[FRONTLINERS] Volunteer shuttle driver overcomes fear of virus to serve others

Bus driver Victor Lero is among the thousands of Filipinos who temporarily lost their jobs when the government placed Luzon island under lockdown due to the coronavirus disease. He soon ran out of money to send to his family back in Bicol. Lero then decided to volunteer as a driver for the Office of the Vice President's (OVP) month-long shuttle service for medical frontliners. He was afraid of acquiring COVID-19, but he was more scared of losing his family to hunger. Lero later found fulfillment in being able to help other frontliners during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the story of bus driver Victor Lero, told in his own words. 

I am Victor Lero, 34 years old, a bus driver for 7 years now. I started working as a P2P bus driver for UBE Express 7 months ago. My route is from Santa Rosa, Laguna to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and back.

I was severely affected when the government imposed the lockdown due to COVID-19. Until now, my family in Bicol continues to rely on relief goods from the local government. They have no choice because I don’t have much money to send them anymore. My eldest daughter is 13 years old, my only son is 10 years old, and my youngest daughter is 7. My wife doesn’t have a job. She just stays at home and takes care of our children. But my son lives here with me in Laguna.  

This was why I decided to volunteer as a frontliner. When the lockdown was imposed, I called my supervisor and told him, “Do you have any job available for me? I’d like to volunteer. How do I go there?” I was already going crazy here at home. My body isn’t used to being idle, even for just a day or two. I felt I was about to have high blood.

My boss said they have a job for me, so I went to our warehouse near the airport. My boss said I would be assigned to the shuttle service for frontliners organized by the OVP. My route would be going to Fairview in Quezon City then headed to Lawton Avenue in Taguig City, and back. I had to be at the warehouse as early as 4 am because I had to drive the shuttle to the first stop in Fairview by 5 am.  

Honestly, I was so afraid when I started to volunteer because we had no idea what kind of disease we were dealing with. It’s not as if it’s like a mosquito that we could see and shoo away. I was really scared, but I just thought about my family. I wasn’t just doing this for myself. Apart from being able to help ferry frontliners to the hospital, I was also able to keep my family alive. You don’t have time to think about the risks when your family doesn’t have much to eat. Bus drivers like me are in a “no work, no pay” situation.

So we’re thankful Vice President Leni Robredo organized the shuttle service. My company compensated me for being a frontliner and I was also able to help others. I earned P9,000. It’s not much, since we all couldn’t go on duty for the entire duration of the OVP shuttle service. There were many other drivers who wanted to volunteer, too. 

I spent 5 days in the morning shift, then I was transferred to the afternoon shift. An afternoon shift would start at 11 am then end at 7 pm, but we always ended up working beyond those hours. I don’t mind. I just tell myself I am able to help the doctors and nurses. I mean, try as I might to push to get additional salary, there’s no other source of income for me right now. So I just think about how I am able to assist other people. (READ: [OPINION] A day in the life of a volunteer driver

It warms my heart whenever I think about that. One time, I was driving along EDSA near SM Megamall when I saw a man carrying a sack of rice. It was noon then. He was a frontliner, a guard off-duty who was on his way to Fairview. He was carrying a sack of rice. He came all the way from Magallanes Village area in Makati City.

Can you imagine how far he walked as he carried about 25 kilos of rice? That’s so heavy! I stopped for him by the sidewalk and let him ride the shuttle. If I didn’t do that, he would have to continue walking all the way to Fairview. It felt good knowing I was able to help him somehow, not just by helping reduce the kilometers he would have to walk, but also ensuring he would get to his destination sooner.

Shuttle drivers like me should be more attentive to people walking on the streets. Some drivers in the Department of Transportation’s shuttle service do not always stop for frontliners when they aren’t wearing their uniforms. I suggest they be more compassionate. You can see with your own eyes when a pedestrian is tired anyway. If you can stop for this person and let him ride your shuttle for free, why not?  

During my stint as a shuttle driver, we were made to wear full personal protective equipment (PPE). It’s so hot inside the protective gear; you would be sweating a lot. But the last batch of PPEs had more breathing room. At the end of every shift, we had to go to a disinfection area at our warehouse. I don’t just let them spray the disinfectant on me; I make sure it’s like I’m already taking a bath, so no virus would be spared. 

The OVP also made sure we had food during our shifts. We had a break time. They provided us lunch and dinner, though sometimes I don’t even get to finish my meal because they would give us so much. We were well taken care of.  

The VP visited us one time at our warehouse. Of course I had to take advantage of the chance to have a photo with her! I made sure the VP and I had a solo picture together. I now have a selfie with her that I was able to show off to my friends on Facebook. She thanked us for our service. We also thanked her because we were able to work, even for just a while, during the lockdown.

Now that the OVP shuttle service is over, I am out of a job again. I am still looking for other opportunities to work. If it were up to me, I would have extended the period of the shuttle service. I still want to be a frontliner. If they would allow me to continue serving my countrymen, I would continue to do so. You see, we only pass through this world once. Why not use the time to be of service to others, right? – Rappler.com

 

Editor's Note: Rappler interviewed Lero on April 15, 2020. All his quotations have been translated to English. The OVP terminated its free shuttle service on April 14, 2020, now that the Department of Transportation is running its own operations

TOP PHOTO: AT YOUR SERVICE. Victor Lero takes a picture of himself while wearing his full protective gear ahead of his shift as a volunteer shuttle driver for frontliners during the COVID-19 crisis.

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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