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It is often said that one should not go to battle unarmed. In the long-drawn fight against COVID-19, knowing which tools to wield in response is critical: Rear Admiral Alberto “Abet” B. Carlos has thus chosen prudence, expertise, and effective leadership.

These are the qualities which he exercises daily as the current Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics (J4) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), as well as Chairperson of the Technical Inspection and Acceptance Committees for the Frigate and Anti-Submarine Helicopters Acquisition Projects. These are the same qualities he was recognized for as a 2014 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Soldier and 2019 Metrobank Foundation Award for Continuing Excellence and Service (ACES) recipient.

At the helm of AFP’s arm for logistics, RAdm Carlos’ role is critical in the ongoing efforts to combat the pandemic as major aspects are anchored on logistics—from procurement and distribution of supplies and equipment to inter-agency coordination. At the center of all these massive and interconnected operations is the J4 team.

“I have reached a position in the AFP that made me realize that the quality of my decisions and actions can affect the way my organization reacts to unprecedented challenges,” he shared. “The kind of direction, pace, planning, preparation, and due diligence that I exact on myself and those I work with has a direct impact on the situation on the ground.”

Bolstering the government’s response capacity

COVID-19 presented a unique scenario that required new strategies, resources, and logistics requirements. With RAdm Carlos’ leadership, the J4 team took charge of the swift procurement of supplies, without which majority of response initiatives will be paralyzed.

“We had to act in haste but not in panic. Our soldiers are being deployed and we need to make sure that they are protected. We cannot simply ask them to compensate the lack of protection with pure grit and courage, which is not a rare commodity in the AFP. We need to protect them so they may protect the most vulnerable members of the community without disruption,” shared RAdm Carlos.

The J4 team’s duty covers logistics and transportation support as its contribution to the Joint Task Force National Capital Region (JTFNCR). They mobilize troops to perform the unconventional task of transporting medical professionals and facilitating the acquisition, acceptance, and distribution of medical supplies to hospitals and quarantine facilities.

Part of this is Libreng Sakay, an initiative devised to transport health care providers, food and sanitation industry workers, military personnel and other front liners from their places of work to their homes and back. The J4 team sourced several buses that went to and from major hospitals in Metro Manila which helped ferry over 16,000 passengers.

Further, RAdm Carlos’ team spearheads the efforts of the Sub Task Group Logistics under the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF). They handle demand and supply projections, allocation and delivery scenarios, and inter-agency collaboration.

The J4 Team provided transportation and fuel requirements related to setting up more than 80 quarantine facilities and allocated additional funds to transform a five-storey condominium building into a quarantine facility.

Additionally, as the AFP’s top logisticians, members of the J4 Team were tapped by the IATF to take a lead role in the Task Group on the management of returning overseas Filipino workers to help bring their kababayan home safely.

DOH’s ally in service

The Department of Health (DOH) needed reinforcement to face an unprecedented national emergency; RADm Carlos’ team came onboard to help.

The J4 team provided DOH more and bigger warehouses for storage of medical supplies, which also serve as a center for distribution and monitoring. They also took charge in sourcing the needed vehicles—117 military trucks—deployed to the DOH warehouse for distribution purposes.

Moreover, they offered extra pairs of hands to haul and distribute donated and procured items. The increase in the flow of these crucial provisions meant more front liners can perform their duty and help more Filipinos.

Ready to respond whenever, wherever

RAdm Carlos believes that an organization’s good practice defines its capacity to respond to any eventuality. The J4 team sets an example of how preparation and prudence spell a substantial difference in addressing a crisis.

Long before the pandemic broke out in the country, the J4 team had always made sure that the AFP has adequate and readily accessible resources should uniformed personnel be called to action.

As a prelude to COVID-19 response, RADm Carlos led the J4 in resource management for POL (Petroleum, Oil, and Lubricants) of the AFP.

“How far and how long an operation can be sustained is dependent largely on the amount of POL that can be accessed throughout a military campaign. POL is the bloodline that enables troop movement and the critical transport of supplies,” emphasized RAdm Carlos.

With his supervision, the J4 generated a significant amount of savings on POL totaling more than PhP 380 million. Apart from this, RAdm Carlos was able to preposition in strategic areas around the country a total of 400,000 liters of gas and 1 million liters of diesel with an estimated value of PhP 65 million.

Fast forward to 2020, these measures made it possible for the AFP to swiftly respond and operate without downtime during the pandemic.

As he continues to lead his team during this crisis, RAdm Carlos believes there is much to be done for the Filipinos. He says, “achievements are good only if we apply them to actions for the greater good of the nation and the people we serve. Every serviceman of the AFP is giving his best, but this war is not just ours to fight. We have to work together to defend ourselves so that, very soon, we can reset the time, make the world turn again and go out and enjoy the life and liberties we once had.”

