Mærsk on the frontlines vs COVID-19

For the past few months, we have been astounded by inspiring stories of heroism, dedication, and stellar sacrifice shown by medical frontliners all over the world in the fight against the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic. Like the patients under their care, many of them —from doctors to nurses— also started to succumb to the virus. We helplessly read or watch in the news about new reports of these selfless frontliners falling one by one like soldiers in the battlefield, slowly ebbing away.

Aside from these admirable people, there are other frontliners who also deserve to be acknowledged: the military and police who make sure that quarantines and lockdowns are being complied with, governmental staff who distribute relief goods to those affected by the previously mentioned emergency protocols, vehicular drivers who transport other frontliners, etc. These people virtually risk their lives against an unseen force in order to save others.

But then I realize that they are not the only frontliners in this terrifying age of pandemic. I think I can also say that, without blowing one’s own trumpet (just an honest-to-goodness realization), my colleagues and I in the container logistics industry are also frontliners. If our medical practitioners are considered as the first line of defense against the outbreak, I think it’s safe to say that we at Mærsk are leading the battle in keeping the global economy afloat.

La imagen puede contener: 10 personas, personas de pie y texto

The crew of Emma Mærsk (led by Captain Jens Boysen, right-center) advising people to stay at home to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The vessel departed for sail with 150,000 tons of medicine, food, and equipment.

During our company’s annual general meeting (virtually transmitted live from Copenhagen, Denmark last March 23 as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus pandemic), our Chairman of the Board of Directors had this to say:

“As the world’s largest container shipping company, we play a significant role in ensuring that there’s food on the shelves in the supermarket and medicines in the pharmacies. During this crisis where many things are closing down, it’s even more important that the global network of ports, roads, and other critical infrastructure remain open and well-functioning.”
Jim Hagemann Snabe


The first-ever digital annual general meeting at Mærsk (image: Snabe’s Twitter account).

Thus we here at Mærsk have no lockdown. There is no “quarantine vacation” for us. Many of us still have to work from home not just to keep our business going but to keep the global economy running as smoothly as possible: our seafarers are still at sea delivering goods amidst the global health crisis; our crews can still be found at ports and terminals manning the loading and unloading of containers; our trucks, rail systems, and barges continue to operate so as not to impede the supply chain conveyor belt, and; our office workers (of which I am a part of) who are compelled to work from home due to lockdowns and quarantines still carry on with the usual documentation work and other related processes.


The Live Help / eRegistration team (led by Dandy Tablizo, left) is one of Mærsk’s many frontline groups that continue to serve customers during the coronavirus pandemic.

This is not to say that Mærsk is the only transport and logistics company that struggles in keeping the world economy safe from the throes of a recession, but it has to be acknowledged that, modesty aside, the company leads the industry’s twenty-foot equivalent unit capacity index (3,879,439) with a dominant market share of 15.3% (leading its nearest competitor by 3%). Snabe’s commentary during the virtual meeting was as perceptive as reality.

With numerous supply chains being disrupted due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we at Mærsk cannot afford to treat our industry halfway — we have to do it All The Way in the midst of strict quarantines and lockdowns. We just had to. For the survival of humanity, we have our medical frontliners. And for the survival of global economy, we have Mærsk.

door to door cargo insurance

Madrid Mærsk is one of the largest container ships in the world (image: maersk.com).

A simple way of defeating the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic

The burning question on everyone’s mind right now is this: when will the pandemic end?

Medical technologists, virologists, and vaccine researchers are racing against time in coming up with a cure for COVID-19 which has already taken nearly 24,000 lives in almost all parts of the globe. But even if for instance they succeed today, it will still take much time to mass-produce it and to make it available in several countries. This activity, of course, will encounter funding problems, logistical and distribution issues, and other assorted types of governmental red tape. By the time a vaccine has reached a certain country, the death toll there would have already skyrocketed to alarming proportions.

But we can still put a stop to this pandemic even without that much-awaited vaccine. How?

