In Quezon City, the ‘yellows’ have been saving thousands of lives as the country faced the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Ironically, killer-typhoons Ondoy and Yolanda were the main triggers that gave birth to the 160 ‘yellows’ in 2018 and have since become common sights on the streets as they blare sirens in racing towards emergency rooms of hospitals and quarantine sites.
As the COVID-19 pandemic created public health pandemonium in QC, the 160 yellow-colored ambulances have become one of the most formidable weapon each of the city’s barangay units possess to battle the contagion.
Not only do these ambulances rescue COVID-19 patients, they also save huge amounts in money for city residents.
Private hospitals and ambulance services firms charge P10,000 to P30,000 for each trip. The QC government and city barangays do not impose a single centavo for the service.
“All we ask is that each time people see rushing on the streets is to pray for safety of the ambulance driver and crew, for healing for the patient and hope for their families,” said former QC Mayor Herbert Bautista in a Manila Bulletin interview.
It was Bautista’s idea to deploy one ambulance to each of the 142 barangay units in the city. The remaining 18 units were distributed to city-run hospitals, rescue services and disaster preparedness units.
“Hindi ko na matandaan kung magkano, pero kapag buhay ng mga tao ang nakataya, hindi na pinaguusapan ang gagastusin (I can no longer remember how but when people’s lives are at stake, we no longer talk about expenses),” Bautista explained.
The three-term QC mayor said the devastation brought about by Ondoy and Yolanda gave him the resolve to prepare the city for natural and man-made disasters that kill and damage properties.
“The massive destruction of Ondoy and Yolanda brought us to the drawing board where we worked on a framework that would guide us in the next nine years,” he recalled. “Starting July, 2010, the global trust is to make all cities, each locality disaster resilient.”
From the many hours spent in planning, Bautista, popularly known as Bistek, decided to equip each barangay with an ambulance unit, strengthen the barangay disaster and health workers brigade that now comprise the barangay emergency response teams (BERT), build a new hospital – the Rosario Maclang Bautista Hospital for the densely populated Batasan Pambansa and Novaliches areas; and expand the Quezon City General Hospital, among other disaster preparedness projects.
Bautista had also allotted funds for the creation of a city crematorium for deceased city residents.
“The principle behind all these is that we will face more natural disasters, not to mention the Big One, and we have to prepare each barangay towards recovery, protection and resilience so that they can stand strong and help each other when needed,” Bautista said.
Bautista credited former Mayor Brigido “Jun” Simon Jr. for guiding him towards this idea, adding that he patterned this to Simon’s ‘sub-city’ concept.
He also pointed out that without the help of then Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte and city councilors headed by Majority Leader Franz Pumaren, most of the projects that have become useful during the pandemic period would have not been implemented.
“We could not have done this alone. Mayor Joy and Councilor Franz were all out in their support of the various projects, especially by passing legislative measures to finance them. The Red Cross provided the training for the ambulance crew,” the former local chief executive said.
The ambulance services of the QC government is unique for equipping the smallest unit of government in the country the means to be the first responder in saving the lives of their constituents.