Fr Bobby Yap's message to the Ateneo community (23 April 2021)
23 Apr 2021
Fr Bobby Yap SJ's message to the community during the Town Hall with the President, 23 April 2021.
Good day, fellow Ateneans.
Over a month ago, it appeared as if our nation was slowly recovering from the worst of the crisis.
But we were wrong.
Just when we were opening up bit by bit, our country, particularly the Greater Manila Area, was hit by a sudden uptick in cases.
And for many of us, it struck close to home. COVID-19 became really personal.
Just before Holy Week a Jesuit in the Jesuit Residence died suddenly, and post-mortem tested positive for COVID-19. Afterwards the 32 members of the JR community got tested, and 9 tested positive. So the whole community, including myself, went on a 2-week quarantine with the 9 going on isolation. One of the 9 was hospitalized for a few days. I remember how difficult it was to find a hospital bed for him. Thank God, the quarantine and isolation at JR have been lifted with no new cases and only a few experiencing mild symptoms, most were asymptomatic.
This week the whole Jesuit community at Xavier School Greenhills got tested. Two tested positive, with one still in the hospital. They are in isolation and the community is under quarantine. Please continue your prayers for them.
The statistics aren't simply numbers: they represent our acquaintances, workmates, friends, family, and in some cases, even ourselves.
The uncertainty, and the seeming deja vu has made us all anxious, stressed, and fearful. I feel and share your anxiety and fear.
And it is, once again, a time for urgent action - from our leaders, our communities, and ourselves.
And I am happy to tell the community that Ateneo de Manila University, our University, has never wavered in its response to the pandemic, whether it be for our internal stakeholders or for the larger community where we belong.
One of the most important pandemic-related initiatives we've started is the establishment of our own COVID-19 testing facility, the Ateneo Molecular Pathology Laboratory, or AMPLify. It is our response to the call to help ramp up our nation’s testing capability.
Planning for AMPLify started in the early days of the pandemic in March 2020, when our leadership team decided to establish a laboratory for COVID-19 testing. Nearly a year after it was first conceptualized, AMPLify -- which is under the supervision of the Ateneo Research Institute for Science and Engineering -- is now operational, having been granted a license to operate by the Department of Health. AMPLify is also looking at plans for a possible drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility in the coming weeks, as a way to further increase testing facilities available to the public.
Our gratitude goes to the various units and offices that have made this possible, as well as to my predecessor, Fr Jett Villarin, and to Fr Joey Cruz who led the conceptualization and planning of the testing lab. We are also grateful to the generosity and assistance of the Temasek Foundation, for their donation of the RT-PCR machine and testing kits for AMPLify.
We are also active in helping out our home city, Quezon City, in its pandemic response.
You may have already heard about the Isolation Facility at the Junior High School, established through an agreement between the Philippine Red Cross, the QC Local Government, and our University. We are providing the venue, while the Red Cross and our LGU are managing its operations, due to their expertise and experience. It is already operational, with strict protocols being implemented to ensure the safety of patients, staff, as well as of other people living and working on campus.
Our University is also set to be a vaccination site, where Quezon City residents will be able to get inoculated with vaccines against the coronavirus. We have accepted a request from the Quezon City LGU to be one of the city's vaccination centers. We have designated the Grade School cafeteria as the site within our Loyola Heights campus for this effort. Aside from this, we are also in talks with some private companies as they look for potential locations for their own employee vaccination programs.
Pope Francis has said that it is an ethical obligation to get vaccinated. "I believe that morally, everyone must take the vaccine," the pontiff said in a Jan. 10 interview. "It is the moral choice because it is about your life, but also the lives of others."
I strongly urge everyone in our university community, especially those in the Priority Groups to get vaccinated as early as they possibly can. I and around 30 other Jesuit senior citizens on the Loyola Heights campus have received our first dose at the vaccination center of the LGU of Quezon City. The best way to do this is through your local government units who have priority access to the available vaccines in the country. By getting vaccinated as soon as possible, you can positively influence the vaccination decisions of co-workers, family members, and friends.
For those who cannot avail of the vaccines provided by the LGU, Ateneo will find ways to provide all employees, both full-time and part-time, with the vaccines for free, subject to the guidelines of DOH. In the coming months, our University is scheduled to receive eight thousand doses of the Moderna vaccine, as well as ten thousand doses of the Novavax vaccine, intended for our workforce. For this, we would like to thank the Management Association of the Philippines, UNILAB, and the ICTSI Foundation for their help.We are currently in the later stages of drafting the guidelines for the vaccination program, and will be disseminated in due time.
Our vaccination program is constrained by the uncertain supply. But once the vaccines we ordered arrive, we will immediately implement our vaccination program. Our employees who have not been vaccinated by the LGU will be first in line. And if supplies allow, we will also offer the vaccines to our students.
