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OFWs press for scrapping of mandatory PhilHealth membership

A group of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and overseas Filipinos pressed their demand for the scrapping of the mandatory Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) membership amid difficulties brought them by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, Migrante International said OFWs have been facing job losses amidst the pandemic that is aggravated by “onerous government fees” such as the proposed PhilHealth premium rate increase this year.

The group said mandatory PhilHealth membership has been a burden for OFWs since the passage of the Universal Healthcare Act (UHC) signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on February 20, 2019.

The law requires OFWs to be PhilHealth members before leaving for work abroad.

Migrante earlier said majority of the OFWs have no use for mandatory membership as PhilHealth is practically useless in helping them pay medical bills when they get sick abroad.

Instead, Migrante said PhilHealth membership should be “voluntary for those with capacity to pay contributions.”  

Migrante also scored the corruption at the health insurance agency that has yet to properly account for at least Php 15 billion in allegedly misspent funds.

“PhilHealth has been used as a tool for unscrupulous health officials appointed by the President to amass billions of members’ contributions for their own selfish interests,” the group said.

“Why should contributors suffer by paying increased premiums in response to the agency’s lack of funds?” the group also asked.

Migrante demands “corrupt” PhilHealth officials involved be held accountable and prosecuted. 

Migrante also said OFWs believe that Duterte’s recent announcement to defer the collection of increased PhilHealth premiums is only a tactic to quell the anger and anxiety of the people especially during this COVID crisis.

“Merely deferring the increased premium does nothing to calm down the people,” Migrante said in its statement.

Instead, the group said OFWs want a genuine, pro-people, universal health care program through free and comprehensive medical and health services. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Filipina nurse helps compatriot deliver baby girl on board plane to Manila

(This report was first published on Gulf News)

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A Filipina delivered a healthy baby girl on a flight from Dubai to the Philippines on Saturday — thanks to a nurse, another Filipina and a former airline crew, who was on the same flight.

Nurse Keizel Cruz confirmed both the mother, Lalaine Edip, and the newborn baby named Sheikah McQueen, were healthy and in a stable condition.

The successful delivery happened on Saturday afternoon, three hours before a flight from Dubai was to land at Clark International Airport (CRK) in the Philippines.

Back in June, the crew of another airline had also helped a returning Filipina deliver a healthy baby boy on a Dubai-Manila flight.

Keizel Cruz with her daughter who had a liver transplant in India. (Supplied photo)

Cruz, a former Dubai resident and cabin services attendant, had a connecting flight from New Delhi, India, where she had taken her one-year-old daughter for a liver transplant.

“It was really a propitious flight,” said Cruz, adding: “We (Cruz and her one-year old baby) were not supposed to be on that flight. We came from New Delhi and we decided to take the long route from India to the Philippines via Dubai because there were no direct flights to Manila.”

“We were in India for three months for my baby’s liver transplant. We were supposed to come home last month, but as destiny would have it, we were placed on the Dubai-Clark [flight],” added Cruz, who had returned to the Philippines from Dubai for good back in 2018 to work as a full-time nurse.

How baby Sheikah was safely delivered

Cruz said she was chatting with some people during the flight. Three hours before the plane was to land, the crew supervisor told her there was a woman who was about to give birth.

“Everyone was calm. I knew the crew were trained to deliver babies, but it was also nice to have a medical professional to help in the delivery. So, as a registered nurse and based on my hospital experience, I took the lead and we proceeded with the sterile technique of natural delivery. We successfully delivered Baby Sheikah McQueen two hours before landing, at 1.30pm (Philippines time),” Cruz shared.

Baby Sheikah McQueen (Supplied photo)

But there were tense moments, Cruz added. “After I held the baby, I could not hear her crying. So, I rubbed her back, wiped her nose to clear the airway and gave her another tap on the back, then she cried aloud. The purser (cabin manager) announced that a baby had been successfully delivered 35,000 feet above sea level and everyone onboard burst into a wild cheer,” she added.

Upon landing in Clark, the Bureau of Quarantine at Clark International Airport immediately attended to the mother and her newborn and they were rushed to a hospital for check-up and medical treatment. On Sunday, Cruz was contacted by the mother who sent her a photo, showing a healthy and calm Baby Sheikah in swaddling clothes.

