wuhan. Some even say that it is her birthplace.
Wuhan is a popular tourist destination with centuries-old attractions full of history, culture and astounding views.
Yellow Crane Tower
The Yellow Crane Tower was built in 223 as a watchtower for King Sun Quan’s army. The tower was destroyed and rebuilt seven times during the Ming (1368 – 1644) and Qing (1644 – 1911) Dynasties, and in 1884, it was completely destroyed in a fire.
Rebuilt in 1981, the Yellow Crane Tower stands 51.4 meters tall and consists of five floors. Interestingly, it appears the same regardless of the direction it is viewed from. Not only is it one of the most prominent towers in the south of the Yangtze River, it is also the symbol of Wuhan due to its cultural significance.
Built in 1368, Hubu Alley is known as “the First Alley for Chinese Snacks”, and has since been serving traditional Chinese breakfasts, such as hot dry noodles, beef noodles, Chinese doughnuts, and soup dumplings. From the Yellow Crane Tower, it can be reached 20 minutes by foot.
East Lake Scenic Area
The East Lake can be found on the Yangtze River’s south bank and in Wuchang’s east suburb. Covering an area of 87 square kilometers, it is the largest lake within a Chinese city. The area is “formed from many famous scenic spots along the bank,” and attracts many tourists due to its scenery.
Well-known Food and Dishes
Wuhan’s local food is said to be a mix of the cuisines of Sichuan, Chongqing, and Shanghai, which make it “spicy yet full of flavor.” Here are three of its most famous eats:
Hot Dry Noodles (Reganmian)
This is Wuhan’s most famous dish and the first one that locals will mention. The dish, which is essentially “dry noodles mixed with sesame paste, shallots and spicy seasoning,” is eaten for breakfast and as a snack.
Often sold as a street snack, doupi’s layers are either made of tofu skin or “pancake lookalikes”. Glutinous rice is combined with usually no more than three ingredients chosen from beef, egg, mushrooms, beans, pork, or bamboo shoots stuffed in between the layers. Once everything is assembled, doupi is pan-fried, making it crispy on the outside and soft in the inside.
Though donut-shaped, mianwo is salty—made of rice milk, soybean milk, scallions and salt.
Even with its must-see scenery and mouth-watering dishes, Wuhan, just like any other place, is not perfect.
Crowds and traffic jam
With a population of around 11 million, Wuhan has the densest population in Central China and is the 9th most populous city in the country. Large crowds, traffic congestions, and long lines are unavoidable in the city.
Before the East Lake became the picturesque spot that it is today, it suffered from soil, water, noise, and air pollution for decades. Wuhan used to be a major manufacturing site, causing the lake’s water quality to be very poor, with outbreaks of blue-green algae and dead fish. However, through the years, its water quality has dramatically improved. Because of this, East Lake is now able to host swimming contests, and serves as one of the best attractions in the city.
In 2019, street protests were carried out in Yangluo of the Xinzhou District by around 10,000 local residents rallying against the construction of the Chenjiachong waste-to-energy plant – an incinerator that the government planned to construct to handle the city’s waste. But the incinerator was said to emit cancer-inducing toxins, and was going to be built only 800 meters away from residences.
The Xinzhou District government tried to calm protesters down by assuring them that their voices will be heard in the decision-making process. However, reports said that government officials and the police went door-to-door to force residents to sign the project’s consent form, threatening them if they refused to do so.
From its cultural and historical prominence to its contributions to technological innovation, there is clearly more to Wuhan than just the coronavirus. Like any other city, it has its strengths and imperfections worth learning about especially during the pandemic and World Kindness Day.
Eight months into the quarantine, the pandemic is not the only life-devastating issue Filipinos are dealing with. With Super Typhoon Rolly making landfall in Bicol and CALABARZON last November 1, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) has so far reported 20 deaths and more than 2 million people affected.
A day after the disaster, the Department of Health (DOH) urged local government units (LGUs) to strictly enforce measures and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in evacuation centers. Compounding the problem are the unstable power and water supply in Bicol, and health workers unable to report for work because they, too, have been victimized by the typhoon.
Despite this downpour of risks, the most effective way to empower the public is through clear and constant communication. Awareness, which leads to preparedness and actionable information, helps save lives. With the pandemic redefining the Filipinos’ way of living since the first quarter of the year, has the government’s info campaign against COVID-19 successfully achieved these goals?
