How to help PGH safety officer, sons who were forced to leave home
MANILA, Philippines – Work as a frontliner continues for Joel Santiago even after his neighbors forced him and his sons to move out of their place in Quezon City.
42-year-old Santiago has been a safety and health officer at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) for 22 years now.
His daily work involves safeguarding the health facility and ensuring health protocols – such as proper wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) – are followed when attending to patients and visitors.
As the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, Santiago takes pride in his work at the front lines. He said that the current situation has made work more difficult but he didn’t expect he would eventually experience discrimination.
Santiago and his 3 sons, aged 12, 8, and 6, used to live for around 8 years in a studio-type room at Pook Palaris, Barangay UP Campus in Quezon City.
Forced to leave
When he finally had the chance to go home during the lockdown, he was greeted with a warning from his neighbors that they'll cut his water and electric connections if he continued to stay in the building. They had wanted him to leave, worried that he might infect them since he was working at a coronavirus referral hospital.
The next day, Santiago found out that even his eldest son wasn't spared from his neighbors' harassment. (READ: Left in the dark: Little protection for government's coronavirus frontliners)
“Nagbabanta na raw sila na bubugbugin ako, papalayasin na kami kasi nga raw nakakahawa ako tapos baka daw mahawa sila. 'Yun 'yung mga particular na sinabi nila tapos yung pagbabanta nila na puputulan kami ng ilaw at tubig,” Santiago said.
(They told my son they’d beat me, they’d force us out of our house because I am infectious and they are afraid I might transmit the virus to them. Those are the words they particularly told my son. They warned us they’d cut off our water and electric connection.)
They reported the incident to barangay officials who then referred them to the police station. Just when they thought that things were under control, it got even worse.
When they went home, their electric and water lines already got disconnected. A group of men later broke into his house to threaten him into leaving.
“Umalis ka na sa bahay, gago ka, lumayas kayo. Nagtatrabaho ka sa ospital (Get out of this house, you fool. Leave now. You are working at a hospital),” Santiago recalled these words thrown at him and his sons.
As he was dialing on his phone for rescue, his neighbors just laughed at him. One of them tried to punch him but hit his chin instead when he dodged.
He sought for help from the barangay but found himself at a dead end when they said they couldn't do anything to resolve the matter. Santiago's neighbors had followed him there and continued their attacks against him.
When he returned home, he saw his sons trembling with fear with their belongings dumped in garbage bags.
By then, his eldest son's mind was already racing towards the possible worst case scenarios.
“Pa, diba sabi ng pulis 24 hours kapag may nangyari sa akin, sinabihan ako ulit ng ganon, punta tayo (Pa, remember what the police said? Within 24 hours if it happens again, if they threaten us, we get back to them to report?),” his eldest son reminded him.
Santiago then went back to the police but was dismayed that they just brought the matters back to the barangay level. It was at that point when he decided they needed to leave home for it was no longer a safe space for them to stay.
He told his sons to pack their clothes and bring some belongings they could carry with them. They spent the night at the All-UP Workers Union office in campus.
Faced with uncertainty
After the ordeal, Santiago asked his sister to pick up his sons and bring them to Cavite. He said it was hard for him to not be with his children but decided their safety is his priority.
Both of his sons are studying at UP Integrated School which was just near their former apartment. Now that classes are set to open in August, Santiago is faced with uncertainty.
During one of his calls with his sons, he was asked, “Pa paano na, malapit na yung pasukan, ano nang gagawin natin, paano na kami kung wala ka? (Pa, what now? Classes are about to start, what happens to us without you?)"
In light of what happened, Santiago shared he needs help looking for a new home where him and his family could finally be together.
“Sa ngayon gusto ko lang po muna makahanap ng titirhan doon na malapit doon eh para makabalik na yung mga anak ko (For now, I just want us to be able to find a home near their school so they can go back here),” he continued.
He also wanted the neighbors who attacked them to be given disciplinary actions.
“Pinapatupad dapat ng bawat barangay kung ano ang nakasulat sa batas. Kasi hindi sila dapat namimili. Dapat sa panahong ito, nagtutulungan hindi yung discrimination,” Santiago added.
(The authorities in every barangay should be able to implement what is stated in the law. They don’t get to choose whom it applies to. Durin a health crisis, we should be helping each other out and not discriminating.)
How to help
The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs is now looking into the incident as well as any possible violation of UPD guidelines on informal structures.
Santiago also shared that his experience is not far from other frontliners who have also faced discrimination outside of their workplace during the pandemic.
“Kaming mga frontliners, hindi kami nakakahawa. Tao rin kami, nasasaktan, mayroon kaming mahal sa buhay na dapat din naming mabantayan pero hindi namin maalagaan (Frontliners like us are not infectious. We are humans, too. We have loved ones we need to look after but we couldn’t as of now)," he added.
It was in April when various local government units in Metro Manila including Quezon City finally passed their own anti-discriminatory ordinances to protect frontliners.
Those who would like to help Joel Santiago find a new home for his sons or extend any assistance may contact him on Facebook or visit him at the PGH occupational safety and health department. – Rappler.com