Living and making a living under the pandemic
Livelihood gone. A small business dying. A school adapting to the new normal in education.
In these photo essays, we present stories of how the coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives of ordinary people, and how they're adapting to the difficulties posed by one of the world's longest community quarantines.
THE FIGHT OF THEIR LIVES
Marcelo Villamor, Eddieboy Penaso, and Allan Morre sat on a bench, while other fellow trainers whiled away their time in front of the TV on an idle afternoon inside the Elorde Boxing Gym in Quezon City.
The usually crowded facility, oftentimes reeking of sweat from towels and socks of clients, was almost empty, lit by the afternoon sun from the windows. The usual smell is gone, and the speakers blasting workout playlists now silent.
Just like other fitness gyms, the boxing gym suspended operations after the government implemented the enhanced community quarantine or ECQ last March 16. Some trainers chose to stay in the gym as they found it impossible to return to their home provinces, especially after seeing thousands of other locally stranded individuals unable to find a way home.
Personal trainers used to earn roughly around P300 to P500 pesos per day depending on the number of clients coming in. But now, they can no longer make ends meet.
“Dati ang dami (clients) talaga. At saka habang tumatagal, lalong dumadami tao, lalong sumisikip. Ngayon wala talaga. Kaya nung nabalitaan namin na papayagan na, lumuwag-luwag yung loob namin. Kahit sabihin na nating di naman 100% yung pagbubukas ulit, at least kahit papaano meron,” said Tantan Ancheta, another trainer, referring to the time when gyms in General Community Quarantine areas were allowed to reopen with limited clients on August 1.
(We used to have a lot of customers, the longer you stayed, the more it got crowded. Now, it's zero. We had a sigh of relief when word spread that gyms would be allowed again. Even if it's not 100%, it is better than nothing.)
During the strict lockdowns, they had to rely on relief goods from the barangay, the help they got from management as well as some concerned clients who sent sacks of rice and canned goods. Luckily, the gym has a clientele of well-known personalities — from actors to reporters, and even a former senator.
Around 30 branches of Elorde Boxing Gym are spread across Metro Manila. Of these, eight branches are permanently closing leading to the retrenchment of regular employees and trainers. Similar to the situation of many enterprises involved in services nowadays, the owners are finding it hard to get back on their feet as the health crisis continues to bear down on the economy.
The boxing trainers are used to a life of physical hardship, often walking out of the ring with bruises and cuts unfazed. No one knew they would be fighting the biggest fight of their lives with an unseen enemy.
Trainers Marcelo, Eddieboy, and Allan sit on a bench at the Elorde Boxing Gym in Quezon City on July 29, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
With no customers to train, Allan and Eddieboy practice with the focus mitts to keep themselves active. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
The boxing gym suspended operations after the government implemented the enhanced community quarantine last March 16. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Allan cools his head down after a mitts session. "At first, I had a hard time accepting it. Maybe it (lockdown) is just for one month. When it continued after a month, I said to myself, this is serious," he says. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Allan used to box in General Santos City in southern Philippines and knows boxing icon Sen. Manny Pacquiao. He once fought in a championship bout but did not win. Most retired boxers who are not as fortunate as Pacquiao end up as gym trainers. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Eddieboy changes his shirt after finishing his chores in the gym. He started boxing in Davao when he was 16 years old, turned pro at the age of 18, and retired with 30 wins in 55 fights under his belt. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Without customers, life in the gym means just cleaning the facility, cooking their food, and doing their own laundry daily. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Tantan Ancheta prepares his hand wraps before another session. To stay fit and keep healthy, the trainers now practice among themselves. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
"It was a particularly hard time when COVID started. We only learned later on that it (quarantine) would last for months. We asked ourselves what can we do and if we can even survive. That really gave us a scare," muses Tantan. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Without clients, there's nothing else to do except their daily chores. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Another personal trainer sweeps the floor of an empty boxing gym. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
During the first months of the quarantine, they had the gym ready thinking the restrictions would end and they would get back to their regular jobs. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Five months into the quarantine, their gym remains almost empty and life has not returned to normal. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
When the Enhanced Community Quarantine or ECQ was lifted on June 1, they thought some of the customers would start coming back, but before they could return, a more restrictive quarantine was again implemented in Metro Manila. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
For the 12 trainers staying in the gym, this means more waiting time for the return of their customers. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
The prolonged quarantine also means surviving with the meager contributions for food they get. The trainers are glad management at least allowed them to stay in the gym for free. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Allan keeps an area in the gym that has now doubled as his "spot" where to sleep. Every night, he spreads out a folding bed in this area. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Marcelo speaks to his daughter over the phone worried about the money to pay for the house they're renting. He has yet to figure out where his family will stay if they get thrown out of the house. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Marcelo shows a picture of himself after winning a championship in the 1990s. He reached the height of his career in 1995 with a World Boxing Council number one ranking in the Philippines. He retired in 2005 with just two losses in 58 fights. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
Marcelo receives bags of personal belongings from his family for safekeeping, after his family leaves the rented house they were living in. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
After a few weeks into the quarantine, the trainers realized they can earn a few pesos selling plastics that have accumulated just around the gym. At 9 pesos per kilo, the little money they earn helps buy food for those who stay at the gym. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
The trainers take turns in cooking food for everyone staying in the gym. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
For now, it's literally one meal at a time as they struggle to find the means to get by on food every day. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
The boxing trainers and once boxing fighters have known only one way to earn a living since they were young. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
With no support mechanism, underemployed workers in the informal economy, like these boxing gym instructors, face uncertainty under the 'new normal.' George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News
NO TAILOR-MADE SOLUTION
Dannie Hadraque and Fe Aquilato had expected 2020 to be a good year because they thought the small tailoring business they had finally put up on their own would take off this year. Kuya Dannie and Ate Fe are two of more than a dozen tailors that have shops at the Kamuning Market in Quezon City. The place is known as a good source of textiles and other related materials, as well as for its shops that make fashion ideas come to life.