To gather insights, Panahon TV sat down with communication veterans—Tony, an executive creative director and managing partner of a Manila-based advertising agency; and April, a freelance creative creator, who formerly taught visual communication at the University of the Philippines Diliman, and also worked as a creative director in an advertising agency.
The Fight against COVID-19 as an Advertising Campaign
Tony shares that an advertising campaign begins with a client brief, which outlines its challenges, objectives and measurement of success. Before creating the campaign, a solid strategy needs to be in place. “The accounts team fleshes out the brief to make it more inspiring for the agency, and to figure out ways of attacking the problem. They profile the target market and come up with the message from the brand’s perspective. The agency’s work is to combine that message with a human story. We create the campaign, and eventually, we produce. So the crucial part is really the creative thinking before the creatives.”
April stresses the importance of seeing the brand through the consumer’s eyes. “You should know what’s already in their minds to influence their thoughts—if there’s a mindset you want to change, if you want them to listen to you for a product sell. Then you ask what you can offer that the other products or services cannot.” After analyzing the target market, a communication plan is formed, outlining the key touch points with the consumer, including the best ways to reach them.
When asked to give a general evaluation of the government’s COVID-19 info campaign, Tony feels that the basic question, What do they really want to say?, is not being addressed. “Everything seems muddled. It’s not clear whom they’re talking to or who’s doing the talking. Who’s the face of the COVID campaign? Is it the DOH secretary? The IATF [Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases]? Or is it the president?” Having different faces for the campaign may lead to information overload, leaving the public confused about what they really need to do.
When the virus entered the country, various LGUs released announcements of their first COVID-19 cases. With inappropriate visual elements, some notices ended up looking more like party invitations than serious declarations. “One of the layouts used is from Canva [an app that provides free graphic design templates],” April observes. “To me, this suggests a mismanagement of funds and the failure to tap the right professionals.”
LGU’s notice on its area’s COVID-19 cases
On DOH’s Bida Solusyon Campaign
With financial aid from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), DOH launched its “BIDA Solusyon sa COVID-19” campaign last July. Supported by various sectors including top corporations and industries, the campaign promotes these four key preventive steps:
Bawal walang mask.
I-sanitize ang kamay at iwas-hawak sa mga bagay.
Dumistansya ng isang metro.
Alamin ang totoong impormasyon.
A quick look at the campaign’s Facebook page reveals a comics theme, with messages incorporated into brightly-colored panels that feature real-life characters wearing superhero costumes. April and Tony both agree that the messaging is outdated.
“I’d imagine the person who commissioned this to be an old practitioner of advertising—that’s his idea of what a witty campaign is,” comments April. “It relies on mnemonics and catchy phrases, without customizing communication for each message.” She cites an infographic for senior citizens that looked forced since the campaigner insisted on incorporating the comics theme and BIDA tagline. “When that happens, you sacrifice function for form, and you end up not communicating at all. You need to mine your audience’s insight to communicate with them. And because the campaign messages are all the same, people might not bother reading them.”
(grabbed from the campaign’s Facebook page)
Though Tony recognizes the campaign’s thrust to empower the public, he feels that its messaging could be more urgent. “It’s an old DOH style from ‘Yosi Kadiri’ days. And I think for COVID, we should stop all of these witty, pa-funny, pa-cute campaigns. You can’t express the gravity of the situation with a campaign like ‘BIDA’.” Tony also points out that the government campaign needs stand out in a sea of public service messages from brands and corporations. “Information should be readily available to the public. It has to be ubiquitous. The problem is that different LGUS make their own campaigns, so the messaging and looks vary. The campaign should be centralized to gain maximum impact.”
Ways to Improve the Campaign
Tony considers fake news and its many forms, such as misinformation and disinformation, as the campaign’s biggest enemy. “Until now, my barber still believes that COVID-19 is a make-believe issue because no one in his barangay has contracted it. How can this be possible eight months into the pandemic?” For April, credible sources of information should be top priority. “If I were to make a brief, I’d make a quick survey to find out what the public needs to know. Then I’d employ scientists to get the hard facts on the virus.”
Carry out the campaign in phases.
“Information should be handled in phases,” says Tony. “Communication shouldn’t stop at any stage. While making information available on various channels, you should add more to it as time goes by.” April states that there should always be access to earlier, accurate information for those belatedly reading up on the virus. “At the same time, you sustain the interest of those knowledgeable with new and more specific information. It’s also important tap the right people— writer, visual communicator, art director, illustrator. So it all starts with good planning, good research, and hiring the right people to do the campaign.”
