It is not the sturdy Spanish-era walled enclosure that is keeping residents of historic Intramuros from contracting the dreaded novel coronavirus disease. It is the concept of “bayanihan.”
Since the pandemic erupted, Intramuros, which is just a stone’s throw away from the Manila City Hall, is among very few areas in the capital city to have maintained a very low incidence of coronavirus cases, and with zero recorded deaths.
Atty. Guiller Asido, Intramuros Administration (IA) administrator, said the highest number of COVID-19 cases recorded in the district was 10 back in May.
It was way lower compared to neighboring areas with over a hundred active cases and half a hundred recorded deaths on the average.
Based on recent data released by the Manila City Public Information Office, Intramuros also has the lowest COVID-19 active cases between the dates of August 15 to 21 with only 4 confirmed cases, followed by San Miguel district with 6 active cases, and Binondo district with 8 active cases.
But Intramuros solely has zero recorded deaths, suspected, and probable cases to date.
This is all due to the “One Community Approach,” said Asido.
In an interview with the Manila Bulletin, Asido said everyone inside the district, from permanent residents to business operators, tried to help each other in whatever way they could amid the pandemic.
“I remember on March 14 (Saturday), we met with all the five barangay chairpersons online and worked out a plan of action to enforce the quarantine measures. That day, we all decided to limit the gates that will be opened, assigned tanods to assist our security, and they did as well evening inspections to enforce the curfew,” he said, citing they sought the help of the Philippine Naval Reserve Command as well to ensure security and public order in Intramuros along with the Philippine National Police (PNP) Detachment.
As sound decision-making and plan of action are two critical components to deal with the crisis, especially in minimizing its economic impact to small enterprises and those who depend their living to a day-to-day service, Asido said the IA also coordinated with the national agencies to ensure community vendors, pedicab drivers and even “kutseros’ (coachmen) would be among earliest beneficiaries of social assistance programs.
In terms of COVID-19 testing, one of Intramuros’ longest tenants, the Manila Bulletin Publishing Corporation, also donated test kits to the IA.
“We tapped and sought the assistance of the hospital in the district – Seamen’s Hospital to allow their medical technologists along with the Manila Health Department’s Intramuros Health Center to administer the test,” Asido explained.
Even until now, he said, Intramuros continues to adopt the said approach, maintaining lines of communication with stakeholders, residents, and officers in all its five barangays, sending messages to each other 24/7.
The spirit of “bayanihan” has since been extended outside Intramuros with many private stakeholders, including the Manila City local government unit (LGU), providing assistance to affected community residents in the Walled City.
The Manila LGU led in the distribution of food packs, face masks and other medical supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE) sets. They also facilitated the grant of other social programs for the community to alleviate their current condition.
The same initiative was replicated by other government institutions and the private sector, including temporary employment through the DOLE TUPAD program, with a total of 159 individuals composed of formal and informal tourism frontliners like pedicab drivers, coachmen, vendors, and tourism department-accredited tour guides benefiting from the initiative.
Asido said religious institutions like the Manila Cathedral, the San Agustin Church, Caritas Manila, as well as private organizations such as the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) and the Rotary Club of Intramuros also distributed food packs, sacks of rice, groceries, and vouchers to residents.
“Educational institutions like the Ateneo de Manila and University of the Philippines also helped through financial aid and relief packs. Individuals, whose passion and love for Intramuros, drove them to make efforts of contributing donations to augment the needs of affected residents of the Walled City,” he said.
The farmers of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) also offered their produce surplus, with the pedicab drivers and “cucheros” becoming the beneficiaries of two tons of vegetables donated by the generous farmers through the local government unit of Sagada, Mountain Province.