GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 28 May) – Not quite the victor as his name says he is, Victoriano Kagabhion has left things to chances in trying to ward off misfortunes in this time of pandemic.
A small makeshift house along the bank of a river in Purok Roberto, Labangal, this city, was all he got until floodwaters buried it in sand and mud when Sinawal river overflowed and breached a man-made dike.
Kagabhion, 69, used to live with his children and grandchildren in that house.
Adding to the old man’s despair, he lost an opportunity to earn and provide for their needs when the city was placed on stricter curbs after COVID-19 cases registered a spike the past week.
The return to general community quarantine (GCQ) status required the closure of malls and other non-essential shops as deemed by local authorities, a move aimed at restricting unnecessary movements and avert a further spike in infections.
But many residents complained against the hasty implementation of the GCQ, saying it caught them by surprise. Its implementation took effect just hours after it was formally announced by officials. “Maka survive mi sa COVID, patyon pud mi sa gutom (We may survive COVID, but die of hunger),” tricycle driver Armando Garcia said.
“Galabad akong ulo. Wala na ko kabalo asa mokuha sa among kaunon (I’m confused. I don’t know where to get our subsistence),” Kagabhion said on Wednesday as he bared that he has not received any assistance from government so far.
Kagabhion’s predicament was shared by pedicab driver Bobby Kegani, 40, a resident of Calumpang who had been trying to make both ends meet for his family with his measly P200 daily take-home income.
With the strict movement control imposed by the local government, Kegani found it hard to get passengers. By lunch time during the first day of the GCQ, the pedicab driver only managed to earn P30. “Not even enough for a decent meal,” he said.
“Wala unta nila gipakalitan ang mga tao. Unsaon na among panginabuhian? Asa mi mokuha ug among pangadlaw-adlaw (They should have not done it by surprise. What about our livelihood? Where do we get our daily needs now)?” remarked a visibly worried Kegani, a father of three, the youngest still a toddler.
The pedicab driver said he usually earned P250 a day, excluding fuel expense and pedicab rental. “Wala ko kabalo asa ko karon mokuha ug ipalit namo’g pagkaon sa mga bata (I don’t know where to get money to buy our food),” he said.
“They (city government) should have first informed the people about their plans and gave out needed assistance ahead of implementing this lockdown,” trike driver Garcia, 44, said.
The lockdown Garcia was referring to is the clustering of barangays and prohibiting people from moving from one cluster barangay to another, as required by the GCQ guidelines issued by City Hall.
Garcia and dozens of his fellow drivers claimed they are still wondering how they will be able to survive should the situation persist. “Wala pa mi kita ug wala pa kami pamahaw (We have no earnings yet and we have not taken breakfast yet),” he said.
The closure of department stores and other non-essential shops practically rendered many workers jobless.
Beth Navarro, who works as food server in a restaurant, wondered how to feed her children after eateries and restaurants were told to cater only to deliveries and no dine-in clients. “Sana kinausap muna kaming mga maapektuhan, bago sila gumawa ng ganito (They should have talked to those who will be affected before doing this),” she said.
Health officials explained that the move was needed to thwart a noted surge in new cases of COVID-19 which authorities fear “may jeopardize” the health system capacity of the city.
The local Inter-Agency Task Force reported a week ago that all seven major hospitals in the city were already 100-percent full, with 83.33 percent of the patients hit with the virus. Of this number, 69 percent were from this city while the rest are from nearby towns in South Cotabato and Sarangani.
“We may not perfect this, but, if we are able to reduce by 50 percent the number of people outside of their homes, that would already help.” city administrator Arnel Zapatos said in an online press briefing.
Dr. Rochelle Gajete-Oco, head of the local IATF, said they arrived at the decision to revert the quarantine classification to GCQ “because we cannot risk a possible collapse of the health systems capacity of the city.”
“We can’t risk na bumagsak ang ating (a collapse of our) health systems capacity, because that will put the whole city and the nearby provinces na nakaasa sa atin (that rely on us) in jeopardy,” Oco said.
Elmer Catulpos, president of the General Santos City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., said they do not question the wisdom of officials in recommending a reclassification of the city’s quarantine status, but added it should have been done in a transparent consultation with all sectors.
“We are talking about lives here and how we can save our fellow residents not only from COVID-19 but from hunger and other diseases as well,” he said.
“Had our friends in the local government done their job in foreseeing and preparing the city against COVID-19, we would not be this frantic in addressing a problem that has been with us for over a year now,” he said.
Catulpos noted that while essential establishments remain open, “many of their clients, who are mostly ordinary people, have already lost their jobs and no longer have the buying power.”
With this situation, he explained, the remaining shops or businesses will also close because no one is there to buy or patronize them “and then our economy suffers.”
The GCQ in the city will be in effect until June 30 unless otherwise cancelled or extended depending on the situation. A weekly assessment of the situation shall be made, an official at City Hall said. (Rommel G Rebollido/MindaNews)