One town, one ‘bayanihan’
In the face of a public health crisis, a small coastal town in Surigao del Sur perseveres, proving that ‘bayanihan’ is very much alive.
The municipality of Bayabas is one of the 17 municipalities in the province of Surigao del Sur under the first district. Among the primary livelihood in the municipality is fishing and rice and coconut farming.
While the task to sustain its 9,301 residents seems daunting, municipal mayor Maria Charita Garcia-Limbaro was quick to share about the strong sense of volunteerism among the people in Bayabas and how it has greatly helped in their whole COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) operations.
“How I see it, the people in this town have a strong belief that genuine success is gained collectively. We recognize the importance of one another in the midst of trying times such as this, which is why almost everyone, if not all, lends their cooperation almost instantly,” Limbago added.
Through the active engagement of the locals, the municipal government was able to come up with sustainable interventions to the public health crisis. While funding for such operations was a great concern, what they chose to focus on was coming up with a concrete incident management that enabled them to truly ‘size up’ the situation.
This entailed meetings with local government and barangay officials as well as concerned stakeholders which would be conducted every day, sometimes more than once in a day, and a good understanding on the directives of the provincial and national government.
They took the mountain of tasks pebble by pebble, working firstly on implementing regulations that ensured the physical safety of the people.
Quarantine regulations such as the issuance of quarantine passes and implementing curfew were the first to be accomplished, followed by the distribution of goods to each family household.
Although food packs were distributed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Mayor Limbago knew these food packs won’t last for days. They had to think of ways to sustain the assistance and equip families in Bayabas throughout the calamity, which was projected to last for at least six months.
It was almost impossible to depend on their Disaster Risk Reduction Management (DRRM) funds, amounting to less than P4 million, to fund their entire COVID-19 operations.
This prompted the local government to sacrifice funds for certain projects and realign them to fund their Emergency Operations Center (EOC), the central coordination and information center of the town’s COVID-19 response.
As quarantine measures were heightened across Caraga region, the provincial government of Surigao del Sur provided additional funding for all of its local government units. Municipalities were given P2 milion while cities were given P4 million.
Mayor Limbago recalls feeling relieved for the additional assistance. This enabled them to accomplish the distribution of food items for each family, having provided a sack of rice and other food items right before the end of Holy Week.
Again, she points to the unmeasured dedication of the officials in the barangay level as well as the active participation of the people for the success of the said operations. Proper information drive also played a huge role in the process.
“We had to make sure that everyone understood the gravity of the situation. When that was accomplished, everyone knew that they had to take part in alleviating the crisis. Punong barangays remained proactive, as well as their constituents,” Limbago said.
Leadership that cares
As Mayor Limbaro recounts the process she and her team had undergone in dealing with the situation, one might think that governance may not be as convoluted as it seems.
Admittedly, the current pandemic is by far the most damaging calamity that has struck the municipality. While this naturally requires greater interventions for mitigation, this inevitably creates an equally greater loss.
For the mayor, however, her determination to persevere through this adversity is fueled by her belief in the importance of human life.
While the situation feels overwhelming, she tries to maintain a realistic perspective in dealing with the situation. Every aspect in the situation is scrutinized. This, she continued, will enable the leader to see that in one way or the other, everyone suffers in such situations thereby cultivating within them sensitivity to the needs of their people.
It is just important as well to assure people that the government is by their side, not just through words, but also through actions.
“What this crisis teaches us is that there are limitations to everything and in the end, we are given a moment to truly reflect on what we view as essential to us,” she said.
Truly, to become an effective leader, one must strike a balance between empathy and logic.
The whole town is being manned by 313 frontline workers, a portion of which are comprised of approximately 50 volunteers.
To enable efficient response to the situation, the local government made sure that the EOC will be on-call 24/7, apart from its regular operations schedule.
Due to the temporary suspension of transportation operations and of some establishments, the EOC has also initiated the purchase of goods and medicines from the nearby city, Tandag. Their residents can submit a list of the items they wish to be purchased. This operates on a daily basis.
A community kitchen was also established to provide meals for the frontline workers.
To mend the issues concerning the employment of their residents, apart from the government’s programs that enable income-generating means, the local government was able to find means to provide assistance, particularly those with informal employment.
In the case of drivers, for instance, they rent their vehicles for the delivery of goods to certain areas. They made sure that only few vehicles will be operating so a shifting of renting vehicles was imposed. In that way, each driver will receive ample income during quarantine period.
The local government has also converted their program for Dengue prevention for such purpose. A community-based sanitation specifically for COVID-19 is employed, wherein all residents in each barangay are required to conduct household sanitation on the first Saturday of every month. Some households even conduct sanitation more often than the given schedule.
Despite having been warned by the Department of Health to discontinue sanitation, 11 sanitation tents will be set-up all over the town. Heeding the authorities warning, frontline workers and those required disinfection will be disinfected using a betadine and water solution.
At present, the local government is focusing on distributing the assistance given to people through the government’s programs for the marginalized sectors.
While 705 families have been identified as qualified beneficiaries, they are now coming up ways to include those families who have not been documented but just as qualified as well.
In addition, malnourished children were also given assistance amid the health crisis. Determining beneficiaries never posed a problem, as such children have already been identified through their Waging War with Malnutrition and Adopt-a-Child programs. Each child is given food packs containing nutrient-dense foods as well as multivitamins.
As it is a town that has a high regard for unity, it seemed as though everyone is actively taking part in their local government’s actions to address the current plight. Locals took part in their own ways, some donating needed equipment while others contributing through the acts of volunteerism.
Even the youth remained just as active. Members of various youth organizations such as the Philippine Army’s Propelling Our Inherited Nation Through our Youth (POINTY), the Youth Ministry under the Catholic Church, and those volunteering in their respective barangays took part in the information dissemination, distributing information, education and communication (IEC) materials to each household.
In addition, they were also tasked to keep and submit the COVID-19 Household Profile Form that keeps track of health status of each family members.
Compassion seems to be a trait that was ingrained among the locals even at an early age. Even children are doing their little ways to help, making cards containing inspiring messages for the frontline workers. This, the mayor remarked, sparks joy among their frontliners, motivating them further to continue their work.
In the face of great adversity, it is definitely a challenge to come together and act for a common goal. The darkness that surrounds can sometimes distract one from believing that there is that light at the end of the tunnel. But the call for a greater cause must always motivate each one to push aside the differences and ensue a collaborative compassion, trusting one another in the process,
What the people of Bayabas town showed us that indeed, through bayanihan, we heal as one. —/ DMNR/VLG/PIA-Caraga
#WeHealAsOne #BeatCOVID19 #LagingHanda #Bayanihan