Through his example, RAdm Carlos hopes to bring to light the dedication of the military during this pandemic; that when the situation calls for it, one faces the challenge head on and inspires others to do the same.

The Metrobank Foundation, Inc. (MBFI) successfully conducted the very first Metrobank Foundation Fellowship in Public Service (FPS) Conversations last October 13, 2020. In celebration of the International Day on Disaster Reduction, the inaugural leg of the FPS webinar series focused on the theme, “Disaster Management.”

Dr. Carla Dimalanta, 2018 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipino Teacher, and Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar, 2019 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipino Soldier, shed light on the interplay of equally crucial approaches in handling disasters such as preparedness, response, and recovery.

Dr. Dimalanta from the University of the Philippines Diliman highlighted the role of Geophysics in assessing geo-hazards and identifying vulnerable areas during her presentation entitled “Knowing Without Seeing: Geophysics in Disaster Management and Resource Assessment.” She shared how this knowledge, in turn, aids in the development of responses as well as equipping residents to better handle such phenomena.

Dr. Dimalanta is the only female Exploration Geophysicist with a doctoral degree in the country. Her work includes helping identify community-specific measures on climate change adaptation and disaster risk management.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Baldomar of the Philippine Army presented the “Role of the Military during Humanitarian Emergencies.” He discussed how the military serves as frontliners in providing significant resources and extending aid to communities during disasters and calamities. One scenario he cited is the work done by the forces, in collaboration with other relevant organizations and the civil society, in mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lt. Col. Baldomar has served in the military force for over two decades. His experience involves participation in several humanitarian emergencies and responses to various forms of disasters.

“What we aim to do in the Inaugural FPS Conversations is to raise the awareness of technological advancement as well as share knowledge acquired from years of experience and study, which contribute to the prevention and reduction of detrimental effects of disasters and calamites,” said Metrobank Foundation president Mr. Aniceto Sobrepeña. He added that the conversations allowed the participants to better appreciate the efforts towards ensuring an efficient and timely delivery of humanitarian assistance to affected communities.

Approximately 200 participants from the academe, government, and civil society registered and participated via Zoom and Facebook Live. Next on FPS Conversations are topics including, How not to be a victim of Cybercrime/Online sexual exploitation and Integrating Genomics in Clinical Practice towards Precision Medicine.

To re-watch the full-length webinar, you may head over to this link bit.ly/33TeCcQ, or visit the Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos Facebook page.

Ingenuity must thrive inside and outside the classroom and, even, amidst crisis. This is the wisdom that Ms. Ma. Regaele A. Olarte, 2016 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipino Teacher, strives to sustain, especially now as she, her students, and co-teachers find themselves at the center of changes due to the pandemic.

One of the ways she does so is by continuing to lend her expertise as a science educator and Education Program Supervisor in the Department of Education (DepEd) Division of Muntinlupa. Now, a normal day for her consists of balancing and assisting in the implementation of various programs and projects in her Division, performing the duties of a pregnant work-form-home mom, and pursuing her doctorate degree at the University of the Philippines-Open University.

Good news greeted Ms. Olarte and her family before the onset of the Enhanced Community Quarantine in Metro Manila—she is pregnant with her third child. While this has placed her in the list of high risk or vulnerable groups, she copes with the situation by helping others get through this crisis.

Having this full plate is as tough as it sounds. Ms. Olarte, nonetheless, finds fulfillment in dedicating her service for other people. “I continue to offer whatever kind of service I can readily give to help other people during these times, because in that way, I also help myself in equal measure. Whether completing my daily tasks or delivering services beyond my duty, I never get burned out because I put joy in everything that I do,” she revealed.

Learning goes on

On top of her regular work, Ms. Olarte designs and produces numerous advocacy materials promoting the importance of continuing education amid the pandemic.

Her experience in enhancing and modifying instruction materials can be traced back several years ago when she was tapped to be one of the national authors of the DepEd Learners’ Materials, Teachers’ Guides, and other curriculum materials as part of the shift to the DepEd K-12 program.

At present, she serves as both writer and validator of self-learning modules for distance learning. In this capacity, she also actively disseminates relevant information on module utilization and shares her knowledge on module development among other writers nationwide.

Some of the materials designed and produced by Ms. Olarte

Science for the community and the future

Ms. Olarte is perhaps best known for promoting invention-driven instruction and enhancing science education in her school and in Muntinlupa. In her class, she empowers her students to observe, innovate, and explore their potential.

