Frontliners on 2 wheels keep Philippine economy moving during COVID-19 lockdown

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 30 2020 05:12 PM | Updated as of Mar 31 2020 11:02 AM

A food delivery rider traverses Jones Bridge going to Lawton on Friday, March 27, 2020. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) -- Motorcycle courier RD Madrid admits to fighting tears as he navigates the Philippine capital's near-empty streets, worried for his health and with no choice but to defy the coronavirus pandemic and keep working.

The 22-year-old GrabExpress driver is among Metro Manila's bike riders, who keep the near frozen economy moving, albeit on two wheels, by connecting consumers to businesses big and small.

Motorcycle deliveries are exempted from the 1-month lockdown of millions in Luzon and they bring everything to customers' doorsteps from groceries to birthday cakes, all while practicing physical distancing to dodge COVID-19.

For the duration of the lockdown, Madrid asked his wife and 6-month-old daughter to move back to her parents' home to avoid exposing his young family to the virus, which has killed nearly 34,000 worldwide.

"Mahirap pa sa mahirap. Tanging kaisaisang paraan ko nalang po is 'yung magdasal. Lagi akong umiiyak sa itaas habang nasa kalsada," Madrid said.

(It's really difficult. The only option is to pray. I often cry to the heavens while on the road.)

To soothe his fears, Madrid loads up on vitamins and pineapple juice to boost his immune system. With demand up during the lockdown, Madrid earns P1,000 daily from an average 8 deliveries.

MILLIONS ON LOCKDOWN

Until the end of the Luzon lockdown on April 12, people are required to stay at home, public transportation is suspended and movement is limited to frontline workers and essential cargo such as food and medicine.

Shopping malls and restaurants are shut. Police checkpoints are in place to ensure that the lockdown restrictions are followed.

"Kahit na napakahirap at nakakatakot dapat bumyahe, magugutom po kasi kame. Babyahe na ulit ako dahil paubos na po ang pera namin," he said.

(Even though its difficult and scary, I need to work unless we will go hungry. I have to work again because our funds are running low)

The 22-year old RD Madrid can only see his daughter via video-call while working as a GrabExpress driver during the lockdown

Depending on how long the crisis will last the Philippine economy could contract by 0.6 percent or growth could slow to 4.3 percent, Socioeconomic Planning Sec. Ernesto Pernia earlier said.

Some banks have offered to extend deadlines for loan payments to help consumers and small businesses cope.

With the transport ban extending to motor taxis, ride-hailing platform Angkas started a food delivery service to help their over 20,000 riders earn a living during the lockdown.

QUARANTINE ECONOMY

Demand for GrabFood and GrabExpress surged by 3 to 4 percent since the lockdown was imposed, with drivers earning as much as 30 to 40 percent more, Grab Philippines said.

“During this Quarantine Economy, delivery services such as GrabFood and GrabExpress help people and businesses thrive in the new normal,” Grab Philippines told ABS-CBN News

“By keeping our services running, we help minimize the impact of this pandemic to the lives of our fellow Filipinos and the economy of the nation," Grab said.

However, there is limited driver supply as some prefer to stay at home due to the virus. For those still on road, safety protocols were implemented such as contactless delivery, mandatory submission of temperature twice daily, distribution of masks as well as providing sanitizer refilling stations, Grab said.

Grab has activated a scheme to allow users to give drivers a tip of up to P250, it said. An option to order food for their riders was also activated.

Like Madrid, 33-year-old food delivery driver Danao Marquez returned to work after going offline for a week to buy food for his family.

"Wala pong magawa kundi mag-ingat na lang. Delikado, pero ingat ng mabuti. Nakakatakot kasi baka mahawaan ng sakit.

(There's nothing I can do but to be careful. It's scary because I might get the disease)

While constantly worried, Madrid, the GrabExpress rider said he could not believe the outpouring of gratitude from his customers.

"Hindi ko po iniisip na maging proud sila samin pero may nagpasalamat nga po sa akin na isang costumer dahil daw sa akin ay naihatid ko 'yung gamot ng anak niya from Novaliches," he said.

(I don't think that they would be proud of us but there are those who express gratitude like this customer who said I was able to help her send medicines to her daughter in Novaliches).