Two propitious events

Cruz said she was happy to help in the baby’s successful delivery that came shortly after her own baby’s successful liver transplant in India.

Her one-year old baby girl, Jeorgina, was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia, a life-threatening congenital condition that occurs when bile ducts in the liver do not develop normally.

Baby Jeorgina had her Kasai procedure (correction of the bile ducts) when she was a month-and-a-half old. But the remedial procedure was not successful and they were told Baby Jeorgina had to undergo an urgent liver transplant.

Cruz, who lives in Antipolo, Rizal, resigned from her work to focus on raising funds for the treatment of her daughter.

They needed at least 3 million pesos (Dh230,000) for the entire procedure. Cruz baked banana bread to raise part of the funds for her daughter’s operation.

Sonu Sood sent help

Many Good Samaritans came to their aid. Several non-governmental organizations and foundations pitched in, friends and relatives bought her banana bread and the flight to India was sponsored by Indian actor Sonu Sood, who had chartered a flight for Indian medical students in the Philippines. Cruz and her baby took the same repatriation flight to India.

Cruz and her baby went to India on August 15 and the operation was done at Max Hospital in New Delhi. The organ donor was Justing, the baby’s father himself, and the operation was a success.

The only problem was that they were stranded in New Delhi for one month as there were no direct flights to Manila owing to flight restrictions because of COVID-19.

The family then decided to take the long route from New Delhi to the Philippines via Dubai. In Dubai, they had a 14-hour layover before taking the eight-hour trip to Clark.

‘Trip was really worth it’

“But the trip was really worth it,” said a gleeful and satisfied Cruz.

“We ourselves were recipients of other people’s kindness and it was like paying it forward when I was at the right place at the right time to help a kabayan,” she added.

“It was also worth mentioning that both our babies are fighters — my baby Jeorgina and Baby Sheikah are both survivors. Maybe, someday, when they’re grown-ups, their paths will cross again and they can share the story of how they were on the same flight on that auspicious day,” Cruz concluded. #

OFWs demand increased budget for protection and welfare amid Covid-19

An organization of migrants called on the Philippine government to ensure social protection and welfare services for overseas Filipino workers (OFW), Filipino migrants and their families by increasing funding for these programs in the proposed 2021 National Budget. 

In an online petition on change.org, Migrante International pointed out that in the proposal, only Php 8.6 Billion from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is allotted to fund programs that seek to assist and support OFWs and migrants in distress. 

The group said that despite the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Filipinos abroad, the proposed 2021 budget of Php1.2B for the DFA’s Assistance to Nationals Program (ATN) and Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) is only the same as in the 2020 budget.

It also said that while the proposed budget for OWWA has significantly increased to Php7.4B, the amount will still be inadequate to serve the thousands of OFWs who remain stranded overseas and awaiting repatriation due to the pandemic.

Migrante International said there are thousands of OFWs who lost their jobs who have yet to receive any financial assistance from the government.

Under the AKAP program, the financial assistance for displaced land-based and sea-based Filipino workers program of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), only 280,000 OFWs were granted financial assistance out of the estimated 1 million OFWs who were displaced in the past seven months. 

“The proposed budget does not take into account the increased support needed for the millions of Filipino migrants who have been displaced and severely affected by the COVID19 pandemic and who are in need of financial and livelihood assistance, welfare support, repatriation assistance and comprehensive health services,” Migrante International said.

“[T]he proposed budget will potentially leave hundreds of Filipino migrants every year who are victims of labor exploitation, human trafficking, illegal recruitment, gender-based violence, and discrimination neglected for lack of adequate funds to support their cases,” the group added.

The group also asked the government to provide immediate financial assistance in the amount of Php10,000 to all Filipino migrants, OFWs and their families affected by the pandemic by allotting an additional Php 7.2B to the DOLE AKAP Program. 

Migrante International said additional funds are also needed for hiring more personnel, legal advocates, interpreters, and other critical resources to effectively improve services and social welfare and protection for vulnerable migrants. 

The group also demanded that the government fully subsidize OWWA services and programs and stop the collection of OWWA membership dues from OFWs.