Customize the campaign.
April stresses that communication channels have different strengths that should be utilized. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of solution. You should customize the messaging for each medium. Some information would sound better on radio; some would work better on social media.” Campaign customization also includes clearly identifying the target audience. “I think what the campaign is trying to do is talk to everyone. And we cannot do this,” says Tony. He believes that the youth isn’t targeted enough. “Young people are agents of change. If the youth is addressed and mobilized, they can achieve a lot of things. The government should do a campaign for schools and involve student leaders.”
BIDA infographic that doesn’t say where to put used face masks (photo grabbed from campaign’s FB page)
Centralize messaging and best practices.
“Why are Pasig, Marikina and Manila doing a better job than the rest of the country?” muses Tony. “It only means that there’s no sharing of best practices. The national government should gather and study these effective measures and institutionalize them.” An effective centralized campaign includes making data more relatable. “We’re always talking about numbers but what do they really mean? If you’re an ordinary guy, you won’t understand why the numbers go up, go down,or plateau. They’re just a bunch of numbers not explained to us.”
Strengthen the government’s image.
“I think one of the problems with the DOH campaign is that some don’t see the government as a credible source of information,” says April. “There were times when the government and scientists from UP [Octa Research] released conflicting information.” Tony agrees. “There’s an advertising quote that says ‘A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster.’ Even if you have a brilliant ad campaign, but you have a bad product, it will not sell, but only expose what’s wrong with your product. So even if you have a great campaign, but your infrastructure and processes are not prepared—the campaign won’t be effective.”
The pandemic’s global economic impact is undeniable. According to a World Bank publication last June, the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), which determines economic health, is forecast to contract by 5.2%. Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank predicts the Philippine economy to shrink by 7.3% this year.
Filipino employees suffered, with 46% of them—equivalent to more than 27 million—losing their jobs during the pandemic, according to the Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey.
With people scrambling to survive and earn a living, we gathered wise words from a sector of society that used to get the short end of the financial stick, but through the years, have proven their monetary smarts—the women.
Pinay Financial Power
For centuries, women all over the world have been deprived of opportunities for education, political empowerment, health and economic development. But in recent years, Filipino women have been faring better. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Reports in 2017, the Philippines was the only Asian nation and developing country included in the top 10 countries that promoted gender equality.
An article from the Alliance for Financial Inclusion considers culture as a driving force for female empowerment. In the Philippines, household budgets and finances are usually managed by the women. Interestingly, in 2012, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that female-headed households enjoyed an income of 1.2% more than the households led by men, the former having annual savings of 3.2% more than the latter. In 2008, the Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey stated that financial literacy among Filipino women is higher (88.7%) than the men’s (84.2%).
Deliza leaving for a business trip a year before the pandemic
Hit by the Pandemic
Since 2004, Deliza Ridoloso has been managing a successful products-and-services business that caters to the banking industry. “Before COVID-19, we were reaching the height of our consolidated revenues,” she shares. “When ECQ [enhanced community quarantine] hit, we lost 85% of our revenues. At least we had 15% left; it was better than nothing. But getting that 15% was a lot of hard work.”
For Lala Javier-Rosales, mother of two, the pandemic was a wake-up call. As the one in charge of dispatching foreign volunteers for a Japanese governmental agency that provides assistance in the Philippines, she feared for her job. “Since all the volunteers were recalled because of the pandemic, I thought my employers would let me go. But the agency’s president assured us that we would keep our jobs.” Though she was retained, Lala realized that nothing was ever really certain. “Before, I felt so secure in my job. I earned decent pay, and I was planning to rely on my work until I retired. But now, I realize that I need to be prepared for unplanned situations.”
Lala hosting a company event
Deliza’s company managed to continue operations despite the changing quarantine categories in Metro Manila. This, Deliza attributes to their business continuity plan, which the management team began back in 2008. “Our business continuity plan was for earthquakes and floods, and not really a pandemic. But because we were already getting news of the virus in January, and started hearing of lockdowns in other countries, we started tweaking our plan.”
Deliza admits that back then, they didn’t know that a pandemic was about to happen. Still, they held emergency meetings twice a week to prepare for the virus in case it hit Manila. “For more than a decade, we’ve been saving documents in cloud storage and an off-site server. What we prepared for at that time was for disasters like earthquakes and fires. But the plan was also applicable when ECQ was declared and we couldn’t get to the office.” The plan also included protocol for people working from home, and health monitoring. “From the beginning, we already made our own health checklist based on information from WHO (World Health Organization).
