Before the pandemic hit, there was first an epidemic in the Philippines. From January to July 2019, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded 146,062 dengue cases in the country—98% higher than that of the previous year. Because of this spike in cases and 622 deaths, a national dengue epidemic was declared to better mitigate both the causes and effects of the disease.

Dengue wreaks the worst havoc during the rainy season, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. With the country frequently experiencing monsoon rains and about 20 tropical cyclones a year, DOH introduced its health campaign against WILD Diseases—an acronym for common illnesses during the rainy season. 


Photo from DOH Bicol’s Facebook page



According to Dr. Lionel Peters, a public health physician, water-borne and foot diseases are caused by the ingestion of contaminated water or food. Examples of these diseases include:

“Water-borne diseases are usually bacterial or viral,” said Dr. Peters. “Diarrhea is its most common symptom, but patients can also experience fever, muscle pain and vomiting.” These illnesses are widespread during the rainy season, which compromises sanitation and access to safe drinking water. 

Dr. Peters, also a doctor to the barrios, has seen first-hand how these diseases affect Filipinos living in remote areas. “There are so many places where people don’t have sanitation facilities and toilets. This system makes it easy for human waste to contaminate water sources, which is how people get sick. Water-borne diseases can kill through dehydration, especially among children and those with an weak immune system.” 

During the rainy season, Dr. Peters and his team make it a point to visit barangays to remind residents to do the following:



Aileen Espiritu, program manager of the DOH’s National Aedes-Borne Viral Disease Prevention and Control, stated that influenza-like illnesses are lung diseases caused by the influenza or flu virus. 

Because flu symptoms are similar to those of COVID-19, Espiritu offered this guide:

Influenza (flu)COVID-19
Symptoms appear 1-5 days after exposure to the virus.Symptoms appear after 5 days or more after exposure to the virus.
Its main symptom is severe coughing. This may be accompanied by fever and symptoms, which last for 1-7 days.Usual symptoms include fever, cough, difficulty in breathing, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, muscle pain, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, and the possible loss of taste and smell.
Flu can lead to complications like bronchitis and lung infection. It may be fatal.According to WebMD, those with both COVID-19 and comorbidities may end up with pneumonia, acute respiratory failure, acute cardiac injury and many others.  COVID-19 may be fatal.


Because flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms, Espiritu recommended taking the RT-PCR test for COVID-19 to determine the disease. “To ensure our safety and that of our loved ones, we should always remember to quarantine or isolate ourselves while waiting for our swab test results,” she said in a mix of Filipino and English. “This prevents us from spreading the virus.”


Leptospirosis is prevalent in urban places. (photo by Jilson Tiu/Greenpeace)



According to Dr. Peters, leptospirosis is caused by bacteria found in animal urine, particularly from rats. “When we cross a flooded area contaminated with rat urine and we have wounds or a break in the skin, the bacteria can enter our bodies and cause infection.” The most common symptom of leptospirosis is fever. “So, if you have fever two days after your flood exposure, consult a doctor right away. We want to keep the infection from progressing and causing complications.”

Complications, which include kidney failure may cause death. Dr. Peters stated the other common symptoms of leptospirosis aside from fever:


“The best way to avoid leptospirosis is to avoid flood exposure, especially if you have wounds and skin breaks. Preventive measures include preparedness. If you live in a flood-prone area, make sure you’re protected. Even before the rainy season comes, invest in rain boots and protective clothing to prevent flood water from touching your skin,” said Dr. Peters. He added that leptospirosis is rampant in urban areas. This is why children should not be allowed playing in flood water.



According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dengue “is transmitted by female mosquitoes mainly of the species Aedes aegypti.” Though dengue is at its peak during the rainy season, Espiritu said it is present any time of the year. “When the rains come from July to October, the mosquitoes’ breeding sites multiply. The dengue-carrying mosquitoes prefer dark places with stagnant water.”

Like the other WILD diseases, an early medical consultation is vital to prevent dengue from worsening. “If you’ve had fever for 2-7 days and experiencing at least two of its symptoms, set an appointment with a doctor right away,” advised Espiritu. She shared the following dengue symptoms:


From the declaration of the National Dengue Epidemic in 2019, DOH data showed that there was an 81% decrease in dengue cases and deaths in 2020. Espiritu largely attributed this success to the enhancement of DOH’s 4S strategy.