“To recover from the pandemic, the people, especially overseas and local workers, farmers and the poor need an expenditure program that heals and unites,” Migrante International said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Filipino victim at Abu Dhabi gas explosion was on his way to a medical check

Clark Gasis’ wife Elna says he was a loving husband and a doting father

By Angel L. Tesorero

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: One of the two Filipinos who died following a gas explosion at an Abu Dhabi restaurant on Monday was on his way for a medical check ahead of his visa renewal, a family said.

Elna Villason Gasis, 32, wife of the deceased Clark Gasis, 38, said: “My husband seldom left the house as he was working from home. On that day (August 31), he dropped me off to work at 8am. Then he went to his office to get some papers and proceeded for his medical check-up.”

“At around 10.30 am, our office chat group was abuzz with news of the restaurant blast. I immediately messaged my husband because we used to live near the restaurant – a family favorite – along Rashid Bin Saeed Street. When I did not get any reply, I decided to call him but his phone was off. I called him four more times but his phone was not ringing. At 1pm, during lunch break, I decided to go to the clinic to check if my husband was still there. I had no cash with me, so I borrowed Dh50 from a friend for a taxi. I was very anxious and my fears were growing.”

Elna said she called her husband’s office but a workmate told her Clark had not returned. She said she then went to the restaurant area and from afar, could see her husband’s car.

Elna with her husband and kids in happier times. (Gulf News photo)

“I found a way to get nearer and saw the car was empty. There were only papers, some bread and a half-empty water bottle,” she recalled.

She said her worst fears came true. In the evening, her friends broke the news to her.

“My friends prepared me dinner as I hadn’t eaten the whole day. Gently, they broke to me the heart-breaking news – my husband was one of the confirmed casualties. The following day, I also got a call from the Philippine Embassy. They assured me that they will provide all necessary assistance,” Elna added.

Loving husband, doting father

Elna said she still could not believe his husband is gone.

She described Clark as a “very loving husband and doting father”.

“Very kind, patient, hardworking, considerate and thoughtful – that was my husband,” Elna said. “Even if he was busy working, he would find time to cook and do other household chores. And after a day’s work, he would spend time with our kids – aged five (girl) and four (boy) – and do Zumba. He was also very focused on our kids’ online classes,” she said.

Elna with her husband and kids in happier times. (Gulf News photo)

“He was just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she continued.

Elna described Clark as her best friend and confidante. They came from the same province of Surigao del Sur in southern Philippines. They became friends in 2008.

In 2013, Clark decided to come to the UAE to find work and Elna followed afterwards. They got married in 2014 and soon had two kids who were born and raised in the UAE.

Clark worked as an Autocad draftsman while Elna has been employed as an office staff at a vehicle insurance company.

The couple just celebrated their son’s fourth birthday on August 29.

Bleak future

With two young kids, Elna, who is under her husband’s visa, said “the future suddenly looks bleak”.

“My husband always had a plan. We had started building our family house in Surigao and I don’t know how it will be finished, now that’s he’s gone,” Elna shared. “My two young kids still can’t fully absorb what happened to their father. My daughter, who has seen me crying these past two days, tells me: ‘Don’t worry, Ma. Just go to the hospital and hug Dad’.”

Despite the tragedy, Elna said she is mustering enough courage for the sake of her two kids.

“My husband’s death was tragic, but I would rather choose to celebrate his life,” she said. “But I still don’t know how I will be able to raise my kids alone. I need all the help I can get to ensure my kids will have a good education,” she added.

Elna said the immediate task before her was to take her husband’s remains to the Philippines. #

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This report is original to Gulf News.

Filipinos in UAE concerned about new travel rule by Philippines immigration

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI/ ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (UAE): Filipino expats expressed their concerns after the salary threshold for securing a supplementary travel document mandated by Philippine Immigration for a Filipino to bring a family member over to the UAE was revised.

The minimum salary required to acquire an Affidavit of Support and Guarantee (AoS), an attested letter issued to Filipino tourists as a proof that they have the support of their family during their stay in the UAE, was raised from Dh3,500 to Dh10,000 with effect from August 24, 2020.

