Disaster ReliefWeekly Series

Weekly Issues: US-Philippines Exchange Alumni and the COVID-19 Response

May 28, 2020

In addition to direct U.S. Government and American private sector assistance in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines, people-to-people ties and more specifically an enduring partnership through alumni networks of exchange programs represents an extraordinary asset for both countries. Bonds have been continuously strengthened and refreshed by a wide range of academic exchange programs bringing together scholars, policy-makers, entrepreneurs and innovators – in short, our future leaders. Each year, the United States sends more than 300 Filipinos to the United States on programs from economics to leadership to health. Many of those are now making a direct personal contribution in the battle to defeat COVID-19. Ambassador Sung Y. Kim recently cited key programs and individuals working to stop COVID-19.

The flagship exchange program is Fulbright, and Ambassador Kim reminded us that the Philippines hosts the oldest continually-running Fulbright Commission in the world. Drs. Beverly Lorraine Ho and Ronald Law are former Fulbright scholars supporting COVID-19 response efforts at the Department of Health (DOH). After studying Health Policy and Management at Harvard University, Dr. Ho now serves as Special Assistant to the Secretary for Universal Health Care. Dr. Law is Chief of the DOH’s Emergency Management Bureau Preparedness Division, where the research he conducted on enhancing health security at the University of Washington is more relevant than ever.

Dozens of Filipinos have pursued scientific degrees and conducted research under Fulbright and Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow scholarships. Dr. Vikki de los Reyes, Medical Specialist in the DOH’s Epidemiology Bureau; Dr. Mario Jiz, Head of the Immunology Department at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine; and Dr. Maria Lourdes Otayza, Medical Center Chief at Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital, are applying their exchange program experiences to combat COVID-19.

Ambassador Kim also pointed to the exceptional initiatives of dynamic Filipino alumni of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), who are harnessing the skills and experience gained from their exchange programs to assist communities across the country. YSEALI Academic Fellow and Accessiwheels founder Miggy Bautista mobilized volunteers to provide critical transportation to medical facilities for chronically ill patients in Metro Manila. YSEALI alumna Cherrie Atilano launched the Move Food Initiative, which has helped more than 3,000 farmers in Luzon and Mindanao deliver produce to quarantined consumers. In Mindanao, U.S. Exchange Alumni Associations partnered with Coca-Cola Philippines and Unilab Foundation to supply water to frontline workers and military personnel. YSEALI Alumni also teamed up with band Ben&Ben to hold an online concert raising $84,000 for COVID-19 response.

More broadly, the Philippine medical system has expanded areas of expertise over the years through U.S. exchange programs leaving it better prepared for a coordinated response to the challenges of these times. And, Americans are benefiting immensely from the skilled and dedicated Filipino health care professionals now working on the front lines in medical facilities throughout the United States, often at great risk to themselves and their families.

US-Philippines Society leaders and members, both in the Philippines and the U.S., have made significant contributions to the COVID-19 response. For example, Manuel V. Pangilinan and Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, co-chairs of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation have worked through PDRF to coordinate private sector assistance, and they have channeled support for the Covid-19 response directly through business operations. Filipino-American Society directors Roberto Llames, Lucie Du, and George SyCip, along with Chris Decker, Dennis Wright and many others, have stepped up to lend their skills and resources to the response.

The Armor Disaster Response Task Group of the Philippine Army received donations with support from Director Henry B. Howard and PDRF. Thermal Scanners and respiratory masks were distributed to the medical and essential frontliners deployed in Capas, Tarlac providing assistance during the Community Quarantine, April 17, 2020.
Photo credit: The Armor Division.

Society founding director Henry B. Howard, who heads the U.S. Education Finance Group, provided personal protective equipment (PPE) to the medical corps of the Philippine Army in Manila as well as the COVID-19 designated treatment hospital in Cagayan De Oro. Mr. Howard also chartered an airplane to fly members of the medical corps of the Philippine Marines to Zamboanga for COVID-19 relief operations. Mr. Howard chartered an aircraft to serve as a sweeper flight for foreign nationals from Zamboanga and Caticlan to Manila. Mr. Howard, in his capacity as Consul a. h. of the Republic of the Philippines for the State of Florida, coordinated directly with the Philippine government’s Inter Agency Task Force (IATF) to arrange fourteen (14) charter flights to repatriate approximately 3,000 Philippine national crew members of cruise ships from Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Malaga and Barbados to Manila. 

The record of American support and partnership with the Philippines reflects the vibrancy of the ongoing commitment by the government, private sector, organizations, and individuals to face today’s challenges together. And, that record is clear for all to see.

The US-Philippines Society salutes all those working to contain the Coronavirus, aid those with medical needs, and help those have lost employment opportunities. And, in the spirit of this Memorial Day period, we remember those who have fallen to the pandemic in the Philippines, the United States, and around the globe.  

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