City of Santa Rosa survives pandemic amidst challenges

Strong foundation built throughout its 17 years as a city

It has been more than a year since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.  A lot suffered and struggled from the challenges the pandemic has brought, and the people of the City of Santa Rosa were no exception.  When the community quarantine was implemented in the whole island of Luzon on March 17, 2020, most of business establishments in the City were forced to temporarily close due to heightened restrictions. Employees were put on hold, people stayed at home, and many lost their source of income.

Apart from the socio-economic challenges, the City then was also not excluded from the rising number of COVID positive cases. One after the other, those cases tested the City’s competence in addressing health issues with the aid of its private sector partners and the direction of its frontline health workers.

A total of 451,285 individuals received financial assistance from the city and the national government when the city was once again placed under ECQ in 2021.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has indeed drastically changed the lives and the normalcy of the people in the City. But with all these setbacks, the City managed to bounce back; mainly due to the strong foundation of Santa Rosa that has built throughout its 17 years as a City.

From its first cityhood up to the present, the City of Santa Rosa has always been ready and prepared when it comes to carrying out programs especially in times of urgency. Programs and initiatives such as the financial assistance to vulnerable sector have long existed. And when the pandemic hit, it became one of the City’s immediate responses to attend to people’s needs.

Certainly, people have different stories of struggle during the pandemic, and through the support from the City Government, the whole City conquered the challenges it as one family. Testaments to this are these stories of hope and survival.

COVID-19 survivor

Clarisse Galicia (SRP-127), an employee of the City Government of Santa Rosa, was one of those COVID-19 positive patients who survived the challenges – physically and mentally – that comes along with having the disease.

According to her, she experienced anxiety due to deep sadness and longing for her family. “Mula po nang ma-detect sa aking katawan ang virus at ako ay madala sa isolation facility, ako po ay sobrang nakadama ng kalungkutan dahil ako po ay nalayo sa aking pamilya. Dahil din po doon ay nagkaroon ako ng anxiety,” she said.

Clarisse Galicia, a City Government employee and a COVID-19 Survivor

From testing, securing admission in a treatment facility to discharging, and recovering from COVID-19, Clarisse said that the City Government of Santa Rosa covered it all for her, the reason why she is very grateful.

She was admitted at the Complex of Hope, one of the City’s COVID-19 Referral Hospitals for moderate to severe cases. It is also the first COVID-19 facility in the country built by The Medical City South Luzon in collaboration with the City Government.

Aside from the Complex of Hope, another private sector partner – The QualiMed Hospital Santa Rosa – also established its own COVID-19 laboratory and isolation facility.

Public-private partnership is the foremost step Mayor Arlene B. Arcillas has taken to ensure that there will be facilities available to respond to the rising cases of COVID-19.

Another product of a public-private partnership is the Santa Rosa Community Isolation Unit. In coordination with the Santa Rosa de Lima Parish Church, Robig Builders and Leon C. Arcillas Foundation, the City Government transformed the old Canossa School building into a 41-bed capacity Temporary Treatment and Monitoring Facility.

Frontline health worker

The pandemic, for Kathleen Claire Yambao, is quite different compared to most people. As a Medical Technologist assigned at the COVID-19 Laboratory of the City of Santa Rosa, instead of staying home, she stays in the laboratory 8 hours a day and 5 days a week, handling and processing specimens of suspected and probable COVID-19 patients.

Kathleen shared that being a medical frontliner in the middle of pandemic was not easy. Aside from the struggle of wearing PPE the whole day, the chance of acquiring the virus is also high since she is regularly exposed to it. Adding to this is her worry that she might put her family at risk every time she goes home from duty.

Kathleen Claire Yambao, Medical Technologist at the COVID-19 RT-CPR Testing Laboratory of Santa Rosa

But the worry and struggles were replaced with courage and dedication because of her family and the people in need that served as her inspiration.

“Ang inspirasyon ko ay ang family ko kasi syempre pagkatapos mo dito – after 8 hours of wearing PPE, nade-drain ka. But when you see your parents, nandoon yung fulfillment na ‘okay nakauwi ako nang safe’. And yung next kong inspiration is yung mga pasyente kasi when you see their satisfaction na ‘negative ako’ – yung ganung resulta nila, parang nakakagana na tumulong lalo kasi alam mong natulungan mo sila simula pa lang sa pre-analytical hanggang sa ilabas namin yung resulta,” she said.

With the service Kathleen has been giving to the City, she also gave credit to the City Government of Santa Rosa for giving them, in return, their needs as medical frontliners. Some of those are the PPEs, gloves, blue gowns and coveralls that the City Government provided were made possible through tie-ups with private companies. Emergency transport vehicle was also provided for their convenience and safety when traveling to work.

It may be a lot of work and sacrifice, but Kathleen chose to be optimistic and grateful for her job. She said that, “We may be drained and scared at the same time, but know that this is what God wants us to do. He knows that we can help other people. I know that we can do this all together and get through this journey that we are experiencing. Alam kong matatapos din ‘to and, through faith, we can do this.”