The AoS is presented to Philippine immigration officials before travelers can fly to the UAE. It is, however, not required by UAE immigration authorities upon entry to the Emirates.

Revised policy

The Philippine missions in the UAE announced the new requirements for AoS on their website.

The Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Philippine Consulate in Dubai have yet to respond to requests for additional clarifications on the revised rule.

According to the revised policy, a Filipino residing in the UAE can execute an affidavit to sponsor a relative only within the first and second degree of consanguinity or affinity.

Aside from the proof of relationship, an expat who is single must show proof of having a Dh10,000 monthly income before he or she can sponsor a relative to visit the UAE.

Married couples or a family of two (either husband and wife or single parent and child) should have a combined income of Dh14,000; while a family of four (either a husband and wife with two children or a single parent with three children) should have a total income of Dh18,000.

The AoS stipulates that a Filipino sponsor is “gainfully employed or engaged in business” and holder of a valid UAE residence visa.

Other documentary requirements include sponsor’s employment contract duly issued by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation or employment contract verified by the Philippines Overseas Labour Office showing monthly income and salary pay slip issued during the last six months.

The Filipino sponsor should also submit a tenancy contract from the municipality under his/her name; or if tenancy contract is not under the name of the sponsor, a hotel booking duly stamped by the hotel or travel agency is needed.

Manila’s main gateway, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. (Image is for illustration purposes only.) Image Credit: File photo

What is AoS?

The document was introduced in 2002 by Philippine authorities to curb human trafficking. But it has been removed and reinstated several times following allegations of falsification and redundancy.

As per the AoS, a Filipino expat who is planning to bring a family member to the UAE is tendering a “guarantee that (he/she) shall provide all financial support to pay for the food, accommodation and travel, including airfare for the return journey, medication and hospitalization and other expenses, debts and obligations incurred including but not limited to immigration fines and penalties of the (visitor).”

Moreover, the AoS is a “guarantee that the (visitor) is visiting the UAE entirely for tourism and recreational purposes and is not visiting the UAE for (1) employment (2) seek employment (3) to transit via the UAE to another country where deployment of Filipino nationals is restricted or where deployment requires clearance or endorsement of relevant government departments and agencies in the Philippines.”

According to Sid Rivera, marketing manager at Al Qadi Tourism in Dubai, Philippines immigration officials routinely check the AoS of anyone travelling to the UAE. “But based on our experience, if you travel with a family member who is a UAE resident or you travel as a family, you need not show the AoS, which would cost the sponsor around Dh100,” he noted.

Rivera said they facilitate tourist visas for those who don’t have relatives in the UAE and those who earn less than Dh10,000. “Visitors like doctors and lawyers can travel even without AoS,” he added.

Travel infringement

Barney Almazar, director at the corporate-commercial department of Gulf Law and an expert on Filipino migration, said that “the AoS is an infringement on a Filipino’s right to travel.”

“The only valid requirements to travel outside Philippines are passport and visa. It is up to the host country if they need proof that you have capacity to travel — like the United States does, which is very strict when it comes to issuing a visa,” Almazar pointed out.

Malou Prado, managing director of MPQ Travel & Tourism, said the revised requirement for AoS would affect her business.

“The salary requirement is very high and not many Filipinos will qualify for the threshold,” said Malou, adding: “But I also understand why our officials implemented it (AoS). Some Filipinos come here not for tourism, but to look for jobs and if they fail to find one, they would end up being stranded and it would become the responsibility of the Philippines government to bring them home.”

“But my business will definitely be affected as 90 per cent of my clients are Filipinos. So, I hope it (AoS) will be removed,” she added.

Meanwhile, Filipino expat Carlo Santos, who works as an office clerk, said: “Based on my salary, which is Dh5,000, I’m qualified to sponsor my wife who is in the Philippines, but the stipulation for AoS has now made it difficult for me to bring her over.” #

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This report is original to Gulf News.

