What does the second pandemic Christmas look like for the poor, frontliners?

Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 26 2021 03:56 PM | Updated as of Dec 26 2021 06:23 PM

MANILA - Every morning, Jerry would wake up at dawn and bike a stretch of over 10 kilometers to earn about P600 for his wife and five children.

Riding his sidecar full of seafood on the side has been the street vendor’s sole source of income for 12 years. 

Shrimp, squid, crabs, and a selection of delicious fish, are among the best-sellers that pass through the hands of Jerry on a daily basis— but, in an unfortunate twist, never on their stomachs.

As if making ends meet was not hard enough, when the pandemic hit, Jerry said getting food on their table became a lot more challenging. 

In fact, they were forced to skip Noche Buena, a tradition they looked forward to yearly, in 2020 because they were unable to spare a single peso for even the simplest celebration.

“We didn’t have enough for Noche Buena last year. We didn’t eat a single thing, we just slept and greeted each other when we woke up,” he recalled. 

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According to Jerry, his children lost their jobs, thus, he had to take them as well as their families under his wing.

But the uptick in the economy brought by the eased restrictions likewise allowed Jerry’s family to recover financially. 

This time around, the family of seven was able to dine together at the stroke of midnight to some fried chicken, spaghetti, and his children’s favorite chocolate cake.

“Our earnings are coming close to normal again since my children have found new jobs,” he said.

“It is not a lot but we are much happier this year,” he continued.

Although their Christmas was undoubtedly merrier this time around as they were able to celebrate Noche Buena, albeit simple, his younger children said it is still far from the parties they were used to growing up. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cast its grim shadow in the country, Jerry opted not to reunite with his siblings and other relatives for the holidays. 

“Before we would all go here and we would wait for Christmas together. But since it's still the pandemic, it's better to follow the health protocols for the meantime, even if it is a bit sad,” he reasoned.

Although the Philippines is slowly coming off its worst recession in recent history, millions are yet to pick up the pieces. 

At the corner of Roxas Boulevard and EDSA, for instance, a hopeful Aling Criselda, her husband, and kids waited for kind motorists and passers-by to give them some food for their Noche Buena. 

For Christmas this year, the mother of two said they feasted over a packed meal consisting of rice, caldereta, and a sparse mix of vegetables on the side.

“They were given to us earlier, along with a pack of biscuits and snacks, we are happy because some of these can last til January, we have less to worry about,” she said.

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According to Criselda, it is her tenth year to ring in the holidays on that very same spot, which she has come to call their home. 

If not for the pandemic, however, she shared she and her family would have finally escaped the unforgiving life on the streets. 

“We were able to rent a place in Talaba Cavite for three years. It was very small but it was still a house,” she recalled.

Unfortunately, the onslaught of the new coronavirus forced them back to the streets with nothing but the clothes on their back and some cardboard for the cold pavement. 

“I used to work as a barker but because of the lockdown, I lost my job. We couldn’t pay rent so of course, we were kicked out,” she explained.

She added her family no longer has the option of returning to their place in the province as well as it had been ravaged by the super typhoon that struck Southern parts of the Philippines.

“We don’t have the choice to go home to Iloilo as well since Odette destroyed our house there. All our relatives there are homeless now too,” she shared.

“This is our home now, we are surviving, that’s what matters,” she continued with a smile.

Fully aware of their unfortunate situation , Criselda nevertheless asserted she will not let the pandemic that took the roof over their heads or their empty pockets rob her children of Christmas traditions. 

“Both my kids are in school, they do modules— because we want a good life for them, and that includes happy memories for Christmas,” she asserted.

“We want to give them our best, even if it's not a lot, even if we have to beg and rely on others,” she stressed. 

Although no one has escaped from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fallout is uneven and is much harsher for others. 

While some, like Jerry and Criselda, endure the crisis with their families, others are forced to face it alone.

Despite the eased restrictions in the Metro giving back a little bit of normalcy, the threat of COVID-19 persists. Thus, health care workers, like Rodel Telan, continue to work tirelessly at the forefront of the battle against a stubborn and invisible enemy. 

This is the second holiday season the board-certified medical technologist is spending away from his family.

He, however, volunteered to work during Christmas as he believes it is his calling not only to be in the medical field but also to be among the frontilners battling against the invisible enemy.

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“I am a cancer survivor. And it still has an impact on me to this, that is why I chose to go on duty despite the holidays,” he admitted. 

“I believe this is why I was given by God a second chance at life, so I can serve others. I know what it is like to be very ill and to be fighting for your life, and I understand what the patients go through and I want to help,” the medical technologist added.

Albeit on duty, Rodel nevertheless found a way to celebrate with co-workers, who he has come to know as his second family, especially during these last two years. 

“When I am with them I don’t feel alone. I don’t feel sad when I am with them, even if the situation gets stressful at times,” he shared. 

The stories give a glimpse of the impact of the pandemic that upended life as we know it. 

And while Jerry, Criselda and Telan, had found ways to make their Christmas a little bit merrier in the wake of the global crisis, millions of others, to no fault of their own, have not.