Person with disability (PWD)

Life is challenging for all, but it is even more challenging for persons with disability (PWD), especially in these trying times of pandemic. Jay Condeno San Jose, a visually-impaired massage therapist and an aspiring teacher for PWDs, admits that he is greatly affected by the pandemic since all of the massage spas and clinics were prohibited from operating.

There is no denying that he struggled, but he is proud that he overcame the challenges.

ay Condeno San Jose, a visually- impaired PWD from Barangay Tagapo

“Napakarami pong mga tao – instrumento – ang ginamit ng Panginoon upang ako ay makabangon. Ginamit ko rin ang aking sariling talento at kakayanan upang kumita sa pandemya. Ako ay nagtatrabaho bilang isang online transcriptionist at kung minsan ay nagtuturo rin ng computer sa mga kapwa ko bulag,” he shared.

He added that the City Government has been a big part in his journey of survival during the pandemic since he was one of the 6,483 PWDs who were given a PhP 1,500 cash assistance, aside from the food aid that he also received.

Through the help and support of the City Government of Santa Rosa and the Persons with Disability Affairs Office (PDAO), Jay is now in the process of creating a group that will represent visually-impaired individuals in the City called “Literacy and Livelihood for Visually-Impaired”.

“Ito ay isang pagkakataon na binigay ng PDAO at Pamahalaang Lungsod upang kami ay hindi lamang bigyan nang bigyan ng tulong pinansiyal, kundi tulungan din kung papaano maghanap-buhay,” he shared. Jay encouraged his fellow PWDs to find ways on how they can survive the pandemic instead of giving up. He emphasized that coordinating with the City Government can be of big help.

A graduate under the new normal

One of the changes this pandemic has brought was the new approach to education. Since face-to-face classes are not possible due to pandemic restrictions, the Blended Learning Program was introduced and implemented by the Department of Education.

This approach in learning has options for students to take lessons through online classes, modular or printed materials, or a combination of both.

Estelle Marie Simeon, one of the graduating students under the new normal and a recipient of the learning tablet from the City Government

Estelle Marie Simeon, a Grade 12 Senior High School Student and a Supreme Student Government (SSG) Representative in Santa Rosa Science and Technology High School (SciTech), is among the batch of students who will be graduating this school year under the new normal.

According to her, the new approach to education is far different from what they are used to, which was the face-to-face classes, so there were a lot of adjustments.

“Being a graduating student, sobrang struggle for me yung naging switch or approach ng education which is online classes. Dapat technologically-advanced tayo dahil more on online na nga tayo ngayon. Also (naging challenge din) yung resources na kailangan gamitin para sa online classes because most of us are not ready or well-equipped para sa mga kagamitan. And lastly, the overall health wherein our eyes, yung pananakit ng likod at kamay, and mental health as well.”

When it comes to coping, she said that she tries to be more disciplined and focused now that the learning environment is different. As much as possible, she ensures to manage her time well, being a student and a grade representative. She also strives harder to do well in class using the learning tablet that the City has given the public school students for this school year.

“Being a scholar of Santa Rosa is a big opportunity dahil natuto akong mag-grow dito. Nakatulong din siya sa family ko dahil wala kaming binabayaran na tuition for 6 years. And now the (free) tablet. Ngayong new normal kasi we are not all well-equipped sa materials and resources for online class kaya sobrang laking blessing na nabigyan ako ng tablet dahil mas nagkaroon ako ng strive to do best.”

A total of 36,830 learning tablets were distributed by the City Government for school year 2020-2021, of which 15,900 are for elementary pupils; 16,516 are for junior high school students and the remaining 4,414 are for senior high school learners. The tablets replaced the printed modules used by students from public elementary and secondary schools during the new normal in learning.

Jeepney driver

During the early stage of the community quarantine, public transportation was suspended, leaving many jeepney drivers with no source of daily income.

Armando Nebrija, President of Santa Rosa Unified Drivers and Operators Association and Vice-Chairman of Santa Rosa City Unified Transport Cooperative (STARCUT), was not excluded to that sudden halt in their daily living.

Armando Nebrija, one of the drivers of the Emergency Transport Vehicles for frontliners.

“Lubhang napakahirap po ang maging driver at operator sa gitna ng pandemic kasi sarado lahat ng establisyimento. ‘Yung pinagkukunan po ng hanapbuhay ng mga driver ay nasaklawan ng lockdown so wala po talaga kaming mai-transport,” he said.

How did he surpass the struggles? He said that aside from faith and perseverance, the City Government of Santa Rosa has been of great help. He was one of the 552 members and non-members of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association Inc. (JODAI) in the City who were given PhP 1,500 cash assistance as a response to the financial needs of all jeepney drivers who were forced to temporarily stop from their daily trips.