Kung said na ang luha mo Bagong Bayani

Ni Ibarra Banaag

(Inspirasyon mula sa tula ni Ka Amado V. Hernandez)

Lumuha ka bagong bayani, buong lungkot mong iluha
Ang kawawang kalagayan ng lupain mong iniwanan:
Kung bandilang kinagisnan, saklot ng dayong bandila,
Pati wikang minana mo’y sa Mandarin itinatwa.
Ganito ring araw ngayon ng magsangla ka ng lupa,
Tulad ni Flor Comtemplacion ng lisanin ang Maynila.
Lumuha ka habang sila ay bagabag ng `yong layon, 
Ang paslit sa bisig mo’y iniwan mong tumataghoy: 
Katulad mo ay si Huli, naaliping bayad utang, 
Katulad mo‘y si Sisa, binaliw sa bayan ng dayuhan; 
Walang lakas na magtangol, walang tapang na lumaban, 
Pumapalahaw nang gahasain; tumatangis sa tampalasan!
Iluha mo ang sambuntong kasawiang nagtalakop 
Na sa iyo’y pampahirap, sa Gobyerno’y pampalusog: 
Ang lahat ng kayamana’y kamal-kamal na naubos, 
Ang lahat mong kalayaa’y sa Terror Bill ay natapos; 
Masdan mo ang iyong luha, sa Philhealth ay pantubos, 
Masdan mo ang yong sahod, sa sobrang buwis itinustos.
Lumuha ka kung sa puso ay nagmaliw na ang ipon,
Kung ang pundar na bukid, ginawa ng subdibisyon,
Kung ang dagat sa bayan mo, Tsino’t Kano nakadaong,
Kung bundok at ang parang, pinatag ng mandarambong,
Kung ang katawan mo’y inuwi para lamang paglamayan,
Lumuha ka ng lumuha, pangarap mo’y nakaburol.
May araw ding ang luha mo’y masasaid, matutuyo.
May araw ding di na luha sa mata mong namumugto
Ang dadaloy, kundi apoy at adhikain na pupugto,
Rumaragasang galit at kamaong nag-aalimpuyo,
Sisigaw ka ng buong giting tanikala ay malagot,
At ang pangangayupapa, dudurugin sa pagbangon.

Hunyo 8, 2020

Filipino medical frontliner in UAE ran, cycled for 19 days to raise COVID-19 awareness

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: An Al Ain-based Filipino medical frontliner has distributed relief goods and medical supplies to his home country and a few workers accommodations here in the UAE after completing his COVID-19vs19 Project, where he ran and cycled for 19 days.

Romeo III Tumayao Puncia, 33, who works as an emergency medical technician at the Emergency and Public Safety Department, Al Ain, is also an international athlete. Last year he became the first Filipino male and first UAE resident to complete the 517.5km Ultraman Florida. He swam 10-km in open water, rode the bike for 423-km and finished an 84-km-ultra-marathon in three days.

Puncia ran 361-km on a running machine (Image Credit: Supplied)

This time, while preparing for the Ultraman World Championship-Hawaii in November, he and his team came up with a project “to promote awareness on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and distribute relief goods as well as masks and personal protective equipment.”

“During the movement restrictions, we came up with a challenge which we called THE COVID19vs19 PROJECT, an indoor activity where I ran 19-km for 19 days and cycled 19laps x 19km,” Puncia said.

At his home in Al Ain, Puncia slugged it out on the treadmill for a total of 32 hours and 32 minutes, covering a distance of 361.34-km and, using a stationary bike, cycled 19-km laps for a total of 370.29-km in over 13 hours. The total distance he covered was 731.63-km in 19 days.

Puncia cycled 370-km on a bike (Image Credit: Supplied)

“The reason why I did the challenge was to inspire people that they can make a huge difference to somebody else’s lives while they are in the comfort of their home,” Puncia said.

“By completing the challenge, my team was able to raise funds which we used to buy goods to help frontliners, laborers and employees who were placed under no-work no-pay scheme. We were able to send 3,500 pieces of surgical masks, 100 pieces of face shield, 100 pieces of KN95 masks, 15 pieces of thermal scanner, and Dh3,000 worth of food items to the Philippine General Hospital and tribal and indigenous communities in Palawan, Philippines,” he added.

He admitted “the challenge was quite exhausting because I had to balance work, family and training. But because of the motivation and support of my team, I reached my goal.”