Photo from DOH Bicol’s Facebook page


  1. Search and destroy mosquito-breeding sites.

Anything that holds stagnant water inside and outside your homes should be emptied regularly. These include tire tubes, basins and flower vases. “If you have to store water because of water interruptions, make sure that your containers have lids so mosquitoes can’t use them as breeding places,” Espiritu said. “Make sure your surroundings are clean. Recycle or dispose of containers in and outside your homes so they won’t catch rain water.”


  1. Self-protection

Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants and insect repellent to ward off mosquito bites.


  1. Seek early consultation.

Early prevention prevents dengue or any other disease from escalating. “We understand that many of us hesitate to go to clinics or hospitals because of COVID-19. But we have tele-consultations wherein doctors can advise you on your illness.


  1. Support fogging or spraying. 

According to DOH, this is “only done in hotspot areas in anticipation of increased infectious diseases, especially during the rainy season.”

Recently, two barangays in South Cotabato were placed under a state of calamity due to the dengue. But Espiritu assured the public that the declaration was a proactive measure to contain and prevent the further spread of the disease. “Our health development centers and local government units (LGUs) immediately acted on the issue. We do our vectors surveillance and fogging operations, which have 3 to 4 cycles every 7 days. We do targeted indoor and outdoor residual spraying that have 3 cycles every 4 months. We also give NS1 antigen tests among suspected dengue cases.” Espiritu added that the 4S strategy is carried out as a “4 p.m. habit” since it is at this time when dengue-causing mosquitoes are most active.

Since 2019, Espiritu said that fast lanes for dengue patients have been established in health facilities. As to the fear of contracting COVID-19 through mosquito bites, Espiritu explained, “According to WHO and CDC, COVID-19 cannot be transmitted through mosquito bites.”


How to stay healthy during the rainy season

As Espiritu said, it is doubly difficult to get sick during the pandemic. The adage stays true: Prevention is better than cure. “We can avoid these diseases with simple measures,” she said. These include:


The WILD diseases may be virulent, but as Dr. Peters put it, “They can be easily prevented if we are alert and armed with the right information.” Meanwhile, Espiritu stressed the importance of being responsible for our own health. “We should prioritize our health, so we can be productive citizens. Being healthy also means protecting our loved ones.”


Watch the full interview of Panayam sa Panahon TV: Paano Maiiwasan Ngayong Tag-Ulan at May Pandemya? 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:


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:


At home


In the office


In Public Transport


In a nutshell, Dr. Solante gives these 5 important tips during the pandemic:

  1. Practice regular hand washing.
  2. Wear your face mask and face shield.
  3. Maintain a physical distance of six feet or more.
  4. Avoid crowded areas.
  5. 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

Watch Panahon TV’s interview with Dr. Solante here.


A healthy diet plays a vital role in supporting our immune system, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. A healthy diet meets the requirements for our body’s functions used for growth and development. To fulfill our caloric and nutritional requirements, the quantity and quality of food we consume should be considered.

But despite this common knowledge, many of us still indulge in junk food even if we know that it is unhealthy.


What is Junk Food?

The term “junk food” was invented by Michael Jacobson, former director of  the American Center for Science in the Public Interest in 1972. He described junk food as high in calories but low in nutritional value. 

According to Gabriel Labrador, a nutrition officer at the National Nutrition Council, junk food is classified under HFSS or “high in fats, salt and sugar.” Like what Jacobson mentioned, he mentioned that junk food contains a lot of “empty calories” with insignificant nutritive value. He added that sugar and salt act as junk food preservatives and add flavor, but an excess of these is bad for the health. “That’s basically the reason why we call it junk food as opposed to healthy food, which provides you balanced nutrients,” said Labrador. “You have the carbohydrates, the fats but most especially, the protein and fiber in your food. Junk food has no nutritive value.”