In 2008, Ms. Olarte initiated a program called “Invention-Driven Instructional Design and Innovation Transfer (I-DID IT)” geared towards balancing formal classroom-based instruction with finding solutions to real-life problems. The name itself underscores the maker-oriented nature of the initiative.

With I-DID IT, learners become creators, builders, designers, and producers by generating ideas, designing investigations, and implementing sustainable solutions that benefit their community.

Students have won in various invention and project-making competitions both locally and internationally. They were even able to patent their brainchild through the support of their school and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). This program is being implemented in the Division of Muntinlupa to this day.

Ms. Olarte believes that students’ curiosity and inventiveness continue to flourish despite the changes in the learning environment. She shared that through the Science Blog she started years ago, many students from all over country still reach out to her to consult about the conduct of scientific research and investigatory projects.

“This 2020 has shown us that the society is desperately in need of the next generation of problem-solvers, innovators, and inventors. By igniting the innate creativity and ingenuity of our Filipino learners, we’ll be able to “future-proof” our youth and create the resilience needed to meet global challenges, thus preparing our citizens for an ever-changing future,” she said.

Another notable impact of the I-DID IT program is the construction of the first-ever Chlorella Micro-farm in the Philippines, made possible by Ms. Olarte and her colleague and co-inventor, Jason Albaro.

This micro-farm is expected to yield algae harvest that can be turned into food supplements, medicine, and food fortification ingredients which will help address food security challenges in this new normal.

When the micro-farm was still a project proposal in 2019, it bested entries from all over the world in the Zayed Sustainability Prize hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government. It is an annual award recognizing “impactful, innovative and inspiring sustainability solutions” in health, food, energy, water and global high schools.

Ms. Olarte receiving the Zayed Sustainability Prize for the Chlorella Micro-farm project proposal in 2019

Ms. Olarte and Mr. Albaro received a grant from the UAE government to enable further development of the project. They are also closely coordinating with the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) and DOST for its sustainable operation.

Recently, Ms. Olarte presented the I-DID IT program to the Senate Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, Innovation, and Futures Thinking during the Public Hearing on Senate Resolution Nos. 393 and 413. Also, her team created a website that details the project’s features, core thrusts, and activities.

Indeed, duty always calls, and Ms. Olarte is undeterred to respond whenever and however she can. She hopes that during this challenging period, her fellow teachers find joy in their ability to guide learners.

She has this to say, “remember that your labor is not in vain because every seed that you have sown in the lives of the students will eventually grow and bear much fruit in the future. Every act of selfless service can be much bigger and impactful than we realize. We can always choose to make a positive difference by tapping into our own strengths and abilities, sharing them, and matching them to the right opportunities.”

The strength of a collective is a formidable response against any crisis. This is the wisdom that Police Brigadier General Rhodel Orden Sermonia carries with him as a public servant. For him, an initiative can achieve maximum impact only if it is inclusive and collaborative.

PBGen. Sermonia, 2003 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipino and 2019 Metrobank Foundation Award for Continuing Excellence and Service (ACES) recipient, has long made community empowerment as his lifelong advocacy. “I believe that people’s mobilization is an important trust-building mechanism in thrusting a successful drive against criminality, terrorism, substance abuse, and, corruption,” he said.

As the incumbent Regional Director of the Police Regional Office 3 (PRO 3) in Camp Olivas, San Fernando, Pampanga, this rings true as he leads his comrades towards enhancing their programs for the community in the face of the pandemic.

In November 2019, PBGen. Sermonia took the helm of the PRO 3 and has since introduced several strategies to bolster their campaign against criminality in all its forms. All these are rooted in genuine partnership with the people and industry partners.

These include the establishment of the Joint Industrial Peace Concerns Office (JIPCO) to boost efforts to combat insurgency, and the Kabataan Kontra Droga at Terorismo (KKDAT) to promote youth development.

Further, part of their holistic approach to community development is providing equal focus on safety and environment through the Kaligtasan at Kalikasan (KALIGKASAN) program which was recently expanded to include food security and peace-building efforts.

The PRO 3 also has the Rektang Bayanihan program which provides support to vulnerable sectors across all barangays, as well as the Bahay Pagbabago Recovery and Wellness Program which promotes rehabilitation of illegal drugs users who have surrendered.

Taken together, these massive mobilization efforts targeted to the grassroots continue to provide concrete solutions to some of the challenges in the region. More importantly, these were adapted by PBGen. Sermonia and his colleagues to better serve the residents of Central Luzon as they grapple with the disruptive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Accelerating solutions towards food security

During this difficult period where disparities become more pronounced, PBGen. Sermonia equips his team to amplify interventions and better respond to the people’s call for help.