Relief goods like masks were sent back to Philippines and to some Workers Accommodations (Image Credit: Supplied)

Moving forward

Puncia said he is now gearing up for the upcoming Ultraman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, where only top athletes are invited to participate in the competition that requires 10-km swim, 423-km bike, and 84-km run. He is also warming up for the Ironman 140.6 in Kazakhstan and Ironman 140.6 in the Philippines.

An athlete with a mission, Puncia said he participates in various grueling international competitions to raise funds for his Katribo Charities Inc., which he helped set up back in 2005 in the Philippines.

Relief goods being boxed up and sent back to Philippines (Image Credit: Supplied)

He and his friends visit the ndigenous and tribal communities in Palawan once or twice a year to conduct feeding and medical programmes, education and sports activities, training and leadership skills and more.

More information on his charity work is available on www.romeopuncia.com and www.katribocharities.com.

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This report was first punlished by Gulf News.

COVID19: Being ‘negative’ is the new positive

By Jenny Padua

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates—I had myself COVID-19 screened last May 19.

Before that, I downloaded an app to book a session at a government-approved coronavirus testing center. The test was in compliance with the local government’s order to be tested before going back to normal work mode after Abu Dhabi’s lockdown. My Emirati boss asked all of his employees to take the test.

The test I took was classified as a screening test, as I and my colleagues did not have COVID-19 symptoms: fever, headache, body pain, sore throat. We are also under 50 years of age, not pregnant, without pre-existing conditions, not having disabilities, and have not been in contact with a suspected COVID-19 patient.

Laborers and other blue-collar job workers are given free tests here. Companies are also encouraged to pay for tests on their white collar workers such as myself. Otherwise, it costs UAE Dirham 370, as was in my case. Those who have the means may go to hospitals where they pay as much as 700 Dirham that includes going through a triage and a doctor’s appointment.

The point is, getting tested here is easy and, in fact, mandatory. Unlike in the Philippines.

Drive –thru test

The one where I went to at Zayed Sports City is a drive-through testing center, constructed and patterned after the South Korean centers. From the main gate, security guards direct vehicles towards several gates. I was assigned to Gate 19.

Before reaching the gates, medical staff in protective suits approach each car and conduct initial assessment by asking for confirmation of schedule and bar code for easy check and payment mode (company-sponsored or self-pay). Yes, we were in our cars all the time, minimizing contact and helping contain whatever virus we have in us.

At the main testing center, security guards ask for verification if one isn’t alone in the car and who will be taking the test. (I asked a friend to accompany me.) As I queued, I thought this part of the experience is similar to driving through for burgers and fries. All the while, friendly crews assist in inserting IDs on machines for identification. Once confirmed, an attendant signaled me to an assigned slot and asked me to turn the engine off. We then waited for a nurse to conduct the swab test.

Entrance to the screening center. (Photo supplied by the author.)

What was it like?

I prepared for this test physically and psychologically. Beforehand, I asked some friends who have already taken the test how it had been for them. I received mixed responses. Some said it was indeed painful, some said it would at least be uncomfortable, while some said it had been painless. I also watched videos of how it is done. Many of the videos had subjects appearing uncomfortable or in pain.

One physical preparation I did was thoroughly cleaning my nostrils, of course.

When the nurse came, I asked if it was ok to take photos during the swabbing, thinking it would be nice to share them to our families back home eager to know how it goes as well. It was ok, she said.

I was still sitting on the driver’s seat and my window was open. I was asked to adjust my seat and tilt my head backward. By this time, I was a bit nervous as you can imagine. When I saw the swab at the end of a long stick coming near my left nostril, I closed my eyes.

 I felt a tingling and ticklish sensation as the swab was slowly inserted way down my nasal passage. After a few seconds, the nurse said we are done and then I can go. He added the result wuld be sent via SMS within 24 to 48 hours.

I didn’t feel any pain at all, unlike my niece in Australia who experienced severe pain and headache after taking the test. An elderly friend in South Africa also suffered headache for hours after.

I guess one’s reaction to the test depends on one’s tolerance for such things. If one is sensitive or have nasal conditions or allergies, it may indeed be uncomfortable. Perhaps, I may have also been simply lucky for having a nurse who was careful and had a deft touch.