We are already contracting Ayala Corporation Health for its vaccine administration services. AC Health will take care of logistics, transportation, storage, data management, inoculation of the vaccines we will be able to purchase.
The vaccination plan is just one of several programs and projects our University has been implementing or planning for its most important asset: its human resources.
Since the beginning of the crisis, our University always made sure that our staff, faculty, professionals, and administrators have access to help whenever they needed it.
Our campus medical professionals have been made available for telemedicine services, while our mental health professionals are available for online consultations. For students, these services are part of AteneoBlueCloud, while our Human Resources team handles a parallel service for employees. We’ve made this service possible so that our students and employees need not venture out of their homes just to be able to seek health advice or mental health guidance.
Our University also understands that many of our employees are experiencing financial difficulties, due to pandemic-related circumstances. For this, our University instituted a financial assistance scheme for employees who have fallen sick of COVID-19. We also have an emergency loan program for maintenance personnel who have been on reduced work load due to the campus closures.
Ateneo has also offered stay-in programs for employees working on-campus, for vital services such as campus facilities maintenance and security. This program included meals and a shuttle service to and from their residences. We’ve instituted this to lessen the chances of them catching the virus during commutes from home to their work on campus.
Throughout the pandemic, our healthcare insurance has been a valuable lifeline for many employees, giving them peace of mind in case any health-related emergency happens to them or their loved ones. Starting the incoming contract year, which begins July 2021, this benefit will now be available to part time employees. Our Human Resources team will soon release more details on this, so stay tuned.
And finally, to help take care of our employees' health needs, we have built the University Clinic, located at the Social Development Complex of the Loyola Heights campus. This addresses the need for a central health facility for our faculty, staff, professionals, and administrators. For now, it is being used by our staff working on-site, and will be available to the entire workforce when we return to campus, whenever that may be.
All our various COVID-19 efforts would not be possible without the continued hard work of the entire University community. I am especially grateful for the employees and administrators, particularly the members of the Strategic Crisis Planning Committees, who have ensured that our University continues to operate, even with the complexities involved in running an institution from our homes. They continue to serve our University community behind the scenes and despite all the difficulties. I hope we all take time to appreciate their hard work.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Fr General Arturo Sosa SJ talked about how Jesuit schools have stayed true to their mission to "accompany, encourage, and motivate, even in the midst of unexpected and difficult situations." He was speaking mainly about Jesuit schools’ core mission, that is, educating the youth; but his message can also be extended to how we engage with all of our other stakeholders.
From the beginning, Ateneo de Manila responded to the need to help our community and neighbors. We've raised funds and collected donations for our front line workers, as well as people who are most vulnerable. We've made personal protective equipment; helped analyze and map pandemic data; monitored government aid; even collected truckloads of kalabasa and dried fish for distribution to needy families. The vibrancy of our academic and cultural community moved to the virtual world, with the inauguration of AteneoBlueCloud; the various talks, fora, and concerts; and our continued intellectual and creative output, from Archium to Arete's Our Way Forward, and everything in between. Our student organizations and activities continued, creatively executing projects and programs in the digital space. And we never forgot about our spiritual heart, with our daily masses and regular online gatherings for reflection and prayer.
Even after the noise faded, and as many of us turned our attention to the start of a new academic year, the work continued, made more c hallenging by numerous hurdles and limitations. Our campuses were silent, but the hubbub of activity continued on in countless email threads and Zoom and Google Meet conferences. Our leadership and workforce worked hard to ensure that our University continued with its mission to educate our youth, and at the same time making sure we are helping those who need help. It is, after all, in the Ateneo DNA: To do our best to fulfill our duty to educate and form persons-for-and-with-others, and at the same time respond to the deepest needs of our society -- even in the midst of the most complex of crises.
Next month, we will mark 500 years since a man named Íñigo López de Loyola was struck by a cannonball in battle, shattering his leg. In many cases, a badly broken leg would have also shattered one's spirit. But not this man. Instead, it marked the beginning of a life of service and faith.
This pandemic, in a way, is like a cannonball, shattering our society and our lives, destroying our old ways of living. But instead of wallowing in despair, let us follow St Ignatius's example, and make this an opportunity to make things new, and to help those who are falling into hopelessness and sorrow into a path towards healing and recovery.
I pray that we continue to be vigilant in following health protocols including mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing, physical distancing, staying home if possible.
I pray that we all continue to have courage to step out of our comfort zones and truly become one with the community. We should reach out, accompany and truly listen to each other.
I pray that we all continue to have compassion, especially when it seems the world is losing its heart.
And I pray that we all continue to be hopeful, that with our collective efforts, we will all soon see the light that will lead us out of this dark chapter.
03 Dec 2022