On being mobile

The “stay-at-home” mandate for Metro Manila has resulted in our streets looking like scenes from one of those dystopian films I remember watching from way back. Take Commonwealth Ave., which I regularly traverse every day before the pandemic. This drive to my office would normally take 30 minutes given traffic woes due to the construction of the MRT 7. But with the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), Commonwealth has become one deserted road that feels both surreal and eerie.

I ventured outside last Friday to buy some marketing essentials and as I drove farther towards Quezon Ave., I passed by the Department of Agriculture (DA) where farmers, as reported in the press, had gathered to sell their produce. Outside, there were cars parked by the street while people queued for almost half a kilometer waiting for their turn to get inside the DA compound. This scene was replicated in several locations along my route where supermarkets, drugstores, banks and pawnshops are located.  

It’s the new normal; long lines where people have to wait under the scorching sun for their basic necessities. But while there are those observing social distancing, many others are unmindful of this health advice and probably thought that wearing a mask is enough to save them from getting infected by the virus. With all these reminders to stay home, wash hands frequently and practice social distancing, in a country where having these reminders is a privilege for some and not a right for the many, how then do we help curb this virus that has wreaked havoc in our lives? 

We all have a role to play in mitigating the harmful effects of this pandemic. The priority is in making people’s lives a bit easier and more tolerable despite this crisis. This brings to mind some of our local government leaders (LGU) who have initiated creative ideas to help our more vulnerable communities by bringing the basic services directly to the people. Take for example the Mobile Palengke that has been deployed by Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto. The energetic mayor had the foresight to dissuade people from going to the wet markets, which could potentially spread the virus faster as these places get crowded, and instead, initially rolled out five trucks of fresh meat, fish and vegetables to serve as rolling stores for the people of Pasig.   

This service was lauded not just by his constituents but by the public in general as people from different parts of Metro Manila posted on their social media accounts that they would move to Pasig for its better public service. Inspired by this concept, Mayor Rex Gatchalian quickly adapted this scheme to serve the people of Valenzuela City and recently launched the city’s Market on Wheels. Whereas other politicians would scoff and disregard ideas not originating from them, Mayor Gatchalian embraced this good-naturedly and twitted that he will be “copying” Mayor Vico’s scheme. But the good Mayor of Valenzuela modified his mobile stores and used e-trikes to fit the narrow streets of his city.   

And then there is the Mobile Kusina, in which, again, we have to thank the indefatigable Mayor Vico for. A project borne out of necessity to feed the front liners and health workers of Pasig, Mayor Vico provided meals for our everyday heroes as most of them have been deployed since Day 1 of ECQ. Considering that most of the stores and restaurants are closed, the young Mayor eased the frontliners’ worries and thus came up with the Mobile Kusina which produces 2,000 meal packs daily and distributed to the hospitals, checkpoints and health centers in 50 barangays in Pasig.    

Pre-ECQ, two private banking institutions have rolled out the first Bank on Wheels to provide auxiliary banking services in emergencies — Union Bank and Philippine National Bank. These are back on the road again and are most needed in these times when people are essentially homebound. These mobile ATM’s have afforded their clients easy access to banking services such as cash withdrawals, balance and transfer among others. The mobile banks are deployed to communities or areas where there is a need for cash which is particularly helpful during this lockdown. The relief of not going farther out of your barangay is an important service these two banks are now giving to our cash-strapped kababayans.   

While these may have somehow helped us manage our anxieties and stress over this global pandemic, there is also that voice inside us that seeks higher understanding and spiritual clarity of what the world is coming into. So we turn to our spiritual beliefs or faith to seek for answers. And this is a service which the Parish of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in the U.S. had in mind when they launched the Mercy Mobile. People “drive thru” the church not to order food but to ask for blessings or say a confession while maintaining the social distancing policy. And this is one great mobile service I would love to see being adapted locally as this community lockdown continues in the weeks and perhaps, months ahead. 

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