According to countriesnow.com, the top 5 fast food-consuming countries in the world are America, France, Canada, United Kingdom and South Korea. In the Philippines, Kantar World Panel revealed that from 2015 to 2017, Filipinos’ consumption of in-home snack foods increased by 13%. The figures are cause for alarm because of the link between junk food and obesity, which may begin occurring among children and adolescents.


Photo by Tim Samuel from Pexels


The Prevalence of Junk Food

Labrador warns that junk food is even more prevalent and accessible now because of the internet. Because of social media, junk food marketers can easily target consumers, especially children and adolescents.

Junk food advertisements also often convey messages of happiness and family bonding to entice the impressionable youth. “Examples of these marketing strategies are colorful logos, including toys and characters in the packaging to really entice the children. This can have an effect on children’s diet, eating habits and food choices,” states Labrador. “As parents, it is very important that we limit the screen time of our children for television and even online to prevent them from being enticed to buy food that is highly marketed.”

Technology also makes it easier for us to order fast food through the mere tap of a finger. Another hurdle is that junk food businesses have grown smart, disguising their products as packed with nutrients. “There are a lot of unhealthy foods that are marketed to be healthy. They are disguised to be healthy food… like energy bars, fruit drinks and even breakfast cereals. If you look at the nutrition facts of those foods, you see that they are actually high in sugar and fat.”

Labrador enumerates the negative effects of consuming too much junk food:







Maintaining a Healthy Diet

According to Labrador, lessening our junk food intake is important in developing a healthy relationship with food. However, total abstinence from junk food may not be sustainable. “Because junk food is easily available and cheap, it’s often used for socializing and bonding.” That is why moderation is key. By prioritizing healthy and natural foods over junk, we are able to get the nutrients our bodies need. Labrador offers these tips to maintain a healthy diet:


(photo from DOH)


It is never too late to start good food habits, but these are better developed when we are young. This is why it’s vital for parents to introduce their kids to healthy foods that help them develop positive eating habits early on. Parents are also responsible for being good role models, while preparing healthy dishes for the family. Junk food may be here to stay, but by developing a taste for whole foods, we can stay healthy and fit for life.


More and more Filipinos are going hungry. This is according to the Rapid Nutrition Assessment Survey conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) late last year. After surveying almost 6,000 households all over the country, FNRI reported that 62.1% of families experienced moderate to severe food insecurity. 

When does a household qualify as being “food insecure”? The FNRI gives the following criteria:


The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be the cause of this hunger spike. FNRI states that more than half of surveyed households reported having less access to food during community quarantine because of: 1) lack of money, 2) limited public transportation, 3) job loss, 4) limited food stores in their area, and 5) being an elderly with no family members to help them buy food.

But food security may be achieved through one’s own efforts. Last year, FNRI posted a call for Filipinos to grow their own food during the pandemic. This way, households are assured of food supply despite limited mobility. This is especially true in urban areas, which are “less likely to consume fresh produce, which are good sources of vitamins and minerals that boost immunity.


Kangkong harvest (photo by Chie Roman)


Being a Farmer in Your Own Backyard

The terms “plantito” and “plantita” became popular during the lockdown as Filipinos turned to gardening to care for their mental health. The challenge now is to shift the focus from greens that beautify the home to edible plants.

According to PAGASA, the hot and dry season this 2021 would be shorter than the previous years’. This may be considered good news because in a Panahon TV interview, Agriculturist Lito Bollosa from the Bureau of Plant Industry said that both the onset and end of the rainy season is the most ideal time to plant. 

However, one can still start planting during the hot and dry season. “When it comes to vegetables, we can plant the ingredients of the pakbet. These are indigenous crops that can survive adverse conditions and the constant changes in weather,” Bollosa explained in Filipino.

Bollosa states that crops which require minimal supervision and water include:


Aside from being low maintenance, these crops are also easy to plant. “With indigenous vegetables  like alugbati, kangkong, and kamote, you only need to stick the cuttings into the soil. With just a little water, they can already survive,” said Bollosa. He added that other crops that are able to survive intense heat include mung beans, corn—and dragon fruit, which belongs to the cactus family and therefore doesn’t require a lot of water.

Meanwhile, fruits that take center stage this hot season are watermelon and mangoes. “We see an increased production of fruits and vegetables now because of the sun’s constant presence. These crops need sunlight to produce their own food. The excess nutrients end up as fruits.”