He is also thankful that during the lockdown, he was one of those who were given the opportunity to lend his service as a driver of the Emergency Transport Vehicles for frontliners.

As of now, the daily trips of drivers may have returned to normal, but Armando admits that the income is not the same as the pre-pandemic. Still, he encourages every driver to strive even more for their families.

“Ang mensahe ko sa mga kapwa ko driver at operator ay kaunting sipag at tiyaga pa po. Huwag tayong mawalan ng pag-asa. Alam naman po nating napakahirap sa isang driver ang kumita ngayon pero alang-alang po sa pamilya ay kailangan po nating magsumikap. Malalagpasan din po natin ang pandemyang dumating dito sa atin.”

Small-business owner

Adding to the list of sectors that were challenged by the pandemic was the business sector. Business establishments were left with no choice but to close the moment lockdown was declared, hence there was no income to generate.

As business owners of Priscila’s Calle Kitchen, that is what partners Stephanie and Paulo Perez also went through during the course of lockdown. According to Paulo, their sales before the pandemic was already peaking up, but it went back to zero when the pandemic happened. They also lost their usual customers.

Paulo & Stephanie Perez, owners of Priscila’s Calle Kitchen in Barangay Market Area

It was really an effort to go back on track, but as soon as the government eased the quarantine restrictions, and establishments were allowed to operate, they decided to open as well. Now they are accepting orders for take-out, deliveries and pick-up. They are thankful that the business is slowly regaining its sales since most of the people prefer deliveries than dine-in.

They are also thankful for the City’s annual Business One-Stop Shop (BOSS) for it continuously served business applicants and owners like them even with the pandemic.

“Noong unang beses kaming nagpa-register saglit lang siya kasi nasa isang area lang lahat. Tapos everytime na magre-renew kami doon lang din. Pupunta ko do’n sa umaga tapos after no’n okay na. Kumpleto na do’n lahat ng mga permits,” Paulo said pertaining to the efficiency and convenience of BOSS.

The city government through its Business Permit and License Office (BPLO) also implemented this year an extension of business permit renewal and payment with no penalties up until February to somehow ease the burden of business owners registering their businesses. BPLO also introduced online registration for businesses.

When asked what they can advise to business owners like them who are going through the same thing they went through, Stephanie said, “Believe in your product kasi yun yung mag-aangat talaga sayo. Syempre kailangan masipag. Kailangan din magdasal. Syempre pahalagahan mo rin yung mga staff mo kasi malaking bagay din sila sa business mo.”

Oldest person vaccinated

“Kung gusto ninyong umedad nang katulad ko, kayo ay magpabakuna…mabuhay tayo ng mahaba at masaya. Labanan natin ang COVID-19.” That is what Arsenia “Lola Enyang” Carvajal advised her fellow senior citizens who are afraid or worried of getting vaccinated.

Loal Enyang is 99 years old, and is the oldest person fully vaccinated in the City of Santa Rosa.

Lola Enyang, a 99-year old senior citizen, is the oldest person fully- vaccinated in the City of Santa Rosa

She said that she felt anxious and afraid when the pandemic happened especially when she found out that senior citizens like her are the ones more at risk to having COVID-19.

One year shy of being a centenarian, Lola Enyang said she wanted to take care of herself more so she can live longer and be with her family.

“Malaking bagay ito sa akin dahil hahaba ang buhay ko. Mahalaga ang magpabakuna para makabalik tayo sa normal at para mapigilan natin ang pagkalat ng sakit. Magpabakuna tayo para tayo’y makatulong sa mga nurse, doctor at sa lahat ng mga tao,” she encouraged.

Lola Enyang is one of those senior citizens who are now fully vaccinated after having her second dose of Sinovac vaccine last June 10, 2021. She said she feels healthier and in good condition after she got vaccinated.

She also expressed her gratitude to Mayor Arcillas and the whole City Government of Santa Rosa for the continuous roll-out of vaccination for her fellow A2 (senior citizens) and the rest of the priority groups.

These stories are stories of struggle and survival.  These stories are a representation of what different sectors have been going through during the pandemic, and how the City Government responded.

It may still be far until the City finally gets back to normal; but right now, the City is slowly recovering and surely overcoming the pandemic because of the vaccine.

According to the latest data, vaccination for A1 to A3 categories are almost done; the vaccination for the A4 priority group has begun. According to Mayor Arcillas, the City plans to put up additional vaccination sites aside from the eight existing to speed up the vaccination.

The City aims to vaccinate 3,000 individuals per day as soon as there is a stable supply of vaccines from the National Government. The first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines that the City purchased are expected to arrive on July 18, 2021, in time for the celebration of Santa Rosa’s cityhood.

It is only a matter of time and the vaccine supply until everyone in the city gets vaccinated. As the 17th Cityhood is anchored on the theme, “Vaccination for all Towards a Safer and COVID-free Santa Rosa” the City of Santa Rosa will become COVID-19 free.

(Residents are encouraged to get vaccinated.  Please register at