IN THE FINAL MINUTES OF 2019, Ciudad de Victoria in Bocaue, Bulacan was replete with happiness. Fireworks filled the skies while music and cheers welcomed the new decade. Thousands of families and brethren gladly took another step closer to their dreams with the courage to face whatever might come.
Just four days later, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that a cluster of pneumonia cases was reported in Wuhan, China, with an unknown cause. Chinese health officials later confirmed that a novel coronavirus was behind the severe pulmonary symptoms. Even before that disease acquired its infamous official name—coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)—global news showed harrowing scenes of infections, deaths, and world leaders scrambling to face the invisible enemy. Their initial response was ineffective while country after country reported increasing cases, overwhelmed medical services, and growing fears that the worst is yet to come.
On March 11, 2020, the WHO ultimately declared that COVID-19 is a pandemic. Following the organization’s advice to “take urgent and aggressive action,” President Rodrigo Duterte ordered on March 16, 2020 that the entire Luzon Island be placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). His declaration that fateful night marked the end of normalcy and the start of a new reality that the nation would thereafter brave.
In the days that followed, the number of cases in the Philippines swelled to thousands. It is one thing to test and monitor suspected cases; it is another to treat and contain positive cases. The government faced the challenge of logistics while maintaining the public’s morale. Hospitals and health centers started to run out of available space, equipment, and devices. Many people clamored out of fear that medical workers and COVID-19 patients stayed in their neighborhoods and villages.
On April 4, 2020, Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) Co-Chairperson and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, announced that the Executive Minister of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church Of Christ), Brother Eduardo V. Manalo, offered the entire Ciudad de Victoria estate to be used by the government as a quarantine facility. This includes the Philippine Arena, the largest multipurpose indoor arena in the world, the Philippine Sports Stadium, the biggest of its kind in the Philippines, and the 476-unit Garden Suites, where the frontliners will reside during their service.
Within ten days, the We Heal As One Center-Philippine Arena was prepared and turned over to the national government. The North Luzon Expressway Corporation provides toll-free passage for all medical frontliners, quarantine service teams, and medically equipped vehicles. The Manila Electric Company installed distribution transformers and concrete poles to provide continuous energy and power to the facilities. Maynilad Water Services, Incorporated offers free water supply to the quarantine center, while Smart Communications provides free Wi-Fi connection there. Meanwhile, the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police regulate security in the area.
The We Heal As One Center in Ciudad de Victoria, labeled as a mega treatment facility, has a capacity of 300 beds for suspected COVID-19 cases, positive patients, and people who must undergo mandatory quarantine. They all have access to 24/7 healthcare, free meals, lectures about the disease, and valuable services during their stay.
A month later, the Bases and Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) and the Century Properties Group converted the Philippine Sports Stadium into a COVID-19 mega testing facility. The six healthcare station tents built in the stadium accommodates 96 test booths with the minimum capacity to conduct 1,500 tests per day. Since the Philippine Arena facility serves as a model for the end-to-end infrastructure “test, trace, and treat” strategy, the BCDA now prepares to establish a modular laboratory in the Ciudad de Victoria as well.
In an interview, one of the medical frontliners serving there spoke about the love that is felt within the We Heal As One Center. “I am speechless when it comes to the Iglesia Ni Cristo because [of the fact] that you have allowed us to use this [facility], the assistance given, and all the help you provide to support even those who are not members of INC,” Dr. Richard Young Chan declared. “There are Muslims who are here [and people from] different religions are here. There is no discrimination on race or nationality. As long as they are in need, they were brought here.”
BCDA President and CEO Vivencio Dizon, who is also the National Action Plan Against COVID-19 Deputy Chief Implementer, said, “We are deeply grateful to the Church Of Christ under the leadership of Brother Eduardo V. Manalo. If not because of their generosity [and] allowing us to use this Philippine Arena at no cost, we will be lacking in facilities to provide care for our countrymen especially those who are COVID-19 positive.”
Six years ago, the Ciudad de Victoria was inaugurated, bringing glory to the name of the Philippines that the city’s megastructures bear. Today the Filipinos stand at the hinge of history. Our children, the next generation, will recount our courage and sacrifice in this raging war against an unseen killer. The “city of victory,” over the years, had been the site of significant events, joyous celebrations, and lasting memories. Now, in a time of loss and grief, it stands as a monument of kindness, heroism, unity, and bayanihan—values that define our people. Likewise, when we finally defeat this pandemic one day, we will emerge triumphant, and our reward is the life that we had before.