They named their shop,“Signature Tailoring,” and it sits among other tailoring shops tucked in one corner of Kamuning Market. But the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns in Metro Manila halted their operations, similar to other small businesses in the country.
Today, the tailors' corridor has gone dim, and the alleys remain silent except for an occasional customer and a few shops trying to just keep their businesses afloat.
Aquilato said the money they earn is not even enough to buy new materials, much less pay for their loans. Still, she admits, it is better than nothing, and it helps feed their families.
“Kanya-kanyang diskarte na lang kami sa buhay ngayon para kumita. Konti lang talaga ang tahi,” Aquilato said. "Malaki ang diperensya, ang nawala sa kita mo, 70%.”
(We have to be resourceful nowadays to eke out a living. There is really not much tailoring jobs. There is a big difference in earnings, as much as 70% is gone.)
Whereas before, there were orders to make clothes for a whole wedding entourage, now there are only small jobs like adjusting face masks and making accessories for pets.
“May tanggap nga kami, sa aso naman. Yung scarf ng aso? Yun,” as she proceeded to show a dog pouch that costs P10 a piece.
(Here is one of the jobs, for a dog scarf. That's it.)
Hadraque shared a thought that he fears may happen. “Paisa-isa na lang ang mga customer na nagpapagawa. Natatakot din ako’t baka mawala ang business na ito.”
(The customers have remained scarce, sometimes I'm afraid this business will eventually fade.)
“Pero palagay ko’y hindi naman. Hindi naman mawawala ang pangangailangan sa damit, kaya lang hihina talaga.”
(But I still cling to the hope. There will always be the need for clothes, maybe the business will just slow down.)
Tucked in one corner of Kamuning Market in Quezon City is a haven for textile buyers and those looking for dressmakers. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Ever since the first lockdown on March 16, some of the shops have had to close down to cut costs. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
For some who managed to return after the Enhanced Community Quarantine or ECQ was lifted last June 1, they have had to contend with the reality of a slump. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Dannie and Fe work on their projects in a small shop named Signature Tailoring which they put up together Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Dannie relates that since their return after the lifting of the ECQ, clients have been coming in trickles. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
The shop they have put up used to have four tailors, but now only the two of them are keeping it running. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Some shops have closed altogether because business hasn't been enough to sustain rent and expenses. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
A customer, Ferdie Cabanding, visits the shop to commission samples for hand-sewn face masks he plans to sell online. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Cabanding says he would rather go to Kamuning Market in Quezon City than to Divisoria in Manila where raw materials are cheaper. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
"Before, when I wanted really cheap merchandise, I'd go to Divisoria. But now, if you factor in all the costs, the prices do not differ as much. At least here, I don’t have to deal with the crowds and the hassle of checkpoints and public transportation," Cabanding says. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Days after news.abs-cbn.com's visit, another lockdown in the form of a Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine or MECQ was announced. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
The MECQ means businesses that are not considered essential, like tailoring shops, have to discontinue their operations once again. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
For now, “we just have to tighten our belts some more,” sighs Fe. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
A shop assistant puts plastic over a finished suit, feeling there are no customers yet to appreciate their work. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
A market visitor walks past one of the tailoring shops at the Kamuning Market. A typical day consists of several inquiries, but only a handful proceed to an actual sale or job. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
"There was a time when we could buy tailoring equipment, our profits could pay our loans. But now, we work so that our families would just have something to eat," says Dannie in exasperation. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Fe shows a job she received for dog accessories. “Here is one of the jobs, for a dog scarf. That's it,” she says, proceeding to show a dog pouch that costs P10 a piece. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Fe has also learned to take advantage of technology by using a messaging app to accept projects and designs sent to her by designers. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Tailors at the Kamuning Market have learned to use digital tools so they can continue to accept jobs, since face-to-face transactions have been disallowed. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Tailors have to turn online instructions to the customers' liking, hoping they got the customers' wishes right, which is not like before when directions were given face to face. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Two tailors chat together on a slow day at the Kamuning Market. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Dannie pauses in reflection as work grinds to a halt even before the end of the day. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
"We can’t afford to stop. If we do, our families will suffer. We have no one to depend on but ourselves," Fe muses on their current situation. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
LESSONS OF HOPE
There were only two-and-a-half weeks left in the 2019-2020 school year at Community of Learners (COLF), a progressive private school in San Juan City, when the country was placed on lockdown in mid-March.
