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Philippine club mobilizes transportation for frontline coronavirus health workers

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COVID-19 forces lockdown on public transportation in Manila. Members bring vans, accommodations for hospital and lab workers.


It didn’t take long for members of the Rotary Club of Makati West to take action once the deadly coronavirus entered the country. Shortly after the local government announced the first case of COVID-19 in January, the club in Makati City, Philippines, called a series of emergency meetings to quickly assemble resources and direct aid.

"The pandemic was a battle cry for our club,” says club president Enrico Tensuan. “We are Rotary, and with that comes problem-solving. We focused our efforts on how to bring immediate assistance to frontline health workers.” A surge in cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, led to a government-mandated lockdown starting 15 March. On the island of Luzon, home to half of the Philippines’ population, the new rules closed most businesses and shut down public transit.

As a result, many health workers and other essential employees faced daunting commutes to their jobs — up to two hours each way on foot, Tensuan says.

At times like this, even the smallest of gestures can make a big difference.

In response to the need for safe transportation, club member Elmer Francisco — chief executive and chair of Francisco Motor Corp. and 1111 Empire Inc., which manufactures jeeps and other vehicles — donated 10 vans to transport frontline health workers to hospitals in and around Makati and the capital city, Manila. Francisco coordinated with officials at the Department of Transportation to obtain permits to operate the fleet and plan the most convenient routes for riders.

Since March, the vans, which carry up to 30 passengers each, have operated 24 hours each day from four designated pickup spots and local hospitals, including the Philippine General Hospital, one of the country’s biggest health care facilities.

The club paid for the fuel, and members handed out snacks to exhausted passengers. In addition, the initiative paid the salaries of 17 drivers, all of whom had temporarily lost their public utility jobs because of the transit shutdown. The club expects the project to operate at least until the end of May.

“The dedication of these frontline workers and our drivers is awe-inspiring,” Francisco says. “Walking two hours each way is simply unforgiving. They are already risking their lives fighting COVID-19. This was necessary to keeping them safe.”

  1. Hospital workers in the Philippines are being transported for free to and from work thanks to an initiative by the Rotary Club Makati West, Philippines.

  2. One of the transportation drivers fuels up a van provided by the Rotary Club of Makati West, Philippines. The club paid for fuel and the salary of more than a dozen drivers.

  3. The Rotary Club of Makati West, Philippines, and member Elmer Francisco donated more than 10 vans to help give free transportation for frontline healthcare workers in and around Manilia.

Helping lab employees shelter near work Members of the Makati West club also worked to provide lodging for medical professionals. They helped secure 30 days of accommodations at area motels for nearly 50 lab technicians and workers at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, which conducts COVID-19 tests. The employees work long hours and the nearby facilities provide much-needed relief, Tensuan says.

The club planned to pay for the rooms, but local officials, inspired by the club’s actions, funded the workers’ monthlong stay. Members prepared bags of toiletries and snacks for institute workers and motel employees. “They were small bags with just a few things, but they brought big smiles. At times like this, even the smallest of gestures can make a big difference,” Tensuan says.

The club also raised funds for Fashion for Frontliners, an effort by a group of fashion designers in the Philippines who have produced thousands of items of much-needed personal protection equipment (PPE) for hospital workers. And club members have donated thousands of dollars’ worth of PPE, including masks, gloves, and gowns, using Francisco’s fleet of vehicles to deliver the equipment to hospitals. Tensuan, who leases properties, personally donated three laundry machines to the Philippine General Hospital so that workers can wash their clothes and PPE.

“I’m proud of how our club responded so far,” Tensuan says. “But we have a long way to go. We will use our club’s resources for as long as the virus is a threat.”