At the onset of the pandemic, the PRO 3’s programs were modified to mitigate the effects of the community quarantines especially among the urban poor as their livelihood and means to provide for their families were disrupted.

PBGen. Sermonia sought to find ways to alleviate the food crisis confronting the residents. The PRO 3 thus modified their Food Bank project. The Food Bank seeks to store up ample supply of food to so that when calamity strikes, the PRO3 can promptly mobilize relief operations for affected communities.

“I believe that access to food is a right and not a privilege,” shared PBGen. Sermonia.

The PRO 3 raised over PhP 14,300,00 worth of food and other essential items from various donors for the Food Bank.

The PRO 3 aimed to address the immediate needs of the communities through various relief operations

The efforts of PRO 3’s partners were able to soften the impact of the lockdown, especially during the first three weeks of the enhanced community quarantine. Such proactive response during that period proved to be significant, especially since the support provided Social Amelioration Program (SAP) was yet to be released and local government units were still reeling from the economic loss brought by the lockdown.

Further, PRO 3 joined hands with the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) to reach out to the members of the labor sector. On April 30, they distributed grocery packs, sacks of rice, and dressed chickens to around 2,000 locals comprised of market vendors, drivers, factory workers, and farmers across the region.

This activity was a prelude to another relief operation conducted during the national observation of Labor Day on May 1. Close to 210,000 families have benefitted from this partnership as of July 2020.

Related to this initiative is the Food Highway Project which led to the establishment of express lanes as well as a logistics system to facilitate faster and more secured movement of food products from the farmers and other food producers of Luzon to the buyers from the National Capital Region and other parts of the country.

The PRO 3 also decentralized the implementation of its KALIGKASAN Eco-Park and Urban Gardening programs to provinces to empower Philippine National Police (PNP) provincial offices to respond to the food emergencies caused by the lockdown. This meant that identified local spaces or lots were utilized for urban gardening.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) guarantees the duration of the lease for an agreed period at no cost to the police stations. To date, a total of 162 donors are registered in the entire Region 3 signifying that their lots are cultivated for gardening.

The PRO 3’s urban gardening programs seek to provide an alternative means for residents to provide food for their families

In support of these efforts, the Department of Agriculture (DA) brought its Kadiwa market to Camp Olivas on May 29, 2020. This sought to provide a market for the farmers and fisherfolks while providing affordable and quality produce and goods to the citizens.

Amplifying efforts to serve the community

PBGen. Sermonia and his colleagues aim to extend support however they can. They promptly implemented the barangay house tagging as part of the Patrulya ng Bayan program.

The barangay house tagging operates under four main objectives. First, it aids in contact tracing or identification of probable infected persons and those they got in contact with in the past two weeks. Second, it identifies indigent families who are entitled to various government assistance such as the SAP. Third, it similarly finds supposed beneficiaries of SAP but were excluded from the list for them to avail of PRO 3’s Rektang Bayanihan relief goods. Lastly, it also serves as an opportunity to spot criminal elements whose movements were hampered when the lockdown started.

Moreover, the PRO 3 carried out a police caravan to recognize the hard work of the region’s front liners. They stationed in front of different hospitals in Central Luzon and offered simple but welcome respite through lighthearted entertainment.

They also gave out personal protective equipment (PPEs) during the activity to express their admiration and snappiest salute to the medical workers who work round-the-clock to save lives.

A police caravan was conducted for the region’s medical front liners

Their Rektang Libreng Sakay program also provided means of mobility to locally stranded individuals (LSI), returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), persons in emergency situations, and other front liners. A total of 4,874 individuals across Central Luzon benefitted in the activity, foremost among which were returning OFWs who were assisted by the PNP, in partnership with members of the Global Peace Community Relations (GPCR).

The PRO 3 provided means of mobility through the Rektang Libreng Sakay program

Indeed, PBGen. Sermonia and his comrades demonstrate that every situation is rife with opportunities to serve, no matter how big or small the contribution is. The PRO 3’s stakeholder-centered responses not only enhance community relations but significantly support the citizens as the entire region strives to bounce back from the impacts of the pandemic.

“Serving the people, securing the land.” Such is the byword of the uniformed men and women who are in the frontlines safeguarding the nation from all forms of threats.

It is the same rallying cry that continues to inspire Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. as he takes on, perhaps, one of the biggest responsibilities in his storied career. He was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as the Chief Implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) in charge of overseeing the country’s National Action Plan (NAP) against the COVID-19 pandemic.

This role also entails enforcing the policies issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases. This puts Sec. Galvez at the helm of the government’s operational arm in confronting and mitigating the impacts of the long-drawn health crisis.

Sec. Carlito Galvez heads the National Task Force in implementing the country’s action plan to combat the COVID-19.

