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Big Business responds to COVID-19 challenge

Previously featured in this space has been the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center—“kalinga,” the Tagalog term for care, also stands for “kain, ligo ng ayos”—which opened its doors each weekend to homeless folk in Manila and environs. At the center, men, women, and children found a respite from life on the streets with a free bath and a free meal, capped with educational sessions for the children and value formation discussions for adults.

When the Metro Manila and later Luzon-wide lockdown was announced, the plight of the homeless—who have no homes to quarantine in—fleetingly crossed my mind. I just hoped Fr. Flavie Chalaf, SVD, who spearheads the Center with a team of dedicated volunteers, had somehow found a way to continue its operations.

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As it turns out, authorities saw the COVID-19 panic as the perfect excuse to close down the Center and chase out the homeless folk who seem to have grated on their nerves for the last few years.

For two weekends, reports Fr. Flavie, their clientele were “accosted and driven away by our barangay chairman and some policemen” who claimed the folk who gathered for their weekly bath, meal, and formation were breaking the “social distancing” rules in place since the start of the quarantine. This, even when Fr. Flavie said they took pains to space out the people queuing in front of the Center and let in a limited number at a time.

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Thank goodness, then, for institutions who understood the Center’s purpose and the people’s need for social “kalinga.” De La Salle University and St. Scholastica’s College opened their doors to the homeless “where they are better cared for and secured amid the ‘veerus’ of human beings and COVID-19,” as Fr. Flavie put it in his Facebook post. Housed at DLSU’s Enrique Razon Sports Complex are 79 beneficiaries and 10 volunteers, while the Tahanan center of St. Scholastica’s houses 20 senior women and a mother with seven children.

Kalinga’s search for more “safe spaces” for the homeless continues, even as they find that there’s “no room in the inn” for them in the hearts of local officials.

—————Proving more hospitable to the plight of folks most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic are, ironically enough, Big Business, the “big bad wolf” of the Duterte administration’s “anti-oligarchy” narrative.

Calling a seeming “ceasefire” in the war of words and court suits, the country’s biggest and most venerable business groups have responded to the President’s appeal for help.

Leading the unprecedented marshaling of humanitarian support is the country’s oldest business house, the Ayala Group, which has announced a P2.4-billion response package for employees of the many companies under its wing, including construction workers and tenants of its shuttered malls.

But while providing a cushion for employees and partners hit hard by COVID-19, the Ayala Group has also extended a helping hand to frontline warriors in both government and private hospitals who lack even the most basic items of protective equipment. Meanwhile, the company also announced that all Healthway mall-based clinics and FamilyDoc community clinics would remain open, along with Generika pharmacies, to serve the general public.

Other business groups have likewise joined hands in the effort. Aside from assuring employees of PLDT, Smart, and Meralco of continued pay and benefits, Manuel Pangilinan of the MPIC Group said it would also “assist in augmenting the dwindling supply of alcohol” aside from providing other basic health needs.

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Also getting on board are the Aboitiz Group through the Aboitiz Foundation, and SM Investments Corp. which allocated P100 million to assist medical frontliners with much-needed equipment and supplies. Meanwhile, Seaoil has announced that it will grant a P5 gasoline and P3 diesel discount to all frontliners with their own vehicles. Counted among the frontliners are medical professionals and technicians; hospital and clinic staff; uniformed personnel of the AFP, PNP, and Coast Guard; and LGU officials, health workers, and quarantine enforcers. To avail of the discount, the driver of the vehicle must present an ID that verifies his or her profession. Vehicles that are properly marked, such as ambulances and military and police vehicles used for COVID-19 mobilization efforts, also qualify even in the absence of a frontliner.

—————[email protected]

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