She endured a day inside an isolation facility in another town, which she likened to a “bartolina” because it was small, crowded, and hot.
“We’re in an individual tent inside a building. We have two electric fans, but still, it’s not enough. We shared the same comfort rooms with other patients,” said Pedrosa.
“It’s not a wellness facility,” she added.
Eventually, Pedrosa found a way to be transferred to a private hotel in Tacloban City, and there she was able to find relief from the first isolation facility she went to.
“It was cozy,” said Pedrosa. But since she is not a resident of the city, she said she spent her own money on her stay.
Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez said the use of inns and hotels as quarantine and isolation facilities was one of the Prevent, Detection, Isolation, Treatment, and Re-Integration (PDITR) strategies implemented by the city government to save the city and the entire Eastern Visayas in terms of containing the spread of the coronavirus, noting that Tacloban is the center of commerce in the region.
“It’s for the economy to move inspite of the pandemic and efficient use of finances since there are no additional logistics to be incurred like beds, pillows, etc,” Romualdez said.
In 2020, Tacloban reportedly received P73,910,312.71 from the national government’s “Bayanihan Fund,” which is intended to boost the cities and municipalities’ capacity to respond to the Covid-19 situation.
According to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the Bayanihan Fund “shall be exclusively used” for Covid-19-related programs, projects, activities, and expenses.
The expenses include procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), Covid-19 testing kits, medicines, hospital equipment and supplies, disinfecting supplies and misting equipment, food, transportation and accommodation expenses of medical personnel and other local government unit (LGU) personnel, food assistance, construction/repair/lease/rental of additional space/building to accommodate Covid-19 patients, mobile testing laboratory, purchase/rental of tents for temporary shelters of the homeless, expenses for training of personnel in the conduct of Covid-19 testing and other necessary Covid-19 expenses.
From the said 2020 Bayanihan Fund, the Tacloban City government reported that it spent most of the money on welfare goods during the height of the Covid-19.
Some 58.5 percent or a total of P44,199,507.91 were spent on relief goods or food packs that were distributed to 138 barangays of the city (P33,215,822.74) and food assistance for the daily meals of the frontliners and returning residents who were under quarantine (P10,983,685.17).
For the accommodation expenses of medical workers and Covid patients, the city spent P6,373,500, while for medical laboratory expenses, the city spent P12,247,253.80.
Some 10 percent or P7,984,406 were used for constructing quarantine facilities, and another P1,650,000 were spent on the transportation facilities.
The other P1,455,645 were for other Covid expenses at the Tacloban City Hospital and other information drives, among others, according to the Tacloban City Information Office.
“As far as we are concerned, we spent it well,” lawyer Jojo Lacanilao, the city administrator, told Sunstar Philippines.
For the 2021 Bayanihan Fund, Lacanilao rounded up the expenses for easy reference. The expenses include P6.7 million for isolation facilities, P15.1 million for food, P4.2 million for equipment, P8.9 million for infrastructure, P3.2 million for medicine, P28.4 for relief, P18.6 million for supplies, and P1.6 million for transportation.
According to Lacanilao, the amount was approximately P88 million.
However, the city administrator said, “some people made some political issues [of Covid fund spending] because they read it wrong.”
“But we have proven that the Covid money was properly accounted for,” Lacanilao added.
Following the City Government’s PDITR strategies during the pandemic, Romualdez has strengthened Covid-19 surveillance since referring hospitals, such as the Eastern Visayas Medical Center (EVMC), are situated in the city.
This prompted Tacloban to institutionalize the digital Covid-19 Surveillance Contact-Tracing Analysis System (Scan) platform in the entire city.
Caring for the carers with limited manpower was also being attended to.
“There were only a few health care workers that had Covid because they are quarantined in comfortable inns that are accredited by Philhealth so as not to put their families at risk and will not compromise their own health,” Romualdez said.
In 2020 alone, at least seven hotels in the city were reportedly rented at a discounted price and used as temporary quarantine facilities.
As a form of aid to the residents, the city government distributed fresh vegetables, fish, and chickens to households “to prevent them from eating relief goods for a prolong period that is detrimental to health.”
The strategy was also proven effective because it boosted the economic activities of the farmers, fishermen, and other agricultural workers.
For the vaccination rollout, the City Government used the big commercial malls in the city and the 4,500-seating capacity Tacloban Convention Center (Astrodome) as mega-vaccination centers.
Vaccination activities also took place in seven City Health District Centers, mobile vaccination, house-to-house visitation, and drive-thru vaccination sites as venues for mass vaccination rollout.
The City also hosted regular vaccination campaign activities through press conferences and the distribution of information and educational materials.
Asked by what barometer can the public tell that Tacloban was able to spend its Covid-19 funds well, Romualdez said the number of Covid-19 cases in the city vis-à-vis the mortality rate.
“For two years, we only have 162 deaths out of 8,219 cases. Economic activity has been restored earlier than expected,” Romualdez said.
Tacloban, the first and only highly urbanized city in the region with over 251,000 people, did not implement lockdowns, even during the Covid Alert Level 3 from January 14 to January 31, 2022.
Romualdez maintained that imposing lockdowns in Tacloban “will not only affect the city but the entire region.”
“We need to adjust for others. It will be inhumane to [declare] lockdown in Tacloban,” Romualdez earlier said
Tacloban, the main gateway to Luzon, Mindanao, and other parts of the Visayas regions, has one airport, one seaport, and two terminals.
Under Alert Level 3, activities or establishments shall be allowed to operate or be undertaken at a maximum of 30 percent indoor venue capacity for fully vaccinated individuals only and 50-percent outdoor venue capacity, provided that all workers of the establishments are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
According to Lacanilao, using hotels and inns has helped contain the pandemic.
“In that sense, it keeps the business afloat because of the government. In the midst of the pandemic, it’s a good thing that there is like this that helps the hotel,” the city administrator said.
While he maintained that the “general economy is moribund” during the pandemic, the use of hotels also “helped a little.”
In the Commission on Audit (COA) annual audit report (AAR) covering the combined financial statement of Calendar Year (CY) 2021 of Tacloban, it noted that “with the rollout of the covid-19 vaccine and responsive governance adopted by the LGU, Tacloban city has shown considerable recovery from the pandemic.”
“A protective stance was enabled, cognizant of the City’s position as the regional economic and social hub. Toward this end, implementation of control and disease surveillance measures was further upped to ensure the health of not only Taclobanons, but the entire region as well,” COA said.
“The gains of the city were marked by its recognition in the 2021 Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness Index of the Department of Trade and Industry as 2nd Most Improved Highly Urbanized City in the Philippines,” the COA notes read.
On the status implementation of prior year’s unimplemented audit recommendations, the COA indicated “implemented” after it recommended the City Accountant “to maintain the records on cash donations received by the City in order to provide donors with the necessary information of their utilization, when requested.”
Lacanilao maintained that regarding COA observations, he did not remember anything “alarming” on the Covid fund spending.
“Wala akong nakita, di ko naalala, maski sa General Fund. Nothing alarming for me,” the city administrator said.
“Kasi ganito, e. Tiningnan ng COA…pag inayos na iyan, mawala na ang observation. Walang alarming, honestly,” Lacanilao added.
This story is part of the journalism fellowship of the Philippine Press Institute under the auspices of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.