A retired Chief of Staff, he is no stranger to daunting tasks that come with leadership roles. Galvez was the Commander of the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) where he led the liberation of Marawi City from the hands of the ISIS-inspired Maute group. He was also the Chairman of the Government of the Philippines Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (GPH-CCCH), a mechanism under the GPH and Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace process that ensures potential situations of conflict between the two parties are resolved immediately. In 2018, his name made headlines again upon being selected as the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity.

In a crisis where critical elements are at play, Sec. Galvez’s duty as the Chief Implementer involves prioritizing the welfare of millions of Filipinos, particularly in protecting their health and safety. This job, he admits, is a challenging one, as there are times when he feels the weight of the job on his shoulders given its scope and magnitude.

Despite these, what prevails is his drive to serve his countrymen. Sec. Galvez recalled how he did not have second thoughts when the President offered him the post of Presidential Peace Adviser and, later, as Chief Implementer.

Sec. Galvez addresses the public and the media

“I knew that the position would give me another opportunity to serve our fellow Filipinos after my stint with the military. This was the same feeling I had when the President appointed me to be the NAP’s Chief Implementer. I knew that the job would be a very challenging one, but I wholeheartedly accepted it,” he shared.

Game Plan Towards a Better Normal for Filipinos

Filipinos from all walks of life have grappled with the impact of the pandemic over the past months. The NTF thus set in motion a multi-pronged plan to address issues across all fronts.

According to Sec. Galvez, one of the key steps undertaken by the task force is to ensure the NAP’s effective implementation at the national level, and cascading it to the local level. This involves engaging the public and obtaining their full support.

The NAP is anchored on the End-to-End “T3” Strategy which means trace, test, and treat. It is divided into various lines of effort, namely prevention, detection, isolation, treatment, and reintegration, which will enable the nation to adapt to the new normal.

Now on its second phase, the NAP seeks to strike a balance between ensuring the health and safety of the people and reviving the nation’s economy.

Working closely with partners and relevant institutions to carry out necessary interventions to address the health crisis

While the road to recovery might seem elusive, Sec. Galvez stated that the strong collaboration among stakeholders brings the Philippines closer to its goal. Case in point, the task force’s partnership with the private sector and local government units paved the way for the donation of more than two million personal protective equipment to frontliners, and the establishment of testing laboratories, swabbing centers, and quarantine facilities across the regions.

“We are focused on further strengthening the government’s partnership with the private sector, whose invaluable contribution has enabled us to provide better protection for our front liners and establish more health quarantine facilities nationwide,” he said.

Monitoring the situation and putting in place measures to curb the spread of the virus

He emphasized how the government continues to ramp up the country’s testing and contact tracing capabilities, provide support to local businesses, and encourage greater public participation in the government’s COVID-19 response efforts.

Further, Sec. Galvez understands the plight of Filipinos as they face an unseen, formidable enemy. He recognizes that everyone’s lives have been altered one way or another in the transition to a new normal.

With the many challenges the nation is facing, he stressed that he, along with his colleagues in the National Task Force, are allies of the people. Most of all, he, too, is a Filipino who must face the day-to-day challenges brought about by the global health crisis.

“Aside from being a former soldier and peace worker, I am also a husband, father, and brother. This is also what motivates me to do my job to the best of my ability. I know that what I am doing will not only have an impact on the people that I serve, but also on my family. I always ask myself the question ‘Will this measure or policy protect my family?” Sec. Galvez said.

Amidst all the challenges, his message to all Filipinos is one of optimism and encouragement.

The fight is far from over but he believes that people must not lose hope—the Philippines can get back on its feet if everyone continues to unite and help each other.

This is the reason, Galvez said, why the government is now focused on addressing the situation of the nation’s most vulnerable sectors, especially locally stranded individuals (LSIs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) who have been infected with the disease.

“The government is doing its best to help our LSIs and ROFs. They have gone through a lot. It is our responsibility not only to ensure their safe return to their home provinces, but also to help them recover from the trauma they have experienced,” he pointed out.

According to the chief implementer, aside from addressing the health conditions of these LSIs and ROFs, there is also a need to put equal importance on the state of their mental health which has also been affected by the health crisis.

“We must not only help them recover physically, but also assist them in coping with the psychological impact of the disease. The physical and mental well-being of patients should go hand in hand,” he stressed.

Galvez noted that LGUs will play a crucial role in this effort, as they will have to help create an environment where LSIs and ROFs will feel secure upon their return to their communities and not feel discriminated upon.

He said that it is through this integrated and holistic strategy that the government hopes to contain the spread of the disease, identify, isolate and treat patients as quickly as possible, and prevent the further loss of lives.

