Virgilio Varde, a 77-year-old farmer, took the long trip from from Naga City in Camarines Sur to Makati City to avail of the city government's P5,000-cash aid for its registered voters.
Varde is a registered voter in Makati, entitling him to the cash aid offered under Makati's economic aid program. Makati Mayor Abby Binay earlier said that the aid will be distributed through electronic money transfer app GCash, and that the city government will assist those who have no GCash account in creating one.
Varde, however, did not want to take any risks so he traveled all the way to Makati to personally receive the money. He needed the aid for his personal expenses, and also to help distant relatives in Bicol who have been struggling financially due to the pandemic.
Varde got his cash aid but he got stranded in Makati starting August 4, the day Metro Manila and nearby provinces were placed under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).
With public transportation services put on hold and with no relatives in Makati, Varde said he spent the first two nights sleeping on the streets.
His luck changed when Ray Refundo, CEO of IT company Qwikwire, overheard Varde asking a convenience store employee if they had any old newspaper he could use.
As there was a park in front of the convenience store, Refundo figured that Varde planned to use the newspaper as a sleeping mat.
The business executive initially thought of giving Varde money, but he decided to offer him a place to stay.
“We offered to have him stay in the office for the duration of the lockdown. There is a small sleeping quarters behind the kitchen with its own bathroom, and we thought it might be perfect for him,” Refundo shared in a Facebook post on August 18.
Varde, who had planned to sleep on the streets until he was free to go home, expressed his gratitude to Refundo.
“Nagpapasalamat ako kay Sir kasi nakita niya ako sa 7/11…. Dahil wala akong matulugan dito sa Makati. Inalok niya ako na doon na lang ako sa office, kaya [nandito] ako ngayon (I’m thankful to Sir because he saw me in 7/11.... I have no place to stay in Makati. He invited me to stay in his office; that’s why I’m here now),” he said.
Although MECQ was lifted in Metro Manila on August 19, Varde could still not go home because of problems with his medical clearance certification.
As a senior citizen, Varde is required to have a medical clearance certificate to travel. From Makati, he would be stopping at Calamba, Laguna, before he can take a bus to Naga City.
Refundo said a medical clearance certificate will only be granted when there is a definite date for Varde's departure, giving him a window of 3 days to travel. The problem now is that his previous medical pass has expired, and the availability of the bus transit is still uncertain.
Despite restrictions easing with the shift to general community quarantine in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, many are still left scrambling with the limited public transportation options during the pandemic.
Even if there were buses heading to Calamba, Refundo expressed concern that Varde would get stranded there as they have no idea if there is bus transportation from Calamba to Varde's home region.
“There is no certainty that there is a bus available. We can’t find out online if there is a trip to Bicol. In the meantime, at least he can stay with us,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Refundo is researching bus routes to Calamba as Varde finalizes his departure date for his medical pass.
With no other official business in Makati, Varde hopes he could finally go home to and tend to his farm.
“Kung meron nang masakyan, babalik na ako talaga dahil gusto ko ‘yung may ginagawa ako sa lupa na minana ko (If I can catch a ride, I’ll go back because I want to work on the land that I inherited)," he said.
While Varde's story is a testament of bayanihan at work, it also highlights the reality of how many locally stranded individuals like him find themselves in limbo as they struggle to return to their hometowns during the pandemic. (READ: 'Walang trabaho': Locally stranded individuals seek help starting anew in the province) – Rappler.com