MANILA – While many Luzon residents were holed up in their comfortable homes late Thursday, Leonardo and Joey and many of their companions already endured a 7-hour walk, with few moments of rest in a side street in Munoz, Quezon City.
They traveled from Sucat, Parañaque where they worked as laborers, but the project ceased operations due to the enhanced community quarantine imposed by the national government in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Faced with the threat of piling debts, the group decided to just go home to their families in Tarlac City.
Leonardo, one of the laborers, said he and his companions were surprised when their bosses announced that they will stop operations, effectively leaving them without any source of income.
"Sobrang apektado kami, ang hirap, yung pag lock down, di namin inexpect na titigil trabaho namin. Nagdeclare na tigil operation, nagpursige kami umuwi. Kesa mabaon kami sa utang sa kumpanya sa barracks namin. Syempre pinapakain kami ng boss, di pwedeng di namin bayaran yon." he said.
(We are gravely affected. It's so hard. We didn't expect this. If we don't go home, debts will just pile up. They are feeding us, but we have to pay for those meals.)
More than contracting the virus, their bigger worry was where to source food for their families' table. They were returning home with only a week's worth of pay, and their future uncertain.
"Kasi po no work, no pay kami. Yun alam namin. Aminado kami don, kapag walang trabaho, walang sasahurin kaya minabuti namin na umuwi sa pamilya namin, na kahit saluyot lang sama sama kami, kesa doon, papakainin kami pero pamilya namin di namin alam kung nakakakain o hindi," Gier said.
(It's no work, no pay for us. Even if they will feed us, we don't know whether our families will be able to eat.)
While the decision to come home is already a tough one to make, they faced a bigger challenge.
Public transportation has been suspended, and they were left with no choice but to walk.
"Naglakad kami mula sa Sucat sa Paranaque at umabot kami dito sa Munoz, dito po kami pahinga, di na namin kaya masakit na paa namin. More than 7 hours, mga 10. Nilakad namin kainit initan. 11 am umpisa, kanina lang kami natapos. Di na namin kinaya. 18 kami." said Joey Lagman.
(We walked from Sucat in Paranaque and we have only reached Munoz. We can't walk any further, our feet are aching. We were walking under scorching heat, we could not go any further.)
The group tried to approach a nearby barangay hall so they could have shelter for the night, but they were denied entry in fear that one of them carried the dreaded virus.
From that point, the group needed to walk more than 120 kilometers or two days to reach home. But their spirit is relentless. They surely wanted to be with their families during the crisis.
When netizens noticed their story in ABS-CBN's Twitter account, offers for help flooded the account.
Their story was shared thousands of times, until it reached the mayor of Tarlac City and the governor of Tarlac province, who both pledged to help the laborers. They immediately arranged for vehicles to fetch the group.
Officials of the PNP Directorate for Police Community Relations immediately arrived, bringing food and financial assistance.
But what the workers were most thankful for was the vehicle they provided to bring them home.
Two hours after the story spread, the vehicle came and they all got home safely.
Leonardo, Joey, and their companions had nothing but gratitude to all the compassionate people who pitched in to help. Some people even pledged to help them while they're looking for new jobs.
"Di ko mapaliwanag, masayang masaya po na makakapiling namin pamilya namin. Maraming salamat po sa inyo sa ABS-CBN at sa kapulisan." Gier said.
(I can't explain how I feel. We are very happy we will be with our families. Thank you ABS-CBN and to the PNP.)