Frontliners keep money, payrolls moving as Philippines fights COVID-19

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 31 2020 01:23 PM | Updated as of Mar 31 2020 04:50 PM

An ATM dispenses P1,000 bills in this file photo. Alec Corpuz, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA - Armed with a face mask, a bottle of alcohol and vitamins, bank employee Johanna Nicolas crosses 3 coronavirus checkpoints on her daily commute to work because millions depend on it to keep cash moving during the Luzon lockdown.

As an online banking systems officer, Nicolas knows she is responsible for the accounts of small and medium businesses, who are struggling to stay afloat.

"I feel worried that I might get infected with the virus but... You have to put yourself in the shoes of your clients," she told ABS-CBN News.

Banks are exempted from the 1-month lockdown of the Philippines' most populous island. Around 30 percent of branches are open and 90 percent of ATMs are running, said Cezar Consing, president of the Bankers' Association of the Philippines.

"Given the lockdown, there has been demand to use online banking to pay bills, insurances, do payroll. You'd encounter clients who are already frustrated, but you still have to be calm and cheerful to find ways to help them out," she said.

Jerico Rosal, who leads a team of internet banking specialists, endures a daily drive from his family home in Calamba, Laguna to their bank headquarters in Makati to ensure that online platforms are glitch-free.

"It is quite scary, but we have to do our part in making our clients' banking transactions stable," Rosal said.

"If anything goes wrong, it is our responsibility to address the issue and work on it immediately," he said.

The number of clients enrolling their accounts for online banking increased 260 percent since the start of the quarantine, RCBC executive vice president Lito Villanueva earlier said. Online transactions also saw a "huge jump" with most clients paying for their food online, he said.

Banks have been extending benefits to their employees to ensure that frontliners in the finance sector will not succumb to the disease, Nicolas and Rosal said in separate interviews.

Some provide transportation and accommodation for those who live outside Metro Manila, while others divided their teams into two groups so that each employee only needs to come to work every other week. Salaries were given in advance, and banks have also stocked up on sanitizers for their workers.

Nicolas said she was hopeful her sacrifices would contribute to the Philippines' revival from the pandemic.

"After this, I hope businesses that totally stopped operations can bounce back," she said.

"We just hope that small businesses can survive this crisis to save families from starving. We hope that we frontliners survive it too."