For a year now, Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire owns the 4 p.m. slot on social media streaming. In a calm yet authoritative voice, she updates the Filipino people on the status of COVID cases and answers questions from reporters, from the scientific to the practical.
She takes her role to heart. Bombarded by information on social media, some with questionable accuracy, Vergeire said her duty was to explain the pandemic in "very simple and very basic" terms. "Doon sa parte na yun, naging effective tayo."
While in recent weeks, the 4 p.m. presscon has given way to quick updates, Vergiere is the most in demand in the DOH when it comes to explaining where the Philippines is at in the fight against COVID-19.
How it started
On March 15 , 2020, Metro Manila was placed under quarantine, which was expanded into a nationwide lockdown two days later. Cue Usec. Vergeire.
Her calm, motherly approach to explaining the pandemic was a staple of news programs, apmplifying her message on official channels. She was also the lone female voice of the government's pandemic response.
She told Teleradyo that she hesitated at first to take the role. "Parang hindi naman ako sanay na nagsasalita ng ganito sa media, sa public."
"Nakikita ko yung hirap, yung challenge, dahil madaming uncertain, madaming unknown sa COVID," she said.
It helped that her family was supportive, especially her three sons, aged 28, 27 and 22.
Vergeire said her sons would always wait for her to come home for dinner, even if it meant up to 9 p.m. At the dinner table, she said her sons would critique her daily presscon from the effectiveness of her explanations to her English grammar.
“Suportado naman ako ng aking pamilya. I think they are proud of me. Pero siyempre nandoon pa rin 'yung nawalan kami ng oras. 'Yung dating pwede, ngayon hindi na pwede dahil marami akong trabaho. But they support me 100 percent,” she said.
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How it's going
One year since the 2020 lockdown, the Philippines is facing a fresh surge, which if let unchecked could lead to 8,000 daily cases by the end of March, according to OCTA Research.
Unlike last year, Vergeire said the Philippines has more testing and quarantine facilities and doctors also know how to better handle severe COVID cases. Vaccines are also arriving, she said.
"Isang taon na po tayong lumalaban sa pandemyang ito. Nakita na natin paano nag-improve ang ating health system capacity. Mas kumpiyansa na ang ating healthcare workers," she said.
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One year since the first lockdown also means Vergeire has been juggling her equally demanding roles as DOH spokesperson and manager of their household. She said she still does chores on weekends.
“I do all the household stuff, especially kung may oras ako ng Linggo, nagagawa ko 'yun. Kung wala, may mga bilin na ako sa mga anak ko— anong ulam ng tanghalian, hapunan, na kailangan mong asikasuhin night before, na when you go to work in the morning hindi mo na iniintindi ang mga bagay na 'yan,” she said.
One thing she doesn't do too well is cooking, Vergeire said.
“Minsan nagluto ako, hindi kinain. Hanggang luto-luto lang po ako ng hotdog at saka itlog,” she said.