However, extreme weather conditions may also cause plants to flourish. This is because of their need for survival, causing them to release more antioxidants and other protective chemicals. “Prolonged heat or rains can cause plant stress,” shared Bollosa. “For example, when the calamansi experiences excess heat or rains, it tends to produce more flowers and fruits.” This technique is used in farming to boost fruit production. Bollosa elaborated, “Fruits like rambutan, lanzones, and avocado flower during the hot season. After the ‘ber’ months, they are subjected to heat to induce flowering.”


According to Bollosa, calamani produces more fruit when stressed. (photo by Chie Roman)


Planting Tips

Before planting your own food, Bollosa suggests these tips:




Growing young ginger (photo by Chie Sales)


Following the Planting Calendar

To be able to successfully grow food, Bollosa stressed the importance of following the planting calendar. Certain plants grow their best in specific months of the year. The Department of Agriculture released a comprehensive planting calendar, which Panahon TV condensed below:


All SeasonsEnd of Rainy season

to Cool and Dry Season






Chinese cabbage












By following nature’s rhythm, you can reap the benefits of growing your food. Aside from getting the nutrients your immune system needs, you are ensured of your food’s safety and quality. Planting can also help you save money, protect the environment, and boost your household’s food security. You can enjoy all these rewards, while taking part in one of the greatest miracles—nurturing another life besides your own. 


Watch Panahon TV’s interview with Lito Bollosa here.


More than a year into the pandemic, being in quarantine and following protocols have become our way of life. Our own homes have turned into a hub for all our main activities—work, school, and even buying goods, thanks to the internet. Limited movement is vital in preventing sickness, but the feelings of uncertainty, boredom, and powerlessness may affect mental health. However, maintaining our health and well-being is a must during these times. 



Importance of health and wellness

More than ever, health and wellness must be prioritized as this serves as our shield against illnesses. According to UP (University of the Philippines Diliman) College of Human Kinetics Faculty Member Hercules Callanta, “The ability to fight off whatever viral load … is dependent on the immune system, where the immune system will fend off the attacks of a viral infection. Some people, even if [they] were exposed to someone in the same household who had a viral problem do not get sick or don’t even become positive because their immune system, which is the reflection of their health and wellness, was able to fend it off.” 

With gyms and fitness centers still closed in NCR Plus due to the Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ), some have turned to home-based workouts to stay healthy. This is a commendable thing since according to Callanta, exercise and the immune system are linked. “If you are fit and healthy, active and exercising well, researchers have shown that the immune system, due to the chronic effects of exercise, can become a lot stronger and more equipped to fend off infections.”


Maintaining our health and well-being during the pandemic 

Callanta stressed that the World Health Organization (WHO) also recognizes the importance of exercise, not only for our physical health, but also for our mental and emotional well-being. He gives these tips:





SIPA workouts

Those who work and study from home can benefit from SIPA. Callanta stated that this is “a way for us to maintain our health and fitness despite the quarantine and movement restrictions.” Examples of SIPA include:



Each exercise can be done for 2 to 4 minutes, which Callanta demonstrated through this video: 


How exercise boosts mental health

According to the Department of Health, there are 3.6 million Filipinos suffering from mental disorders amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of mobility and distraction  can cause us to overthink things. The lack of motivation may also push us to forego exercise, which Callanta advised against. “Through chronic exercise, our endocrine system secretes several hormones. Some of them are good hormones which allows us to feel good, serving as de-stressors.” There are also hormones that give us pain tolerance against factors that cause pain and stiffness.

Maintaining our health is an important responsibility with or without the pandemic, but it’s even more vital now because our life is at stake. Taking care of our overall health is our best investment, not only during the pandemic, but throughout the course of our lifetime.




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:



According to WHO, the following cases qualify for home care:


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:



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-19For 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:


Additional tips for infection prevention in the home include:



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:


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that these signs merit emergency medical attention:


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:


 “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:

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:


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.

