By Hanah Tabios
The temporary shut down of mass public transit over the whole of Luzon after the declaration of enhanced community quarantine forced a 56-year-old head nurse of the state-owned Philippine General Hospital (PGH) to walk part of the way from Cavite province to Manila to fulfill her duty to the country.
“Serbisyo publiko lang po ang ginawa ko,” Mary Daisy Nietes told the Manila Bulletin in an interview. (What I did is just for public service.)
Nietes was among the thousands of passengers trapped at the borders of nearby Manila provinces who struggle to find a means to report to work daily despite a massive suspension of physical work duties.
But her job cannot be made part of a virtual type of work arrangement as she is part of the skeletal workforce.
And in times of a global health crisis, medical health workers serve as the unsung leaders.
She said her normal duty shift, from Mondays through Fridays, starts at 6 a.m., and it usually takes her only an hour to travel from her house to PGH.
But on Tuesday, the first day of the implementation of stricter community quarantine measures, she was left with no choice but to walk.
“I know mahirap ang transpo kaya 2:30 a.m. umalis na ako dito sa bahay sa San Nicolas 1, Bacoor City going to Talaba. It’s a 40-minute walk and I just brought a flashlight and extra uniform,” she said.
(I know transportation would be difficult that’s why I left our house in San Nicolas 1, Bacoor City at around 2:30 a.m. going to Talaba. It’s a 40-minute walk and I just brought a flashlight and extra uniform.)
The distance between the two barangays is around five kilometers, around an hour’s walk.
Nietes said: “Wala po akong kasama sa 40-minute walk ko from our house to Talaba. I didn’t mind the fear, though my tears were rolling down because my daughter was worried when I left the house. Sabi ko lang sa kanya, ako ang bahala.”
(I was alone during my 40-minute walk from our house to Talaba. I didn’t mind the fear, thought my tears were rolling down because my daughter was worried when I left the house. I just told her I can manage.)
While many other workers are working remotely and some are finding it hard to productively function in the days to follow, Nietes, as a devoted health worker, just wanted to reach PGH even if she had no transportation.
For her, the real measure of public service is to be true to her duty in whatever crisis.
Luckily, a taxi passed by when she reached barangay Talaba.
Nietes said the driver was hesitant at first to take her in, but after pleading with him to take her to the nearest drop off point, he agreed.
But after passing Coastal Road along the Manila-Cavite Expressway (Cavitex), the authorities checked the vehicle as part of quarantine protocols.
The combined forces of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are manning checkpoints in several strategic locations around Luzon as part of the enhanced community quarantine measures of the government.
“Paglampas ng Coastal tollgate, ipinara kami sa checkpoint. Bawal na raw po pumasok sa Manila. Pinakita ko ang PGH ID ko and a copy of our staff schedule so pinayagan kami,” she added.
(After passing the Coastal tollgate, we were called to stop at a checkpoint. They said we can no longer enter the border to Manila. I showed them my PGH ID and a copy of our staff schedule so they allowed us.)
But some distance away from the last checkpoint, military authorities again required her to verify her identity and reiterated the instructions from the Palace.
This time, the agreement was to bring her to the area near the now-closed Coastal Mall.
Her appeals were no longer accommodated.
She walked along NAIA Road toward the Baclaran area. Luckily, she was able to hitch a ride but only going to Libertad in Pasay City.
On normal days, passengers may take the Light Rail Train (LRT) 1 going to Pedro Gil in Manila where PGH is located. But since train operations were also suspended, Nietes, at dawn, traversed the streets of Manila.
Walking another 5.5-kilometers, she reached PGH at 4:35 a.m after an hour, and was still early for her shift.
In fact, she said in her 26 years of service since becoming a nurse in 1993, she proudly shared that she has never been late to work — a testament that saving lives is always on top of her priorities.
She knew from the beginning that some of her co-workers from the ward section will be on leave because of the situation. But as their head, she said she cannot compromise the health of their patients.
Even if her knees were trembling due to her physical ordeal, she said: “Medyo pagod, medyo masakit, pero may panghaplos naman. But because of my commitment and dedication to the job, bale wala na.”
(I’m tired and it’s painful but there’s always ointment to rub on. But I don’t mind because of my commitment and dedication to the job.)
She said she dreamed of becoming a nurse since she was in grade school.
Her profession was her first love, but to fulfill her parents’ wish, she first became a licensed agricultural engineer and worked at the National Irrigation Administration before taking a nursing course to eventually pursue her calling.
She took inspiration from her aunt Dr. Alice Magos, a famed anthropologist and professor emerita of the University of the Philippines-Visayas, known for her charitable works especially with indigenous people’s communities.
“Never lose hope. Let us all help one another in the service of our countrymen. Never get tired of our calling. Even if our situation looks gloomy, the little sacrifices that we make will make the biggest impact on our people,” she said.
“Bayanihan” in the time of coronavirus
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the University of the Philippines system also lauded the “bayanihan” efforts of some 100 medical interns who refused to leave their duties despite having been pulled out.
In a statement, the university saluted the medical interns who decided to return and help patients and healthcare workers at PGH.
“Last March 14, 2020, the Association of Philippine Medical Colleges gave a directive to pull out medical interns out of all NCR hospitals. However, over 100 interns at the Philippine General Hospital volunteered to go back on duty to help the patients and the remaining health care workers in the hospital,” it said.
The frontline workers, especially those who are in the medical sector, continue to appeal for supplies of masks (both surgical and N95), alcohol, and personal protective equipment (PPE).