It was almost midnight last night, my crew and I were roving around the seemingly-deserted city for possible stories. EDSA and all nearby roads were empty, with no one in sight. It was eerily silent, and I've never seen the city that lifeless. We just wanted to check if there were still some people who dared go out their homes at this time of a lockdown.
After an hour of aimlessly driving around dark streets, we saw a group of people sleeping outside a building in Muñoz (corner Congressional, just along EDSA). Thinking they were street dwellers, my cameraman and I tried to approach them carefully, and with a bit of hesitation as the presence of media with a large camera might scare them away now that everyone has been advised to stay home due to COVID 19.
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Two of them calmly recounted how they got there.
Their entire group of 18 worked for a construction company in Sucat, Parañaque, which stopped operations because of the lockdown. Now jobless, the laborers decided to go home to Tarlac, with only a week worth of pay at hand. The quarantine checkpoints are the least of their concerns. They were worried how to feed their families from now on.
We asked why they opted to go home in Tarlac instead of just staying in Parañaque, and I'm sharing, with their permission, some portions of their response:
LEONARDO GIER, one of the laborers: "No work, no pay kami, sir. Yun ang alam namin. Aminado kami doon, na kapag walang trabaho, walang sasahurin kaya minabuti namin na umuwi sa pamilya namin, kasi kahit saluyot lang ang kakainin, at least sama-sama kami, kesa doon sa Parañaque, papakainin kami ng amo namin pero yung pamilya namin, 'di namin alam kung nakakakain o hindi."
JOEY LAGMAN, another laborer: "Sir kasi, hindi naman libre pagkain namin. Babayaran namin pagkain namin, kasi 'di kami nagtatrabaho. Di pa namin kasama pamilya namin. Ang layo ng iniisip namin. Gusto namin kasama namin pamilya namin."
LEONARDO: "Sobrang apektado kami, ang hirap, yung pag lockdown, 'di namin inexpect na titigil trabaho namin. Nagdeclare na tigil operation, kaya nagpursige kami umuwi. Kesa mabaon kami sa utang sa kumpanya sa barracks namin. Syempre pinapakain kami ng boss, 'di pwedeng 'di namin bayaran ‘yon."
Going home almost empty handed was already a tough choice to make. But they had a bigger challenge.
Public transportation had been suspended, so the laborers were left with no choice but to walk. They walked for more than seven hours until they got to the spot where we found them. Tarlac City was still approximately 129 kilometers away. It would take them two more days of walking.
JOEY: "Nanawagan kami sa tulong sino man may puso, sana bigyan kami sasakyan, pahiramin, ihatid kami sa Tarlac. Masakit na paa namin naglalakad. Kung may mabubuting puso po diyan, tulungan sana kami."
They were hoping there's a kind-hearted person who would see them on TV, and would lend a vehicle so they don't have to walk all the way to Tarlac. They even offered to pay for gas!
Fortunately, a lot of netizens who saw their plight immediately offered help. It was so overwhelming: some people asked how to send food and money, some offered to pay for their transportation, while some volunteered to lend their vehicles. Even the Mayor of Tarlac City made immediate arrangements to bring them home.
The first responders were the staff of PNP Directorate for Police Community Relations. They gave me a call, but when I heard a woman on the line asking for the group's location, I initially got worried that the police might arrest the laborers for being outside the house when strict home quarantine measures are being implemented.
But I was wrong! To my surprise, they immediately brought a lot of food, alcohol, and face masks. They even had a cake (which was so appropriate because one of the laborers was spending his birthday!). In just two hours, they were also able to provide a large truck to bring the guys home. Of course, they were disinfected first, and the vehicle was large enough they can practice social distancing.
The laborers were so grateful for the outpouring of support from people; mostly netizens, who pitched in to help. They said they were so relieved that they will finally see their families at this time of crisis.
Of course, there are still many issues left to be addressed here: social inequality, labor security, accountability of their employers to these workers, government response to a public health emergency, among many other things. But this moment showed that even the worst of times can bring the best in our humanity. For Mang Leonardo and Mang Joey, the most important thing last night was just to see their wives and children. And it took an entire community to give them just that. At 4am today, they texted that they are already home.
On behalf of Mang Leonardo, Mang Joey, and the rest of the group, maraming maraming salamat po sa mga nag-abot ng tulong.
I am reminded of the company's tenets you all see before our newscasts:
Tayo ang Lingkod.
Tayo ang Kapamilya.
May we all show compassion to each and everyone even after this crisis is over!
The story first appeared in the author’s Facebook page. Manahan is a reporter of ABS-CBN News.
Photographs by Jervis Manahan