Though the country’s first COVID-19 case was reported over a year ago in January, the last time Valentine’s Day was observed is drastically different from this year’s celebration. In 2020, couples memorialized their love through dinner dates, out-of-town trips and watching movies. But with COVID-19 still at large, movement is restricted with establishments forced to limit their number of guests to maintain physical distancing.

To find out how lovers will celebrate this day of hearts, Panahon TV interviewed three couples.


Charlotte Ramirez and Jan Gianan


Young Love

Jan, 29, and Charlotte, 30, met in their previous job as call center agents. Both Singles for Christ members, the couple plans to celebrate their 4th year of togetherness with their usual Valentine’s date. “We’ll do the same thing that we did pre-pandemic—hearing mass, eating together, and having a conversation,” says Jan. “Every day is Valentine’s day when you show your love for each other.”

For them, love means supporting each other in their professional paths. While Jan aims to be a full-time teacher, Charlotte is busy as a working student. “There have been many challenges in our relationship but with the grace of God, we’re thankful to be still together,” shares Jan. To secure their future, they began a coffee drip business, which they wish to expand. As soon as Charlotte graduates, the couple plans to get married and start a family.

Because their relationship is anchored in God, Jan believes that love should be constant, able to sustain couples through tough times. “For me, love is unshaken whether there is a pandemic or not,” he says.

Teofilo Singcol and Marcela Singcol


Long and Lasting Love

64-year-old Teofilo shares how he met his wife 60-year-old Marcelo during his grandmother’s wake in 1974. “My sister introduced me to her, and we fell into conversation because the color and fabric of her dress perfectly matched my polo shirt’s. That same year, we became a couple.” Exactly a decade later, Teofilo and Marcela got married. “We are aiming for a forever relationship. With the help of God, we try our best to be together until the end.”

This year, the Bohol-based couple plans to spend Valentine’s Day in a beach resort. By strictly following health protocols, Teofilo hopes to make their 35th year of marriage memorable for both of them. 

Though it is easy to give into fear in the face of uncertainties during the pandemic, Teofilo believes in replacing fear with love. “In any relationship, both sides should be understanding. They must learn to give and take, and to simply talk things out during both good and bad situations.”


Jovemar  “Bojie”  Palorma (left) and Arceli Palorma 


Long-Distance Love

Physical distancing may be a requirement these days, but for Arceli, 33, and Bojie, 35, their long-distance relationship has been keeping them apart even before the pandemic. “My husband is working in Saudi Arabia, and he can’t come home because of the pandemic,” reveals Arceli.

She describes their relationship as simple and practical. “When my husband’s here, we’d go to the movies even when there’s no occasion.” After a 13-year-relationship blessed with four children, Arceli shares their goals as a couple. “We plan to grow old together, see our kids graduate, and stay in love.”

Beyond roses and chocolates, Arceli believes that the greatest gift she and her husband can give to each other is trust. “A long-distance relationship is both a physical and emotional challenge. Trust and having an open mind are important in overcoming difficulties in our relationship.”

Wondering how to celebrate this special occasion? Here are tips to help you spread the love and not the virus this Valentine’s Day:


Sing at home. Serenade each other to your heart’s content in the safety of your own home. No videoke machine? No problem! Search the internet for instrumental versions of your theme songs. Better yet, bust out that old guitar and start serenading the old-fashioned way.


Couple spa. Take turns giving each other a soothing massage to melt away pandemic stress. Light some scented candles and put on some music to put you in a romantic mood.


Share a virtual meal. Couples with long-distance relationships can share a meal virtually. Decide on your common menu, and watch each other eat at the same time to enjoy a semblance of a real date. Meaningful conversation makes the experience even more memorable.


Write a poem. If your partner’s preferred love language is through words, why not express your love through a poem? Your loved one will appreciate your time and effort in completing such a challenging yet heartfelt task. Reading your poem aloud can be your way of renewing your couple vows.


Disconnect. Shut out the chaos of the online world so you can focus on your partner. By getting rid of distractions, you can take time to talk about things that matter. Reminding each other of why you fell in love can be a powerful force in sustaining your relationship. 


Now that we are in the middle of a pandemic, give your loved one the gift of health by being healthy yourself. Be responsible for your actions and follow safety measures. Stay healthy; stay in love!

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.”