The COVID-19 pandemic is now in its second year with no end in sight yet, particularly for the Philippines whose vaccination program is just starting off the blocks. It is quite depressing to note that based on stories from my relatives and friends in the United States and Canada for example, where the number of people vaccinated have run into the millions; our very own Department of Health (DOH) and the Inter-Agency Task Force managing the national response to the pandemic has barely made a dent with its vaccination program. It is what I would call a Lone Ranger effort as the government has barred any other private group or enterprise to import the vaccine. So here we are still clamoring for what is unequivocally the way of controlling the virus – via vaccination – yet barely able to get the remedy in our people’s arms. It is not as if the pharmaceutical industry is absent in this country or as if Philippine pharma firms and distributors have not been around; it is that the government has turned a blind eye on private sector support and decided to go solo on this for the glory perhaps, yet we all now have to suffer.
It is in this context that I welcome the initiative of the Office of the Vice President (OVP), Leni Robredo in her Swab Cab project which aims to provide mobile laboratory services to people under medical advice by their doctors to get a COVID-19 test, a blood test, or an x-ray via the Bayanihan E-Konsulta program of the OVP. This mobile COVID-19 testing initiative — a mobile swab testing facility mounted in a bus — launched last March 2021 in Malabon City with Dr. Tricia Robredo, VP Leni’s daughter, among the medical professionals conducting swab tests for coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The OVP said that this plan would help local governments identify cases early on, and prevent localized transmissions and avoid cases from piling up. “Vice President Leni Robredo on Monday morning (March 29, 2021) oversaw the preparations for the formal launch of Swab Cab, the Office of the Vice President’s latest initiative to help local governments in Metro Manila conduct efficient community-based testing, in order to identify positive cases faster for contact tracing and isolation,” OVP said in a statement. “The pilot run of the initiative will start on Tuesday in Malabon City, in partnership with its local government, and Angat Buhay partners Kaya Natin Movement and UBE Express,” it added.
What is remarkable about this mobile COVID-19 testing project is that it addressed a gap in the virus testing strategy aimed at separating or isolating people who may be a virus carrier in a timely fashion. The government’s testing efforts going back to last year have not been extensive and widespread enough to cover major areas of the population like Metro Manila. A bunch of commercially driven testing services have cropped out to fill this vacuum which I have covered in a previous column. What makes VP Robredo’s Swab Cab program stand out is that it is for free — “Swab Cab project, a free mobile antigen testing program in partnership with non-profit groups and local government units to help detect COVID-19 cases”. So here is a mobile COVID testing initiative that combines both government and private participation in the service of the people. It is a realization of the call of the times – that we are all in this together and that everyone has a role to play in resolving this crisis.
In my last column, I mentioned Easter Sunday was always an occasion for our family to gather. In the pre-pandemic times, Holy Week was always characterized with voluminous traffic on national highways, from North to South and vice versa. Because of the long days off from work people took to the road.
We were not an exception. I was still very young, when my parents decided to take the family on a road trip to Legazpi City. We were in three vehicles: my father’s Toyota Corolla, my eldest brother’s new VW Brazilia and his VW Kombi, which was painted like a candy wrapper. This was I think in the mid-70s, when there were no diversion roads yet on the route to Bicol.
So we traversed from the South Luzon Expressway, thru parts of the provinces of Batangas, Laguna, and Quezon before reaching Bicol region. The trip was rigorous as we had travelled over mountainous areas, the first of which was the “Eme” highway which was carved out of the mountain side, visible from below like the letter M. The curves of the road were very sharp according to the terrain of the mountain such that after reaching the plateau where there is a resting place for vehicles and motorists, the drivers felt like they just conquered the mountain.
The other zigzag road was in the end part of Quezon province just before reaching Camarines Norte, the first province in he Bicol Region. My father said that portion totaled 78 zigzag roads winding up and down the mountain ranges. The third portion that also has zigzagging road was in the Bicol National Park in Camarines Norte, which was aptly called “Bitukang Manok” because the Bicolanos explained the winding road looks like the intestines of chicken.
Worth noting in our trip on the winding or zigzag roads was the display or practice of “road courtesy”, where drivers going downhill would even stop at sharp curves to let the uphill motorists go up first. Also noteworthy was the friendliness of other motorists travelling on our direction who would even refer us to reliable and safe dining places.
I wish we could all travel again soon. And travel with our loved ones so that one day, we will all look back on the fun times and memories of our travels.