Yes to work from home
In the unprecedented health crisis gripping the Philippines, Vice President Leni Robredo has called on the government and the public sector to consider instituting a scheme that will allow certain employees to work from home. Wise advice: It will protect them from the manifold risks lurking in the daily commute, particularly the apocalyptic congestion in light rail travel to which the government has long trained a blind eye. And it will stem the spread of the potentially deadly coronavirus not only in offices but also in the dramatic crowd scenes that mark the rush hours.
By now it should be clear even to professed he-men that this bug can’t just be slapped around, and that the contagion will get worse before it gets better. The Department of Health started off tentatively, suggesting that it lacks what it takes to address a crisis of these terrible proportions. Indeed, it could not even wrap its head around the necessity of procuring testing kits early on, or of declaring a health emergency at the opportune moment. But though belatedly, it appears that the DOH has come to terms with the idea of serving as the government’s lead agency in addressing the modern-day plague besetting the country and the rest of the planet. In the tumult caused by COVID-19, Assistant Health Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire provides a calm and competent voice of authority.
To combat the new coronavirus that at this writing in these parts has officially infected 52, with two deaths, the prescriptions are social distancing, proper hygiene, and behavioral etiquette. The swift emergence of cases after a period when nothing seemed to be happening, even as COVID-19 was stalking the First World with a scythe, has resulted in a theater of the absurd: public panic rising and Filipinos going, pardon our French, bat-shit crazy in supermarkets and other emporia, stocking up on toilet paper, disinfectants, and such as though a nuclear attack were nigh. The malady is proceeding apace as we speak.
Working from home ought to meet the social-distancing requirement of those with not only the means but also the criminal shortsightedness to buy up necessities by the ton, leaving nothing for those who can afford only to buy retail. Let these hoarders—doubtless the very ones who shamelessly bought up boxes upon boxes of surgical masks after the eruption of Taal Volcano, triggering the disappearance of the protective gear even for frontliners—isolate themselves with butt wipes to last them till the end of their days. Better to get them off the streets and leave the space to others, particularly those engaged in consequential work such as public service of vital import to the people. And we don’t mean politicians.
Of course, the irony that for the great number of Filipinos who hold up the sky of the informal economy, working from home is an impossible luxury, is not lost on us. Even social distancing, proper hygiene, and behavioral etiquette come off as ridiculous niceties to prescribe in the sprawling, airless squatter colonies bereft of running water and where live, cheek by jowl, factory workers, street vendors, and the hired help who keep the middle and upper classes comfortable. The government has yet to spell out exactly what they ought to do on the sad chance that they become, uh, symptomatic.
That wrenching fact of life aside, working from home will allow some members of the workforce to maintain good health and prevent the fueling of the pandemic that threatens those with compromised immune systems. It also bids well to produce other benefits concomitant with the ban on mass gatherings and the suspension of classes.
The University of the Philippines, for example, is intending to “use this crisis as an opportunity” to beef up its online learning systems. In a memo issued by UP vice president for academic affairs Cynthia Rose Bautista, faculty members have been instructed to “upload learning materials or links to learning materials in existing platforms,” and, at the same time, in a quick acknowledgement of existing realities, to “organize opportunities for peer learning by matching students without devices or access with those with access.”
The idea is “blended learning,” or employing a mix of online and actual classes, while providing students “detailed instructions on learning materials and activities if neither electricity nor the internet is available,” said Bautista.
The move, said UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo, is toward “online platforms in place of conventional classroom delivery.”
Nemenzo admitted that these are “not normal times,” but affirmed “our community’s resilience and ability to live through this crisis with compassion and solidarity.” In sum, he said, correctly, “the most effective response to public health emergencies is our ability as a community to look out for each other.”
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