The answer is very, very simple, and it’s staring at us right in the face — just follow your respective governments. DO NOT GO OUTSIDE OF YOUR HOMES DURING THE QUARANTINE/LOCKDOWN PERIOD. To those with quarantine passes, PRACTICE SOCIAL DISTANCING. Stay away from people; treat everyone you meet outside as if they already have the contagion. It is for your own good. Remember that transmission occurs primarily via respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes within a range of about six feet. Even Senator Migz Zubiri, who himself has been strictly practicing social distancing (and eventual self-quarantine upon knowing that a resource person that they invited in the Senate weeks ago tested positive for the disease) got infected.

“I practiced social distancing as well as a no handshake policy but yet I got contaminated. How, I do not know. This just goes to show how easily this virus is spread and therefore it is best for everyone to stay home and stay clean.”

Indeed, that’s how dangerously infectious this bug really is!

So how will compliance with quarantines/lockdowns and social distancing help kill the virus? According to researchers, SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-29, can live up to three days. And without a human carrier, it will disintegrate.

Yes, viruses need a carrier, a human host, in order to thrive. SARS-CoV-2, is no different. So spread the word: stay inside your homes. Strictly follow the quarantine/lockdown measures. And for Pete’s sake, don’t do a Koko Pimentel.

Electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virions with visible coronae

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus which is currently wreaking havoc in all parts of the world. Image: NIAID.

I repeat: no carrier, no virus. No virus, no pandemic. So it’s really up to you how long you want to prolong this world crisis.

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Spanish in the time of COVID-19

A follower on Twitter suggested that I tweet a Spanish word every day.


That gave me an idea. Since many are locked up inside their homes because of the quarantine, might as well come up with a way to introduce the Spanish language to bored Filipino millennials. I thought of starting with the Spanish equivalents of words and phrases that are closely associated with the ongoing pandemic. Waiting for this crisis to end is the best time to study Spanish. Without further ado, here we go…

asymptomatic – asintomático, asintomática

bat – murciélago

boundary – perímetro; límite

clinic / health facility – clínica

community quarantine – cuarentena comunitaria

contagious – contagioso, contagiosa

coronavirus – coronavirus

COVID-19 – enfermedad del coronavirus

curfew – toque de queda; horario límite

disease – enfermedad

doctor – médico, médica; doctor, doctora

enhanced community quarantine – cuarentena comunitaria mejorada

face mask – máscara protectora; mascarilla

front line – primera línea; vanguardia

health – salud

hospital – hospital

lockdown – bloqueo; encierro

nurse – enfermero, enfermera

outbreak – brote

pandemic – pandemia

panic buying – compras de pánico

personal protective equipment – equipo de protección individual

quarantine – cuarentena

quarantine pass – pase de cuarentena

senior citizen – persona mayor

severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – coronavirus 2 del síndrome respiratorio agudo grave

Sinophobia – sinofobia

social distancing – distanciamiento social

state of emergency – estado de emergencia

symptom – síntoma

treatment – tratamiento

TikTok – locura

virus – virus

work from home – trabajo a distancia; teletrabajo

World Health OrganizationOrganización Mundial de la Salud

A guide to Spanish pronunciation:
1) Like all Filipino languages (Tagálog, Ilocano, Hiligaynón, etc.), Spanish is a phonetic language. Thus, it is pronounced as it is written, and viceversa.
2) The letters B and V sound the same: both are pronounced as in the English B (boy, boat).
3) The letter H has no sound.
4) The letter Z is pronounced either as S or as TH (as in thick or thin), not like the Z in English (as in buzz).
5) For words that end in a vowel, or N and S, the next to the last syllable is stressed.
6) Words that end in consonants, except N and S, are stressed on the last syllable.
7) If the word has an accent mark, then that syllable is stressed (rules 5 and 6 are therefore ignored).
8) Click here for more.

Remember: Spanish is NOT a foreign language. It’s as Filipino as chicken adobo and the calesa. And it’s easier to learn than English.

Keep safe, everyone.

Rizal in quarantine

The title of this blogpost refers not to the Province of Rizal (which encompasses a small part of the Luzón-wide enhanced community quarantine to halt the spread of COVID-19) but to Dr. José Rizal. Not many Filipinos today know that the national hero also endured what many of them are experiencing right now. But this happened to him in faraway San Francisco, California.

I was reminded of Rizal’s quarantine episode when United States President Donald Trump a few days ago described the 2019 novel coronavirus as a “Chinese virus”, sparking outrage and debate (mostly from journalists, actually).

