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Frontliners, tuloy lang, laban lang

We are indeed in tough times, but our collective effort to sacrifice and remain safe are our contribution for this country to witness and achieve full healing.

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On 13 July 2020, the MRT-3, one of the country’s busiest rail lines, resumed operations after a week of suspension due to the increasing number of personnel who have yielded positive results in the RT-PCR test for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

While this has caused alarm for regular train passengers, it is good that the MRT-3 management, with the help of the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) and NTF (National Task Force), decided to test all its employees to isolate the carriers of the disease, and thus, prevent further spread.

In this instance, it cannot be denied that this reality bared two things: that the virus threat is real and lives are at stake for those on the frontline.

But what does it mean to be a frontliner?

A simple web search would give meaning to this as someone closest to the enemy, an example of which is the rows of soldiers who are first in the line of battle.

We are fully aware that, in this war against COVID-19, we consider medical workers as the frontline heroes.

However, there are those who also risk their lives to be able to serve. Let us, therefore, not forget other significant “soldiers” who are dedicating their time for service at the expense of their own safety.

This is especially true for those working in the transport sector, where exposure to thousands of people daily is inevitable, as one comes face-to-face with a great enemy not even visible to the naked eye.

But this challenge does not stop thousands of government employees in this vulnerable sector from continuously fighting a good fight.

And so, yesterday, we have seen the reopening of the rail line, just in time for the start of a fresh new week. The line’s management was able to assemble a sufficient number of employees who are free from COVID-19, though the trains remain operating at reduced capacity.

To prevent further transmission of the disease, and thus protect both personnel and passengers, the MRT-3 management implemented a thorough disinfection of the facilities, including the depot, stations and the trains, during the temporary shutdown.

As the MRT-3 reopens, more stringent health and safety protocols have been instituted and are currently being enforced. These include wearing of full personal protective equipment (PPE) for its personnel, in order to intensify the protection being given to commuters and employees. The rail line also started with its contact tracing efforts. Initially, this requires commuters to fill up health declaration forms. Soon, the rail line will implement a system that harnesses technology for more efficient and faster contact tracing and less human-to-human intervention. The most recent addition to the measures is the policy of refraining from speaking inside trains. Passengers are enjoined not to speak during the short train journey, be it with other passengers, and/or using digital devices such as cell phones and other communications devices inside trains. This is to prevent the release of respiratory droplets from individuals which may house the virus.

Some may laugh at the enforcement of these new protocols. However, it must be realized that these measures only aim to protect the lives of many.

In this challenging time, the cooperation of the people is needed because of the danger we are all facing.

The more than 200 MRT-3 COVID-19 positive personnel only represent many other workers in the transport sector who have been afflicted by the pandemic. Offices such as Land Transportation Office and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board have implemented suspension of operations at some time to prevent further transmission of COVID-19.

To protect government transport workers, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade directed the DoTr Central Office and its attached agencies to adopt a work deployment plan. The plan emphasizes alternating work schedules per group. The group is composed of those who are deployed as skeleton force, reporting for duty at the office, and those who will work from home. The plan will allow the personnel to rest, and at the same time, ensure that health and safety protocols are being observed without sacrificing efficiency, and ensuring continuity of service.

Despite the threat, we, in government, carry on. We have to continue for one ultimate goal, and that is to fulfill our sworn duty to serve.

This well-deserved recognition goes out to all the frontline workers in the transportation sector — who, despite being exposed to a lot of people who are also potential carriers, still choose to report to work; who, despite the stigma, remain relentless; and who, despite being somewhat feared, continue to be courageous to help this country rise once again.

We are indeed in tough times, but our collective effort to sacrifice and remain safe are our contribution for this country to witness and achieve full healing.

As what we, Filipinos would always say: “Tuloy lang, laban lang.” Dahil kailangan ka ng bayan.

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