Sec. Galvez has this to say, “Our nation and the rest of the world are facing a crisis like we have never seen before. It has not only impacted our health, but also our social order, economy, peace and security. All aspects of our life as citizens have been upended, as we undergo the difficult process of coping with these changes. I have no doubt, however, that we shall overcome this pandemic, and emerge better, stronger and more resilient than before. We can do this by working together and looking out for each other. Tapang. Malasakit. Bayanihan. Together, we heal as one, we recover as one.”

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals have continued to be at the service of all Filipinos and performed their duty nonstop with little to no respite. This is what the new normal looks like for Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco-de la Paz, who remains committed to fulfill her obligations to the country and her institution during this time of public health crisis.

In 2019, Dr. Eva was named one of the 10 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos. She dons many hats as an educator, physician, and researcher. With this, work has never halted and series of engagements have constantly required her attention, especially now that she is actively involved in efforts to aid the government in the COVID-19 response.

She revealed what she considers her anchor during this period. “I am still overwhelmed with grief upon losing friends and colleagues in the medical profession due to COVID-19. What keeps me going is knowing that despite our present circumstances, God is sovereign and in control,” said Dr. Eva.

As the Executive Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), University of the Philippines (UP) Manila, the greatest obstacle Dr. Eva currently faces is accepting that she cannot always be physically where the action is. This is due to her lung condition which puts her in the high-risk category for COVID-19.

With the aid of technology, however, she can perform all her crucial work. She oversees the NIH COVID-19 Testing Laboratory operations, trains Genetics fellows using the telegenetics platform, and coordinates UP’s training assistance to the Department of Health (DOH) and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM). She also meets with donors and constituents online, serves as a keynote speaker in webinars, and even presents in the Senate public hearing on education and health.

Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco-de la Paz is a Professor 10 of the College of Medicine and Executive Director of the National Institutes of Health both in University of the Philippines Manila. She also serves as Director for the Health Program of the Philippine Genome Center. She was named one of the 2019 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos.

It took a village to build a COVID-19 Testing Lab

The UP Manila National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) name has been doing rounds in the media recently, and rightly so. The institution is one of the first responders to the country’s call for an expanded COVID-19 testing capacity.

All hands were on deck as, within a span of two laborious weeks, Dr. Eva and her fellow doctors set up the stringent measures required for a testing laboratory. They immediately started testing for COVID-19 upon passing the necessary assessments.

Indeed, the NIH offered a silver lining just when the country needed it most. Dr. Eva has this to say about the work that her institution has achieved, “The NIH responded quickly and appropriately when the country needed testing labs at the start of the pandemic. It also had a mindset to be resourceful and always find a way to serve the testing needs of patients in the hospitals and quarantine centers.”

Frontliners working hard at the UP National Institutes of Health (NIH) COVID-19 Testing Laboratory

Putting up the laboratory, however, was only half the battle. During its first weeks of operation, the laboratory was efficiently run by around 30 volunteer staff from the NIH Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (NIMBB) who, despite their willingness to focus on the undertaking, all had to return to their respective projects after a certain period. This need for manpower prompted NIH to hire new staff who now comprise the new COVID-19 Testing Team through the Human Resource for Health Program of DOH.

The Laboratory frontliner volunteers who helped make sure that the UP NIH COVID-19 Testing Laboratory is ready to serve the people’s testing needs

Further, the laboratory does not have any budget of its own to perform the COVID-19 testing. Despite this, the team has conducted over 20,000 tests to date and not charged a single centavo. This was possible through the outpouring of support from the DOH, RITM, Philippine General Hospital, and several private donors that came in the form of swabs, kits, and other supplies crucial to testing. They were able to serve the PGH patients as well as 29 other hospitals and community quarantine centers within their area.

Receiving donations which help support the operations of the testing laboratory

Equipping a league of front liners

The abilities to test, trace, and treat are vital in curbing the spread of the pandemic. Aside from expanding the capability of existing laboratories and building new ones across the regions, proper training is required to equip all personnel who will handle the COVID-19 testing.

This is where the NIH as well as other UP institutes and centers also came in. Dr. Eva, together with volunteer faculty and research assistants from the NIH National Training Center for Biosafety and Biosecurity (NTCBB), UP Diliman NIMBB and UP Philippine Genome Center (PGC), created online modules for the DOH and RITM training assistance program. The online modules cover two important areas: biosafety and molecular biology techniques.


The Biosafety Education and Awareness Training (BEAT COVID-19) is designed to provide core concepts of basic biosafety and biosecurity practices including risk assessment, bio-containment facilities, as well as basics of personal protective equipment (PPEs), disinfection, sterilization and decontamination, and waste management of biological material.

