LIFE IN TIME OF THE PANDEMIC, CHALLENGES AND COPING THEREAFTER

Undeniably, we are in panic when the Government announced a total lockdown in the entire country by the end of the first quarter of 2020. It was so sudden that everybody was caught unprepared. At first, I thought this lockdown will only last for 15 days to one month. And so, on March 14, 2020, I accompanied my “chief” to the province and commuted back to Quezon City on the same day to be with our children. All buses were on full packed that day as if people were cramming to go back to the city. If someone in the bus had COVID that day, everybody must have been contracted. But thanks God for His grace and protection, I got home safe!

As the lockdown started, essential staff like us reported to work two times a week with transport service provided by the Office. This will enable processing of payments without delay such as payrolls and other payment services. A new trend has emerged: wearing face mask and face shield as an everyday fashion! It was also an “eat on your table alone” status to practice social distancing! The rest of the week were on a “Work from Home” (WFH) arrangement. Those with internet connections can easily adapt with this arrangement than those using Data on cellphones only. This kind of work arrangement has become a challenge to us “essential staff”. We needed to be in the office for preparation, computation, and routing Disbursement Vouchers (DVs) and Budget Utilization Requests (BURs) for signature. Work in the Accounting Section is like a chain, where processes are interconnected. Vouchers go to UP Diliman Budget, Accounting and Cash Office before any payment could transpire.

One challenge for me was when our place was in total lockdown. All roads were closed. Documents for signature were sent to our house every other day. The driver would just slip the folder above the barricade. The following week, the barricade was already high, one should stand on a chair to get the folders vice versa. Thanks to those near the barricade area, they offered to hand over to me the folder with documents.

When MECQ was declared, the service will just have to wait outside the entrance. A Barangay Kagawad came to fetch me with her service motorcycle knowing that I am a Senior Citizen, but I just said, “I can manage to walk up to the entrance” about 300 meters, which is also a good exercise that I needed during this pandemic. The problem was when I got home, I could no longer enter as I do not have a Quarantine Pass with me, even after I showed my U.P. I.D. to the person in charge at the gate. When, it was getting darker, they eventually allowed me to enter the gate. And as I walked home, I heard the song “Heal our Land” being played which I felt some sort of fear and loneliness. I could only utter “Lord, please keep us safe”. I arrived home just before the warning sound that it was curfew time (from 6:00p.m. to 5:00 am).

Going back to work, processing of payments during the ECQ was far easier than during the normal days. In 3 to 5 days, all salaries and services were processed thru debit to account or checks. I remember, then Vice Chancellor Virginia C. Yap, who was the approver in the vouchers and a signatory to checks, holed up at the Cash Office just to sign vouchers and checks. Like me, she is already a senior citizen but managed to report to work in spite of the restrictions for senior citizens being not allowed to go out. Maybe the COD (call of duty) was within us.

Processing of payroll was in advance and faster. But Dean Cordero Tan, as head of the Law Complex, had to sign an undertaking “to submit later or after ECQ, the supporting documents required to process such payments”. Just imagine the Dean paying all of these obligations if we failed to comply with the submission of documents!

But other payments to suppliers were temporarily stopped due to closure of some offices such as SPMO and COA, hence, no inspection reports and COA acceptance to support each payment.

After the announcement that Metro Manila was under General Community Quarantine (GCQ), more than 50% of the employees started to report for work on a skeleton workforce. The College Administration pursued its plan to continue what has been started: to get an ISO certification before the end of Year 2020. Each office continued with the documentary requirements for compliance. I could feel the stress as we were cramming with documents to provide, the monitoring scheme and quarterly performance. And yet, we continue with our work on processing of payments. We do not know where to start the day: To start processing of payments or to finish first the QMS documents! Everybody was so stressed.

Then as time goes by, the number of COVID positive cases has tremendously shoot up, thus, it has affected our work schedules. There was a time, we were forced to shut down for a week or two and as a health protocol, we were obliged to be in quarantine for 14 days. But life must go on. Work in the accounting section must not stop. Dr. Jay Batongbacal has led us being the Associate Dean, dutifully signing voluminous Disbursement Vouchers and as Chair of the UPLC Post ECQ Team (PET) that continue to guide us.

By the end of the year, the U.P. Law Complex got its ISO Certification. This will continue to challenge our work arrangement as we strive to excel in our daily routines and preparing for the surveillance audit.

With the start of the WFH arrangement early on, I have come to appreciate that, someday, we can still do our work even if not physically reporting to the office. I am for the digitization of all processes. It just has to take its toll on how to implement it phase by phase. But on the financial aspect, the approval of the Commission on Audit (COA) is still necessary. COA still requires submission of original copies and supporting documents.

And as we welcome Year 2021, we look back and feel thankful, that the College, headed by our Dean Fides Cordero-Tan, has finished two semesters of distance learning. Credit goes to the administration of the College and to all those professors who braved this kind of online teaching. Our IT staff have contributed so much to the attainment of this mode of learning. Kudos to Sir Emerson Banez and team for spearheading the online learning module.

Year 2021 is also my retirement year. I could still remember one alumnus who happened to visit Dean Magallona in the office, said to me before when he asked me how long I have been in the University. I said, “17 years in UP”. He said, “What? 17 years and you have not taken steps to find greener pastures?” I said to myself, “Huh, he doesn’t even appreciate my loyalty to this institution.” Now I take pride on having served the University for forty years.

HAPPY TO SERVE U.P.!