On 17 March 2020, the government imposed a Luzon-wide lockdown as cases of Covid-19 in the country spiked from six to 140 in a span of one week, with 12 deaths.
Almost a year later today, 13 March, confirmed cases have ballooned to over 600,000 with more than 12,000 deaths.
Local government officials have declared a curfew in their respective areas in an attempt to control what appears to be a second wave of infections amid the discovery of several variants of the virus.
Daily Tribune spoke to a doctor and a businessman-musician-lawyer as they recalled the situation that caused the country’s health care system and economy to suffer enormously, and how they’re coping in their respective professions.
Dr. James Monje
Lung Center of the Philippines
Daily Tribune (DT): Recall the worst situation you encountered at the Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP) at the height of the spike in Covid-19 cases last year.
Dr. James Monje (JM): I was called to put breathing tubes in patients suffering from severe Covid-19. There was a middle-aged patient who was rushed to the emergency room due to shortness of breath. His chest film revealed severe pneumonia due to Covid-19. It was heartbreaking because we knew many of them would not survive the ordeal. The worst was their loved ones could not be by their bedside. After about 72 hours on respirator, the patient didn’t make it. His daughter is a good friend of mine.
DT: The private sector helped save the situation at LCP at that time. Does private support continue today?
JM: Yes. Private sectors helped LCP and other hospitals both private and public — big time! In particular we received expensive equipment including reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing machines, mobile digital X-ray machines, ICU and portable ventilators, cardiac monitors, high flow nasal therapy machines, CCTV cameras, desktop and laptop computers, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies.
All these had a great impact on our ability to manage our situation then. We really cannot thank them enough.
DT: What do you think is causing the second rising wave of Covid cases these past weeks?
JM: In my observation, rising cases of Covid infection is largely due to public complacency on basic health protocols. Distancing and wearing of masks are crucial. The relaxation of health protocols, especially in public transportation, might have played a part.
Testing is another thing, especially in high-risk areas. This is also very important in detecting asymptomatic carriers for quarantine and isolation. Local government units have to step up their efforts again to slow down the rise in cases. Variants of the Covid-19 virus are other issues we have to cope with.
DT: What is the situation now at LCP? Is it still manageable?
JM: In the past two weeks, we have rising numbers in admissions again, but still manageable. We have reopened additional wards for Covid patients in including referrals from other hospitals.
DT: How is LCP coping with treating its non-Covid patients?
JM: Undoubtedly, non-Covid patients have suffered, too. We are trying our best to take care of them especially those needing urgent assistance. Surgeries are performed on patients afflicted with different stages of cancer. Delays would compromise their condition.
DT: How has Covid-19 affected your practice as anesthesiologist?
JM: My practice as anesthesiologist has suffered a lot as well. Financially I’m affected. But I just need to adjust my spending to the most basic. Survival mode.
I’m just thankful that I’m still alive to continue to help fight this pandemic that has ravaged everyone and claimed the lives of many. I pray to the Almighty that, with the arrival of vaccines, life will be better.
Meantime, I make do with whisky and wine after a stressful day.
Dr. James Monje
Proprietor, 19 East bar and restaurant, musician, lawyer
DT: How long did it take before 19 East reopened after the lockdown?
Wowee Posadas (WP): 19 East resumed operations in July 2020. But only the al fresco area was opened to the public. Because of the high risk of Covid-19 transmission in enclosed areas, the music hall where the bands perform remains closed.
DT: Most owners of the few restaurants and bars that managed to reopen when the lockdown was lifted said business has hardly picked up. What’s it like now at 19 East?
WP: Customer turnout is still low. This could be due to people’s fear of contracting the virus in public places, and/or their reluctance to spend money considering the uncertainty amid Covid-19.
DT: How much was 19 East’s average daily sales before Covid-19? And how much is it making these days?
WP: Sales is down to less than 10 percent of what 19 East used to earn before the pandemic.
DT: You have been keeping 19 East open out of concern for your staff and to continue serving customers. Are you prepared to hang on till the pandemic eases — if and when it gets under control?
WP: Since operations were downsized, salaries and overhead costs also decreased. Be that as it may, these days, the business is lucky to just break even. There is a big possibility that the venue will be forced to close down if the pandemic persists. In the meantime, we will try our best to remain open for the sake of employees and to serve loyal customers.
DT: What are your suggestions to the government in light of its handling of the Covid-19 crisis?
WP: Based on news reports, Covid-19 incidents and deaths in First World countries like the United States and the United Kingdom have significantly gone down due to mass inoculations. This is great news since it shows that the vaccine actually works. I just hope the government can hasten its purchase and administration of the vaccine to get us on the road to a post-pandemic normal.
DT: The restriction of gigs confined all musicians at home. How did you make use of your time?
WP: I worked on producing my own music. I devoted time to writing, arranging, recording and releasing originals.
DT: How did you record the three songs that are now on Spotify and other platforms?
WP: I recorded and mixed down all the parts digitally using an audio editing program in my laptop. It’s a wonder that the whole production process can now be done in a computer. A few decades ago, a song can only be heard by the public if the artist signs up with a record label. Nowadays, one can release original music to the world from his or her bedroom. Quite recently, a friend of mine from Australia rang me just to say that he was pleasantly surprised to hear one of my songs being randomly played on his car radio. I reckon this is the best time for independent artists to release their music.
DT: Give us a background of each song — when did you write it, its subject?
WP: I started composing “Eruption” years ago, but was completed only last June 2020. It’s a mid-tempo, instrumental jazz fusion tune.
“Bahaghari” was written in July, 2020 with the LGBTQ community in mind. The title is Tagalog for “rainbow,” which is the symbol of the community. It’s a song about acceptance and hope.
“Wedding Day,” written in September 2020, is a bittersweet song about a father who communicates for the first time with her long-lost daughter on her wedding day.
DT: What have you gained as a musician during these extraordinary times? What about the drawbacks?
WP: The lockdown provided me the opportunity to finally work on my tunes, which otherwise would not have been possible. Of course, the downside is the loss of income due to the restriction of live shows. Also, this may sound cheesy, but my life is incomplete if I don’t get to perform live with other artists.
DT: What do you foresee will happen to the live music scene if the pandemic persists in the next few years?
WP: From a producer’s standpoint, it would not be feasible to invest in shows where only a few people are allowed to watch due to the social distancing protocol. The revenue simply would not be enough to pay the talent fees and other costs. In which case, we will see a rise in online performances.
DT: What kind of cases do you handle as a lawyer?
WP: Right now, my law practice is limited to representing myself in a number of cases, mostly civil in nature.
DT: How has the pandemic affected your practice?
WP: Some hearings got canceled due to Covid-19-related reasons, naturally resulting in the delay in the resolution of the cases.
DT: Are court hearings now also held online? Give us an idea how the courts operate these days.
WP: During the enhanced community quarantine, some hearings were conducted through videoconferencing. At present, I believe courts are already physically open and operating on a limited workforce, with the exception of those in areas where there are health and safety issues.
DT: What’s your greatest wish as a lawyer?
WP: Filipino artists here and abroad perform in classy hotels, nightclubs and other productions, yet they are underpaid and experience less than ideal working conditions. Since they contribute to the cultural wealth of the country, it’s only proper that they be given protection. As a lawyer and a musician, my wish is for a law to be passed promoting their welfare.
One possible avenue is via the party-list representation in the House of Representatives, where they could craft laws for their cause and for the country’s benefit as well.
Credit belongs to : www.tribune.net.ph