The DOH designated the NIH NTCBB to be the training provider. To date, the training has graduated more than 2,688 trainees nationwide, many of whom are already employed as laboratorians in different accredited laboratories.

The UP COLlab, on the other hand, is the online learning lab for RT-PCR testing. This online course is composed of lectures designed to provide the conceptual framework as well as overview of the testing workflow and protocols needed to perform the RT-PCR based diagnostic test for COVID-19. This is then followed by hands-on training.

It has been provided by the University for free, along with food and training materials. The DOH has recognized these efforts and is now funding the implementation.

Combating this pandemic has truly necessitated concerted action. Dr. Eva believes that fortitude will also help Filipinos confront this health crisis. “We all need to be resilient—able to cope with adversity and use challenges to forge strength and prosperity. Although we are still in the middle of abnormal times, we should still be moving forward to find best ways to provide better health care for the next generation,” she said.

Dr. Eva’s story, as well the stories of other individuals and institutions dedicating their energy to combat the pandemic, tells the power of solidarity and shared purpose. The fight may be far from over but hope persists—it lies in every Filipino driven to extend a helping hand.

Since its inception, the Metrobank Foundation, Inc. (MBFI), through the annual Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos, has sought to uphold a culture of excellence by recognizing exemplary public servants in the academe, military, and police sectors. Last November 2019, we launched the 2020 cycle of the OF Award, and conducted a nationwide series of information campaigns and nominations to search this year’s batch of laudable teachers, soldiers, and police officers.

In the midst of these activities, we suddenly find ourselves confronted by the challenges brought about by COVID-19 pandemic that has adversely affected every Filipino’s lives. We thus took the necessary measures and followed protocols in containing the spread of the virus.

While alternative solutions were considered to carry out the proceeding phases of the Award, and even as we acknowledged the hard work of everyone who submitted their nominations, our continuous monitoring of our national situation has brought us to a difficult decision to defer the 2020 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos. We believe that the health and safety of everyone takes precedence during these challenging times.

We will wait for the right time for the Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipinos Award to return. Until then, we stand in solidarity with the government, all sectors, and the Filipino people in seeing an end to this pandemic.

Should you have other questions regarding this decision, please contact us through all our social media accounts. You may also send an email to [email protected].

MBFI is praying for everyone to remain healthy and safe. Thank you for your continued support and understanding.

The Metrobank Foundation, Inc. (MBFI) held separate turnover ceremonies on May 15 to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) for its P1.84 million worth of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) donation. Held at Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo and Camp Rafael Crame in Quezon City, respectively, the donation includes 109,200 pairs of surgical gloves and 10,000 N95 masks which will benefit more than 12,000 AFP and PNP frontliners tasked to implement community protocols in this time of the pandemic.

MBFI executive director Nicanor Torres Jr. led the turnover ceremonies at the AFP grounds through the presence of AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Felimon Santos, and 2015 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipino (OF) Soldiers AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics RAdm. Alberto Carlos and AFP Adjutant General BGen. Maxima Ignacio.

“The AFP extends its gratitude to the MBFI in the battle against COVID-19. Their sincere desire to help the country’s imperilled frontliners continue to inspire soldiers on the ground to better perform their duties towards winning the fight against the dreaded virus,” expressed Gen. Santos.

On the other hand, PNP Chief Archie Gamboa, PNP Directorate for Logistics Director P/MGen. Edwin Roque, PNP Directorate for Logistics Deputy Director P/BGen. Domingo Cabillan and 2018 OF Police Officer PNP Logistics Support Service Director P/BGen. Pascual Muñoz received the donation.

“The global community, on their part, has come together to spread love and kindness through volunteer work and support through donation of the much needed Personal Protective Equipment. In the Philippines, we are proud to have Metrobank Foundation in our midst, to partner with the Philipine National Police in our COVID-19 response through their donation,” said P/BGen. Muñoz.

Earlier in April, 2,000 sets of PPEs consisting of hazardous material suits, face shields, N95 masks, gloves, and shoe covers were donated to Victoriano Luna General Hospital, Veterans Memorial Medical Center and PNP General Hospital in Quezon City. AFP and PNP institutions are valued institutional partners of MBFI in the implementation of its corporate social responsibility initiatives. Annually, MBFI recognizes exemplary teachers, soldiers and police officers for rendering service beyond their call of duties through OF.

The donation is part of the P200 million pledge by Metrobank and GT Capital Holdings Group to fund and support efforts to combat the pandemic and help those in need. The amount was allocated for the purchase of personal protective equipment to benefit healthcare and security frontliners; support for the production of testing kits through the UP National Institutes of Health; ‘Project Ugnayan’ led by the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation; distribution of meals and food packs to underprivileged families; set-up of a molecular laboratory for the testing of cases through the Philippine Red Cross; and project ARK (Antibody Rapid test Kits) of GoNegosyo (Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship Foundation).