Because Deliza’s company offers business-to-business products, they beefed up their remote marketing strategy. “This was where our 15% revenues came from. We had to adapt right away. We did video conferencing. Because we couldn’t meet face-to-face with our clients, we had our presentations on Zoom. We worked on our digital marketing to make sure our presentations were clear. Communication was important— with our clients, our staff, our suppliers.” Her management team met as often as twice a day via Zoom. “The situation kept on changing at the end of the day. When I think about it now, it sounds a little excessive? But it wasn’t because we were working so hard to continue operations remotely. We had to re-engineer our processes.”
At the start of the lockdown, working from home allowed Lala to re-assess her family’s finances. “I had time to reflect. Before the pandemic, I had an essential oils business that I wasn’t really taking seriously. From time to time, I’d share about it on my Facebook page, but I wasn’t conscientious about it.” Since the pandemic, Lala has become more vocal and intentional about her business. “I truly love essential oils, and the more I shared about it, more people signed up under me until my business grew. It came to a point where I started earning more from it than from my day job.”
Another earning opportunity came to Lala because of her love for food. “Food is my stress-reliever. And because me and my husband hail from Batangas, we found ourselves missing the delicacies there.” When the couple secured a travel pass, Lala offered to buy Batangas delicacies for her interested friends. “I’d post the announcement and food photos on my Facebook wall. That side business augmented our family income. It was a great feeling to make other people happy through food.”
Deliza (2nd from right) with university students
Up until June, Deliza’s company managed to keep all their approximately 100 employees. But eventually, some were let go. “We tried to give them the best arrangement we could afford. We allowed them to use up their sick and vacation leaves so they’d still get paid. One of our managers who was a senior citizen got the retirement package, which we give in monthly installments.”
Revenues have picked up in September, but Deliza says cash flow continues to be tight. To keep other employees, their work hours were cut down, along with their pay. “At the end of the year, we aim to break even at the minimum. We’re trying our best to keep all our people and not have any more layoffs. So we’re trying to keep costs covered while operating as best as we can.”
Lala (right) and her essential oil business
Financial Survival Tips
Survival depends hugely on preparedness. Deliza and Lala share the insights they have gathered during the pandemic.
Be informed. “Being aware of global current events gave us an idea of what’s going to happen in case Manila was put under lockdown. Being on top of the news is very important,” says Deliza. “We were being observant, and prepared in our own way.”
Never be complacent. Because of the pandemic, Lala learned that it’s vital to have multiple income streams. “Aside from side businesses, my husband has also become more involved in their Batangas farm. We want to grow our own food, and maybe eventually, earn from it.” In choosing side businesses, Lala advises to “find something you’re passionate about. Turn your passion and talent into something income-generating.”
Work on a business continuity plan. “I believe that every business should have a continuity plan in case of emergencies,” says Deliza. “It’s a lot of work because it has to tailor-fit your operations. It’s not a template you can pull out a book; you have to make it your own. Every year, we refine our business continuity plan.”
Maintain a good relationship with banks. “We have bank loans, and luckily, we’re able to meet our responsibilities with them. If you can’t pay them, then you shouldn’t run. You need to talk to the banks, and discuss what you can do.” Deliza also shares her company’s golden rule: Don’t borrow money for something consumable. “We make loans to make purchases for our goods we plan to sell, not those we already sold. We borrow money to make money, so we can pay back our loans.
Set goals. Outlining goals is also a sign of preparedness. “Our team talks about our financial goals, about what we need to target to keep as many people as we can, and keep the company healthy.” Lala’s latest goal is to secure a critical-health insurance for her family. “My father-in-law was recently hospitalized and he shelled out a huge amount of money. If that were to happen to my family, I wouldn’t know where to get the cash.”
Gain support. While Lala’s network of friends was instrumental in growing her side businesses promoted through social media, Deliza finds that being part of a business organization helped validate her company’s steps in surviving the pandemic. “Being part of a business group helped boost my confidence and knowledge on how we should do things. It gave me a better understanding of best practices.”
The pandemic may be far from over, but these women will continue to do their best to weather the financial storm. “I have no plans of resigning, and I aim to further grow my businesses,” Lala declares. Deliza stresses the importance of taking the time to prepare for possible outcomes. “If you’re leading your company, you should have a clear vision. You need to go to a quiet place and meditate and think about scenarios. You really need to adapt if you want your business to survive.”