Working from home. Online learning. Teleconsulting. As though the challenges brought on by natural calamities were not enough, early in the year we had had to alter the way we went about our day-to-day activities -- for our very survival.
We had to stay safe not only from storms, floods, and lahar flows, but also the COVID-19 virus ravaging the entire planet. The restrictions authorities imposed for our protection essentially required minimal physical contact with one another, and the weight of keeping people connected largely fell on telecommunication organizations.
The country’s largest integrated telco, PLDT Inc., and its wireless unit, Smart Communications, Inc.(Smart), stepped up to the plate. By providing reliable and relevant digital services, they kept Filipinos safe, connected, protected and productive, whether they were at home, at work, or at the frontlines.
“This year of COVID underscored the important role of PLDT and Smart in providing enabling technologies for communities with the greatest need. By leveraging on our core offerings and infrastructure, we are able to provide inclusive services that can help change lives and move our country forward,” said Cathy Yap-Yang, PLDT-Smart FVP and Group Head of Corporate Communications.
COVID-19 command centers of national and local government agencies received communication support in the form of hotlines, pocket mobile WiFi units, smartphones, SIMs, e-load and Infocast—PLDT-Smart’s SMS-broadcast platform. Free fiber-powered, carrier-grade WiFi was installed in key COVID-19 facilities nationwide, among them the Department of Information and Communications, Department of Science and Technology, Department of Transportation, the Philippine General Hospital, and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.
The telco’s partnerships with government units enabled PLDT, Smart, and TNT subscribers to reach for free the 1555 COVID-19 Hotline, the 911 Emergency Hotline and 8888 Citizens’ Complaint Center. Customers also enjoyed free access to websites of government organizations such as the Department of Health (DOH), the DOH NCOV Tracker, Philippine Information Agency, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Staysafe.ph, the Department of Social Welfare and Development aid distribution website, the Department of Education (DepEd) Commons, as well as major news agencies.
When classes resumed in the third quarter, it was delivered through a mix of traditional and digital methods. PLDT and Smart stepped up efforts to provide tools and resources for teachers, students, and institutions.
Coinciding with the October school opening was the first virtual grand gathering of Gabay Guro, the 13-year-old flagship education program of PLDT-Smart Foundation, held to honor the 400,000 teachers trained to be “future-ready” through the Gabay Guro Super App, Learning Never Stops online sessions. Partnerships with PayMaya and Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation also expanded online services for teachers to help them cope better in the new normal.
PLDT collaborated with UP Open University (UPOU) to reach out to more students, out-of-school youths and teachers in the primary to secondary levels through the PLDT Infoteach Webinar Series. The new training module drew over 58,000 participants and 288,800 views on Facebook. Since its inception in 2004, the program has produced over 30,000 graduates.
Following are other highlights in education:
• A total of 86 School-in-a-Bag portable digital classroom kits were deployed to DepEd schools nationwide, 15 of which went to DepEd in support of the agency’s Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan. The kits are designed to support distance learning, even in remote areas without electricity and internet connectivity. Many of the kits were donated were in partnership with organizations such as to the Protect Wildlife project of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
• Free access to the resource materials under the Central Visayan Institute Foundation-Dynamic Learning Program (CVIF-DLP) was made available via DepEd Commons at www.commons.deped.gov.ph. The ready-to-use Junior and Senior High School Learning Activity Sheets were developed by the CVIF. Supported by Smart and PLDT-Smart Foundation (PSF) for over a decade, CVIF-DLP is one of only three DepEd-endorsed supplemental learning materials for this schoolyear.
• “CyberSmart Security Beyond Digital,” a learning series promoting responsible use of the internet, was put together by Smart, together with the DepEd, National Privacy Commission, and the UNICEF. The online caravan underscores the importance of the protecting the digital life of students and teachers, especially with the shift to online learning.
• To get the youth to be part of the solution to the problems brought about by the pandemic, Smart launched Innovation Generation, a small grants program that challenges the youth to develop simple, technology-enabled solutions that create giga impact within their communities.
• When the country was put in Enhanced Community Quarantine, Smart kept the love of learning alive through its eLearning series. For 31 straight days, thousands of parents and their children tuned in to the Smart eStorytelling sessions, shown nightly through the Smart Communities Facebook page. The series aimed to provide families with a bonding activity while developing children’s love for reading and learning.
Dealing with the effects of powerful typhoons required extraordinary measures. To maintain the resiliency of its network, quickly repair damage and restore services, PLDT and Smart prepositioned emergency communications kits, equipment and personnel along the paths of “Quinta”, “Rolly”, “Ulysses” and “Vicky”. The telcos chartered flights and worked with the Philippine Air Force, enabling PLDT and Smart to be the first to put through calls and text messages in Catanduanes, thanks to engineers and crew who worked on damaged infrastructure 24/7 and activated Libreng Tawag, charging and WiFi stations.
PLDT and Smart also distributed over 12,000 food and relief packs to families across Luzon. Smart likewise launched cash-for-work programs that benefited some helped 925 families in Marikina, Rizal; Tuguegarao City; Garchitorena and Pili, Camarines Sur; and Ilagan, Isabela recover from the disaster. Earlier in the year, PLDT and Smart also provided relief packs hygiene kits and building materials and cash-for-work assistance to Batangas communities affected by the eruption of Taal volcano.
All these efforts are part of PLDT-Smart’s #SafeandSmart advocacy of preparedness, and immediate response, through network resilience, continuous communication services, mobile solutions and activities, and relief and recovery assistance.
Enabling livelihood in the new normal
One million microentrepreneurs, known as PLDT-Smart Ka-partners, who retail prepaid airtime load, were equipped to address the changing communication needs of mobile customers, through digital trainings and tools, including the new Ka-Partner app.
In partnership with Philippine Eagle Foundation, PLDT likewise provided access to, and enhanced skills on digital technology of the women of the IP community of Arakan, North Cotabato.
Other beneficiaries of capacity-building initiatives for navigating the new normal were sewers of Solidarity for Orphans and Widows (SOW) Payatas for sustainable livelihood support. The Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) was PLDT’s partner in these efforts, which also included the purchase of Mask4AllPH PPEs and hygiene kits for the telco’s adopted communities.
Also in partnership with the PBSP, PLDT provided over 150 boat engines to the fishermen from Barangay Bagasbas in Daet, Camarines Norte to help fishing communities rebuild their lives after the recent typhoons.
Smart ramped up its livelihood programs to promote support agriculture and promote food security amid the pandemic, through online trainings of the Digital Farmers Program (DFP) and the “Kalye Mabunga” online series mounted in partnership with the Department of Agriculture–Agricultural Training Institute (DA-ATI), and a #BuyLocalBuySmart rice campaign in partnership with social enterprise Cropital. DFP, which promotes innovative farming methods to help usher smallholder farmers to the digital age, is now adopted in over 15 provinces.
Retooling tourism, one of sectors most impacted by COVID restrictions, involved launching digital mobile applications, in coordination with the Department of Tourism. The apps can be used for self-paced, contactless tours in 20 locations all over the country.
The move was fortuitously timed in Cebu, as the country prepares to celebrate 500 years of Christianity. PLDT and Smart partnered with the Archdiocese of Cebu to kick off the event with the launch of the Panaw sa Pagtuo (Journey of Faith) Mobile Exhibit App and a digital series featuring 21 historical videos leading to 2021.