Photos courtesy of PNP and AFP PIO.

Metrobank Foundation President Aniceto Sobrepeña (rightmost) and Department of Education (DepEd) Curriculum and Instruction Undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio (leftmost) confer the Metrobank Foundation Fellows in Public Service title to 2019 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipino Teachers Dr. Cristina Cristobal (second to the left) and Dr. Dorothy Tarol last Feb. 12 at the Bulwagan ng Karunungan, DepEd Complex, Pasig City.

Newly conferred Metrobank Foundation Fellows in Public Service proposed to restore Philippine History in the high school curriculum and mainstream inclusive instruction to Department of Education (DepEd) officials and members of the academe last February 12 at the Bulwagan ng Karunungan, DepEd Complex, Pasig City.

Veteran history teacher and 2019 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipino Dr. Cristina Cristobal presented the need to revive Philippine History in high school, a subject previously removed by DepEd in the K-12 program. She also proposed the inclusion of teaching Philippine Government and Constitution for a school year, a bid she successfully pushed for in the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) System’s social science curriculum.

“Many of our students lack affection for history because of the traditional method that is used, but perhaps there is a way to love history. We’re not only teaching them facts, we want them to become critical thinkers,” said Dr. Cristobal.

The legacy of Dr. Cristobal, Quezon City’s Veteran Innovator in History Instruction, in PSHS can be best captured by her initiative to inspire changes to the students’ perspective towards learning history. She believes exposing students to primary sources provides evidence-based approach to learning.

Another 2019 Metrobank Foundation Outstanding Filipino and special education teacher Dr. Dorothy Tarol, meanwhile, proposed the mainstreaming of her action research on inclusive instruction nationwide. Entitled “Buddy-Mediated Instruction (BMI): Pivotal Strategy for Spelling and Social Skills for Students with Hearing Impairment,” the study aims to develop a student’s basic literacy skills through pairing of two “buddies” who engage in learner initiated-activities.

According to Dr. Tarol, she hopes to “help teachers by sharing information about evidence-based instructional strategy for struggling readers by creating reading literacy experiences relevant to students’ interests, everyday life and to current environmental events.” BMI, as an instructional strategy, also became a benchmark model in DepEd Divisions of Iloilo and Iloilo City and was already replicated by around 178 schools.

Dubbed as Western Visayas’ Paragon of Inclusive Education, Dr. Tarol has shifted her teaching career to cater to students with disabilities at the Special Education-Integrated School for Exceptional Children in Iloilo City. She has since devoted her life’s work onto shaping an environment conducive for learners of all kinds.

Both proposals were deliberated in a roundtable discussion with Curriculum and Instruction Undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio, Assistant Secretary Alma Ruby Torio and officers from the DepEd Bureau of Education Assessment, Alternative Learning System Program Task Force, National Educator’s Academy of the Philippines, National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines and PSHS.

Through the Metrobank Foundation Fellowship in Public Service, professional milestones and personal life stories of the awardees are brought to the fore. Achievements that result to positive change and innovations that address major societal concerns are highlighted and widely shared.

The Metrobank Foundation, Inc. (MBFI) was recognized as “Philanthropic Foundation of the Year” (Profiles in Excellence Award) during the 72nd anniversary celebration of the American Association of the Philippines (AAP) on February 29, 2020 at the Manila Ballroom of the Marriott Hotel Manila in Pasay City.

Photo shows MBFI president Aniceto Sobrepeña (center) accepting the recognition from AAP chairman Rick Sobreviñas (6th from right) joined by wife Anna Sobrepeña (6th from left); Metrobank executive vice president Vivian Lee-Tiu (3rd from left); Metrobank senior vice president Digs Dimagiba (3rd from right); Metrobank vice president and MBFI executive committee member Joey Mapa III (5th from right); Metrobank assistant vice president Zarah Hernandez (4th from left), and MBFI assistant executive director Irene Labitad (4th from right).

AAP has always been in the forefront of American-Filipino relations for over half a century. It has established strong ties with the expat American community, returning Filipino-Americans who resettled back in the country, and the Philippine government. It continues to recognize the achievements and accomplishments of its members and key business and community leaders who are making a difference globally.

Metrobank Foundation, Inc.

10th floor, Annex Building
Metrobank Plaza, Sen Gil Puyat Ave., Makati City 1200

(02) 8857-9746 / (02) 8898-8855
(02) 8818-5656 / (02) 8750-0837

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