Trump was accused of being racist. But in his defense, there was no racism at all. His smug reply: “It comes from China”.

Could he be right? Perhaps. The MERS-CoV outbreak of 2012 which death toll reached almost a thousand worldwide was caused by the MERS-CoV virus, and it’s an acronym for “Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus” because it originated from the Middle East. The scarier Ebola virus was named after a Congolese river near the village where the outbreak was first reported. The Spanish flu of 1918, although not from Spain, was named as such because it was then thought that Spain was the country that was hardest hit by the pandemic. In all mentioned accounts, there were no racist undertones thrown.

But in Trump’s case, some say there is. Remember that even before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, China and the US have been in a stiff trade war since Trump announced tariffs on solar panels, washing machines, steel, and aluminum in 2018 (the US is a large importer of the said products from China). And from his own words, it was China that first accused US soldiers of spreading COVID-19. There seems to be a vendetta.

US xenophobia against the Chinese is nothing new. And this Rizal reported first hand. In early 1888, he was on his second trip to Europe via the US. Upon arrival at San Francisco, California, Rizal’s ship was not allowed to dock and was immediately placed on quarantine on account of halting the spread of cholera. But apparently, cholera was just an excuse for something else. Wrote Rizal on his diary:

Nos pusieron en cuarentena. A pesar de llevar patente limpia dada por el Cónsul americano. A pesar de haber estado cerca de un mes en el mar, a pesar de no ocurrir ningún caso de enfermedad a bordo, a pesar del telegrama del Gobernador de Hong-Kong, declarando el puerto limpio; nos pusieron en cuarentena, porque llevábamos 800 chinos, y como entonces se hacían en S. Francisco las elecciones, el Gobierno, para tener votos, alardeaba de adoptar medidas rigorosas contra los chinos para captarse las simpatías del pueblo.

My translation: We were quarantined. Despite having a clearance issued by the American Consul, despite having been at sea for nearly a month, despite no case of illness occurring on board, despite the telegram from the Governor of Hong Kong declaring the port clean (the ship he boarded departed from Hong Kong -Pepe-), they still placed us on quarantine because we had 800 Chinese. And since elections were to be held in San Francisco, the government, in order to gain votes, boasted of taking rigorous measures against the Chinese to win the people’s sympathy.

He also wrote about this same experience to his friend Ferdinand Blumentritt:

Facsimile of Rizal’s letter to his best friend Ferdinand Blumentritt in German. Spanish equivalent follows below (with my English translation as caption). This appears in “Epistolario Rizalino” (Correspondence with Blumentritt).

We are anchored in this port under quarantine. We do not know how long this will last, despite not having sick people on board and the ship not having come from any dirty port. The cause of this is the 643 Chinese who boarded with us. Americans do not like the Chinese. And since the elections are about to take place, the government wants to ingratiate itself with the people. We raise protest but it is useless because it is, as the Spaniards say, like exercising the right of kicking.*

Whether or not President Trump was right with his China virus opinion, suffice it to say that it is still not the right time for political polemics and other similar innuendos in times of international crises; his wording comes out strong since the trade war between his country and China is far from over. It might even surpass the ongoing pandemic.

Truth be told, xenophobia —or Sinophobia to be more precise— is also a pandemic. And in view of the foregoing, it appears that, sadly, no amount of historical quarantine was able to contain it.

*A Spanish idiomatic expression that has no English equivalent. It means a last and vain attitude of protest that is adopted or can be adopted by those who feel defeated in their rights.

Take social distancing seriously

I visited a nearby mall about a week ago for an errand. It was almost deserted because of the ongoing enhanced community quarantine all over Luzón. As I stepped inside, the guard halted me for a thermal scan. With his left hand, he cautioned me to stay away from him from a certain distance as he outstretched his right arm to scan my forehead. The scene from afar would have made other people think that he was giving me a badass headshot.

It was amusing. Here’s an ordinary guy from the working class taking social distancing to a strict level. Guess I’m not just used to it. Nobody is, really. In fact, most people today first heard of the term “social distancing” only recently because of the coronavirus pandemic. But there’s a reason for it, of course: it is part of a worldwide strategy to contain, to halt, the spread of the deadly virus.