Author being swabbed. (Photo supplied by the author.)

The result

Medical test results that are not immediately known have the habit of making one nervous. I was confident I would be tested negative. At least that was what I was telling myself after the test.

This confidence was brought about by the fact that Abu Dhabi locked itself down early, while the number of cases had not been bad. It went as far as refusing entry to visitors who have already landed at the airport, keeping them there for days until everything was prepared or were flown back home. (The lockdown at the airport here was not as bad as those currently being suffered by returning overseas Filipino workers at Manila International Airport who complain of feeling “discarded” by the Philippine government.)

During the lockdown, I stayed home. I did not violate the quarantine policies of the local government, not having any reason to. This is another reason why Abu Dhabi’s lockdown seems bound to succeed.

Still, I worried a bit. I did all sorts of things to keep myself from thinking about the result. I watched movies on my gadgets. I cleaned house. I prayed.

After 24 hours, I received the awaited SMS that told me I was NEGATIVE of the dreaded virus. Relief and gratitude were my immediate reactions, followed by messages to family and friends who also waited for the outcome.

I told a friend that this is an instance when you hope for something negative rather than something positive. I also realized this pandemic is making the entire world hope for a negative as humanity’s new positive.

To test or not to test?

I think everyone must be COVID-19 screened as a matter of right. This becomes more urgent in my situation as an expatriate in a country where many nationalities mix and co-exist. Abu Dhabi, as an employer of workers from all over the world, is also an air-travel hub between Europe, Africa and the rest of Asia. It also becomes an absolute necessity as the world is emerging from imposed lockdowns and trying to restart the global economy.

This virus is new and it appears it can infect and affect anyone. Everyone must be tested at least once every wave this virus has. I also think testing must be free for the poor.

This thought brings me grief as I read reports that virus testing in the Philippines is severely limited. While some powerful people, such as politicians, have already been tested several times, the throng of workers told to report back to work on Monday, June 1, seem to have very little hope of being tested.

Sana ALL. #

Filipino volunteer dies of coronavirus in Dubai

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A Filipino volunteer who helped in the distribution of free meals passed away in Dubai due to complications from coronavirus, his nephew and the Philippines Consul General have confirmed.

Melchor Corpuz Mandac, 48, originally from Jones, Isabela, in northern Philippines, was part of the group of volunteers featured in a Gulf News article just one month ago.

He was one of the first to respond to the UAE government’s call to serve as volunteers.

One of the tasks of Mandac and his group was to go from house to house to distribute free meals from the government and socio-civic organisations. They also asked residents what they needed and actively disseminated information on COVID-19, while referring needs of the residents to relevant authorities.

Mandac’s death came as a big blow to his family and friends.

Melchor Mandac seen here distributing food packs in areas of Dubai. (Photo supplied)

Always on guard

“He was very careful while doing his duties as a volunteer,” said Ibrahim Robel Beltran, one of the team leaders of Filipino volunteers.

“As a frontliner, he was armored, weapons up – so to speak. He never took off his mask or removed his gloves. He never got close contact with anyone. There was always a distance and arms were stretched before he handed any food or items to anyone,” Beltran said.

“He followed the protocol not to interact with anyone who had no face mask or hand gloves. He did not enter any house. He was very cautious. After every duty, he would disinfect himself before driving back home,” Beltran added.

Ruben Jojo De Guzman, 52, the team leader in Mandac’s group, said Mandac’s last duty as a volunteer was on April 30.

“He had to report back to work on May 2, after the movement restrictions were eased. He worked in an industrial area in Dubai, where he was a senior machine technician,” said De Guzman.

De Guzman recalled Mandac was always in top form. “He was the first to report to duty and he also served as a trainer in our group, although he had complained of mild coughing back in January and February.”

“After going back to work, Mandac called me and said he ran a fever so I advised him to go to the hospital,” said De Guzman, adding: “He (Mandac) felt better after a few days but he felt sick again on May 8; so I told him to go back for a medical check-up.”

De Guzman said Mandac at first dismissed his sickness as a common flu brought by his UTI (urinary tract infection) but on May 10 he complained of difficulty in breathing.

