THE 26th anniversary of the Philippine Internet on March 29 is being commemorated under the most exceptional circumstances: With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing people to stay at home and practice social distancing, the internet has become the most powerful means for people to stay in touch and work together to overcome this unprecedented health emergency.
The importance of the worldwide web is magnified in an archipelagic country of the Philippines, where the about 110 million people are scattered in over 7,400 islands. Now more than ever before, Filipinos are dependent on their cell phones and computers.
"We are keenly aware that the internet has become a vital lifeline for people. That is why the focus of our all efforts is to ensure that we are able to continue providing our communications services to our customers and the public," says Manuel V. Pangilinan, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PLDT Inc. and Smart Communications.
How are Filipinos maximizing the Internet to stay connected to work, school, and loved ones in the time of COVID-19? Employees of PLDT-Smart share stories of how the very service they run is helping them during this crisis.
With the majority of companies operating under a work-from-home scheme, physical meetings have been replaced with video conferences.
“Back-to-back meetings via Microsoft Teams!” says Clarence Porteza, who handles consumer marketing for Sun Prepaid, a value brand under Smart. “We simply need log on to a chat group to be ‘transported’ to a meeting,” he explains, adding, “we probably meet more often now than when we were in the office.”
In lieu of signatures for documentary requirements, email or messaging apps can be used to send “digital approval.” Executive Assistant Noemi Concepcion recalls processing a contract around the time that “community quarantine” was not even imaginable.
“Providing scanned signatures has its disadvantages, so I requested that email approvals be accommodated, and my contacts obliged,” she says. The actual signed documents to follow must also be digitized, scanned, and uploaded to a secure and reliable cloud drive for safekeeping.
While working from home, it’s not only office business that gets done. Digital Communications Manager Elijah Mendoza has been able to help his sons with schoolwork. “All lessons, assignments, and projects are sent using the school's online portal,” he says. The father of two was impressed at the detailed online lectures delivered by his kids’ teachers.
“Their lesson the other night was about using Excel for basic equations,” Mendoza shares. “It was pretty cool.”
The time people save from not having to travel to and fro their homes and offices can be used to learn something new. “The internet is full of e-learning resources – online courses, e-books, Youtube videos - that we can all use,” says Public Affairs Group Head Ramon R. Isberto. "Another option is to revisit long forgotten projects to beef up our current skillset – like an unfinished special report, an unpublished research, or video footage for a compilation feature.
As people rely more and more on the Internet and social media for news and information, people need to be vigilant when using social media to avoid being misinformed. “Fake news is spreading faster than the coronavirus, so fact-checking is a must,” Isberto says.
With strict community quarantine guidelines in place throughout Luzon, a lot of daily activities are overhauled.
Grocery shopping has become more time-consuming as supermarkets limit the number of shoppers inside the vending hall to ensure social distancing. Consumers are now turning to grocery delivery services. "I just downloaded a supermarket deliver app, provided a grocery list, and the items were delivered straight at home," says Mary Jane Francisco of Community Partnerships.
More than convenience, contactless payment methods, such as those offered by PLDT-Smart fintech affiliate PayMaya, provide another layer of protection against infection. People can load and pay bills digitally anytime and anywhere. "The risk of getting infected from physical handling of money is reduced," Francisco points out.
With fitness gyms closed during the community quarantine, dedicated instructors have been posting free online workouts using Instagram Live and YouTube. “Most home workouts are designed to be done even without gym equipment,” shares Media Relations Manager April Kagaoan. For non-sporty people, friends who are unable to see each other engage in group chats or mobile games to keep each other company.
In these uncertain times, Filipinos can also harness the power of the Internet to give hope and help to one another, or simply keep one another’s spirits up.
PLDT partnered with the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) for a free online concert, billed Bayanihan Musikahan. PayMaya serves as the official donation platform of the initiative, where proceeds will support urban poor communities of Metro Manila that are reached by organizations such as Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Pamilyang Pangtawid, Likhaan, and Caritas Manila. The musical series will be available on Facebook Live until April 15, 2020.
Similarly, the Smart Music Live Online Sessions gathers some of the country’s biggest musicians in partnership with top radio stations. The Facebook Live -based fundraiser is meant to gather donations for healthcare workers and emergency response teams.
While PLDT-Smart and several other private companies shift to work-from-home arrangements and retain employees’ salaries and benefits, the COVID-19 pandemic has put many more Filipinos at an unprecedented disadvantage. Foremost are minimum-wage earners and those in the public transportation, food service sectors. Others are in the hospitality, arts, and fashion industries.