It was a difficult time as the school had to fully transfer the remaining activities online with little time to adjust. The abrupt shift, paired with the challenges of the lockdown, made it difficult for the teachers and staff to function effectively. Students and parents also became stressed with the need to stay at home.
There were pay cuts among management and no salary increase for the rest of the teachers. Some non-teaching staff, like their school bus drivers, had to be let go as their bus and canteen operations stopped. In order to cut expenses, the school had to maximize the use of free to low-cost digital tools like G Suite and Zoom's free tier version.
Understandably, some students have had to pull out of the school for school year 2020 to 2021, mainly due to the financial woes of parents in industries or sectors impacted by the pandemic. Some of the parents either opted to go for home school, transfer to another school, or in the case of Special Education or SPED students, therapy for the rest of the year.
These are some of the challenges the school has had to face, according to COLF school director Feny Delos Angeles-Bautista.
It took around 3 months to develop the hybrid curriculum from almost scratch. Now simply called COL@Home, the blended curriculum is composed of online and offline activities, using a combination of digital materials and physical materials sent to students' homes. It incorporates activities that do not require students and teachers to sit in front of the screen all throughout the day.
COVID-19 safety, culled from vetted online sources, is part of the curriculum.
"That way, it's practical, it's a life-saving measure, and also it's a broadening of perspective," said Bautista. "COVID should be something to be avoided, COVID is something to be protected from. But our fear should not immobilize us."
Bautista hopes this would make a difference on children's outlook: empowered by knowledge rather than fear of the virus.
"Dahil may alam ako, alam ko ang gagawin ko. May presence of mind," she said.
(When you are aware, you will know what to do. You will have presence of mind.)
Despite the ups and downs, Bautista is confident education is the key to facing and rising from the pandemic. "Education is the most hopeful profession. You see your students grow up stronger, better people."
The first two weeks of classes for school year 2020-2021 were focused on reconnecting with the rest of the community and getting familiar with the new teaching set-up. Since it's a whole new normal, foundations needed to be established. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Teacher Mical Rubio conducts her class in front of the computer in one of the empty classrooms in the school. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
The kids who use the messaging or meeting app are not just an audience but active participants during the online part of the class. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Teacher Isha Dela Torre tries to stay as animated, as if she was in a physical classroom, to keep the children attentive. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Before the pandemic, Teacher Mila Bascon often had to run after kids in a kindergarten class, but now, an empty room is where she stages the whole class program. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Like in a physical classroom, the kids still need to be visually stimulated. Teacher Cindy Villafuerte thus uses one of her visual aids in teaching. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
COLF School Director, Teacher Feny Delos Angeles-Bautita (right), observes Teacher Nancy Palad conduct her class. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
The hybrid curriculum took around 3 months to develop. From almost scratch, it is now a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities, or online and offline, balancing digital materials and physical materials sent to students' homes. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
To keep costs down, the school maximizes the use of free apps, like G Suite and Zoom's free tier version. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Teacher Denise Secades, who teaches a Special Education (SPED) class, musters the energy to keep pace in both the online and offline component of the hybrid curriculum. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Going completely online means almost everything now is non-traditional. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
But some methods remain traditional as Teacher Mila Bascon uses materials for an online session that she would have normally used in a physical classroom. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
One of the challenges the school faces is getting the kids to adapt to activities they had grown accustomed to in a physical classroom. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Under the new program, COL@Home, online and offline activities are integral to the learning process and part of that is getting the kids to still handle tangible materials and not just digital learning tools. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
The new teaching set-up still incorporates physical activities done from both the teacher's side and the children's side at home. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
The school had to put together a learning kit for each child according to his or her grade level, and had this sent to each child. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Some of the non-teaching staff prepare and deliver learning kits to each child. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Another aspect of the school program is adapting to the changes society is undergoing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
The online sessions include discourses on the pandemic, including instructions on prevention and health culled from reputable sources. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
"Children would make a difference in protecting themselves, not from a position of fear, but from a position of knowledge. When you are aware, you will know what to do. You will have presence of mind," explains Teacher Feny of the thrusts of the new program. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
For now, the once lively classrooms full of active schoolchildren are relegated to the background. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
The school canteen is quiet, except for those preparing staff meals. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
In the hallways, instead of the usual learning materials, signs on health precautions remind the staff to be vigilant against the virus. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Some of the staff have opted to stay in the campus to avoid having to travel back and forth to their residence, not only because of the difficulty of public transportation but also to avoid exposing other family members. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Teacher Feny believes that education, through the teachers and parents, can play a major role in the pandemic amid a non-cohesive national plan. With skills and knowledge, students are able to contribute and serve their communities well. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
While the approach to learning may have changed in order to adapt to the current situation, the school's principle of developing individuals as part of the community remains. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
With reports from George Calvelo, Jonathan Cellona, and Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News