“He was rushed to the hospital by a friend. He was confined and put on an IV (intravenous drip). He was still okay and he even sent me his photo at the hospital ward on WhatsApp,” De Guzman said.

“But everything went south so fast. Doctors said his lungs collapsed after being infected by the virus and his vital organs deteriorated. On May 12 (Tuesday), at around 1.25pm, we received a message in our group chat, that he breathed his last,” De Guzman told Gulf News.

Melchor Mandac during a food handout in Dubai. (Photo supplied)

Volunteering in the DNA

Volunteering has always been in the blood of Mandac, his nephew, Sherwin Achivara, 40, said.

Achivara said Mandac had four kids – all grown ups and one is currently a police officer in the Philippines.

Mandac was a member of Sangguniang Masang Pilipino International Incorporated (SMPII), a non-government organisation that serve as a force multiplier to national and international government agencies.

Mandac served as special task force director, training and operations director and VIP security director, who provided security to Philippine government diplomats and leaders during Filipino community events.

Philippine Consul-General Paul Raymund Cortes said Mandac was the 28th Filipino to have passed away from coronavirus in Dubai.

Cortes added that Mandac was “a quiet volunteer who didn’t mind doing whatever was asked of him. He did not look for glory or anything that would highlight him as a leader. One of his tasks was to accompany me during Filipino community events.”

As for the group of Filipino volunteers, they said they would take the week off from volunteering work and would undergo COVID-19 testing.

Beltran said: “Our morale was hit. COVID has taken away one of our friends. We will rest for a couple of days but we will go back on the streets by Sunday to live the legacy left by Mandac.” #

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This report first appeared on Gulf News

Coronavirus has claimed lives of 21 Filipinos in UAE, says envoy

Community urged to follow protocols set by the authorities

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Twenty one Filipinos in the UAE have died due to coronavirus (COVID-19), Philippine Ambassador to the Emirates Hjayceelyn Quintana said in a virtual interview with Philippine officials on Wednesday.

Speaking to Philippine Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) secretary Martin Andanar and PCOO undersecretary Rocky Ignacio in Manila, Quintana said the information was based on the notification of deaths the Philippine missions in the UAE have received from the authorities.

Quintana said 17 of the fatalities were from Dubai, while four were from Abu Dhabi.

According to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, a total of 1,867 Filipinos worldwide have contracted COVID-19 as of Tuesday. There were 214 deaths and 513 recoveries so far globally.

As of Wednesday, the UAE has registered a total of 15,192 COVID cases, including 3,153 who have recovered from the disease. The UAE has maintained a low fatality rate.

During the interview, Quintana reiterated her constant reminder to her kababayans (compatriots) to observe the protocols set by the UAE government to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“Let us be more cautious in following the precautionary measures and let us observe the guidelines so we will not get infected,” Quintana said in Filipino.

The Philippine ambassador also assured her countrymen of the Philippine government’s continued assistance.

She said the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Philippine Consulate in Dubai are continuing to process the repatriation of stranded nationals, despite the temporary suspension of flights to the Philippines.

“Once the travel ban is lifted, we will be ready to continue with the repatriation,” Quintana said. A total of 494 Filipinos have been repatriated since the start of COVID-19 outbreak.

Filipinos thankful to the UAE

In the same interview, Quintana also expressed the gratitude of Filipinos to the UAE, which she called as a “model of humanitarian giving.”

Earlier, the UAE government deployed seven metric tons of much-needed medical supplies to Manila.

Quintana said in a Facebook post: “This medical assistance in the time of COVID-19 is only the latest of numerous instances in which the UAE has come to the aid of the Filipino people.”

She recalled that in November 2013, the UAE donated US$10 million (Dh36.7 million) to victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. She added earlier this year, the UAE’s Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) launched a campaign with the Philippine Embassy to aid 200,000 displaced families affected by the Taal Volcano eruption.

Quintana said:“The Philippines has proven, time and again, that the UAE is a genuine friend at crucial times and therefore our leaders and the Filipino people will always remember UAE’s gesture of kindness, generosity and humanity, especially at this time when all countries have their own challenges to overcome.” #

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This report was first published by Gulf News.