Meet Kevin Harris, a 55-year-old electrician from Warren OH, who has a few words to say about the importance of social distancing.

In his Facebook live video (recorded last March 14 from Mercy Health — St. Joseph Warren Hospital), Harris describes in clear detail how he suffered from COVID-19 and almost died from it. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, he never did recreational drugs. He lived a healthy lifestyle. And for his age —55 is still considered young—, he still suffered heavily from the novel coronavirus (and we thought it afflicts only senior citizens and those with weaker immune systems).

One that puzzles him is that he didn’t know how he got the virus. Nobody in his family nor in his circle of friends ever got it. The moral of his narrative is to really take social distancing seriously.

“Protect yourselves. Do not go into crowds. Do not shake hands. Stop hugging each other. Wash your hands continually,” Harris said weakly from his hospital bed. “They don’t know how I got it… no one in my circle has been sick or exposed.”

To those younger people who think that they will survive COVID-19 because of their age and health, think again. Yes, some of you might survive it (the way Harris did), but the ordeal is pure hell. Harris himself and his doctors thought that he was going to die. Listening to his frightening story, it seems to me that he really got lucky. He practically had a near-death experience.

Take social distancing seriously, guys. And don’t be too confident about your youth nor your health. COVID-19 is a deadly virus straight out of a Stephen King novel.

Rest in peace, Tita Sylvia

One tragedy after the other. And it comes in a time when the whole world is burning with anxiety and fear… 😞

It is with great sadness and pain to announce that my auntie, Sylvia Santos-Pineda, the direct great-granddaughter of Marcelo H. del Pilar, passed away early this morning at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center. She was 72.

Tita Sylvia was one of the first who responded when news about my wife’s cancer broke out. In fact, she was one of those who contributed the most (I am actually disobeying her now because she didn’t want to be acknowledged about this [Matthew 6:4]; but she had to be, she deserved it). And this at a time when she was in great physical pain (she was suffering from an autoimmune illness). Sending financial aid to my cancer-stricken wife in spite of her health was probably one of her last acts of charity.

She was one of my beacons of hope.

I even imagine that she must have somehow, in deep prayer, offered her life to save my wife’s. She was a very prayerful person, much like her late mother, Lola Bening, her uncle Vicente (Fr. Vicente Marasigan, S.J.), and her auntie Josefina (Mother Mary Aurora). A very esteemed Catholic family in sharp contrast to their Masonic ancestor.

How could I even attend her wake? Metro Manila is in total lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. And even if there is no lockdown, I wouldn’t be able to visit her because of my weakened lungs; I am highly susceptible to the virus. So harrowing.

Please pray for the eternal repose of her kind soul. She has shown my family great love.

One of her last messages to me.

“I shall return”

TODAY IN FILIPINO HISTORY: 20 March 1942 — An escaping General Douglas MacArthur who arrived at Terowie, South Australia makes his famous speech regarding the fall of Filipinas to the Imperial Japanese Army in which he says: “I came through and I shall return”. That declaration has become one of the most iconic lines from World War II and in all of World History.

On a personal note, this speech reminds me not of MacArthur but of another historical figure who is almost forgotten in our country’s history: Simón de Anda, the irrepressible Spanish Basque Governor-General of Filipinas from 1770 to 1776.

De Anda was then an oidor or member judge of the Audiencia Real (Spain’s appellate court in its colonies/overseas provinces) when the British, on account of the Seven Years’ War, invaded Filipinas in 1762. While many high-ranking government officials, including then interim governor-general and Archbishop Manuel Rojo del Río, already surrendered to the invaders, de Anda and his followers refused to do so. Instead, he established a new Spanish base in Bacolor, Pampanga and from there launched the country’s first-ever guerrilla resistance against the British. He thus proved to be a big thorn on the side of the British until the latter left the archipelago two years later.

During those tumultuous two years under the British, de Anda made no promises and neither did he leave Filipinas. He stuck it out with Filipinos through thick and thin and gave the enemy an armed resistance that they more than deserved. But “Dugout Doug” was all drama when he said “I shall return”, leaving the Filipinos to fend for themselves against the Japs. And when he did return, it was a disaster: the death of Intramuros, the heart and soul of the country.