‘Proud ako’ says janitor Rowel Togo of his job making sure the rooms, hallways, etc. is scrubbed clean everyday. (Drawing by Geloy Concepcion)


A story from the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak



Published 10:51 AM, April 02, 2020

Updated 2:17 PM, April 03, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The community clinic closes at five in the afternoon.

It sits along the main road of the village of Mambog I in Bacoor, Cavite. When the patients leave, the nurses stay. They draw up the schedule, line up the appointments, and decide who comes in first the next morning. Mass transportation is suspended, so one nurse from Kawit bought a bicycle. Two others ride motorcycles.

By six in the evening, all but one staff member of the Health Index Multispecialty Clinic has left for home.

The man who stays behind is a 28-year-old janitor named Rowel Togo. He begins work in the doctor’s office. He wipes down her table, sanitizes her chair, decontaminates every surface. He sweeps. He mops. He begins the long, complicated process of what he calls “walling.” He sprays each wall with disinfectant, then rubs them down, three times, each time with a different rag. The first rag is wet, the second damp, the third dry. It is a technique he learned when he worked at a local Chowking: spray, wipe, wet, damp, dry.

He goes room by room. Pediatrics. ER. Obstetrics. Ultrasound. X-ray. Pantry. Internal Medicine. General Medicine. Admin. He closes the doors to let the disinfectant do its job. He sanitizes the reception area next, where the long bench that used to fit six patients is now limited to three.

The hallway comes after. He sweeps. He mops. He sprays and wipes and repeats, sometimes mounting a small stool whenever his five-foot-six-and-a-half inches aren’t enough.

He takes a break after the hallway. The doctor, he says, isn’t terribly strict about time, so long as Rowel gets the job done. He steps out to smoke one of three cigarettes another staff member shared that day.

It is quiet on the streets. There are no passersby or rattling tricycles, only the occasional cop with a loudspeaker reminding residents to go home. Rowel chats with the security guard outside the front door. He scrolls down his timeline. Then he goes back inside, to scour the tile of the restroom walls.

He locks up at ten in the evening, five hours, nine rooms, and thirty-nine walls since he started. He gets on his bike and pedals the half hour home to Mambog III. He carries with him the two cans of sardines he picked up on the way.

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There is a bucket of water in the yard outside his house. His wife has left a folded towel, a bar of soap, a pair of shorts, a shirt, and the gallon of 70-percent alcohol he bought with the clinic’s other supplies. He takes a bath. He rubs down with alcohol, every inch. He gets dressed, opens the door, calls out a greeting, then waits for the screaming joy of two small boys who leap into his arms.