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Franco Mabanta Shares His COVID-19 Journey

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Franco Mabanta, dubbed as a political operator and social media strategist, has been making waves in the political scene for the past few years. 

Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

Franco has earned the reputation of being brilliant, outspoken, cunning and articulate, on top of that has worked with a lot of political candidates and conceptualized strategic communications and advertising programs, which have had a lasting impact on the lives of many.

Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

The former model and Myx VJ has undeniably come a long way. But despite being the go-getter he is, things had taken a turn for Franco when he contracted COVID-19 in 2021. 

Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

And during an exclusive interview with Showbizbeat.com, Franco opened up about his journey while grappling with COVID-19. 

CONTRACTING COVID-19

When Franco started feeling symptoms, he knew right away that he had to get tested. He got in touch with Dr. Jolly Santos,  a senior consultant of the Emergency Room at St. Luke, asking when he could head over to the hospital, since it was a time when the cases were beginning to spike once more.

Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

His driver dropped him off at St. Luke’s Hospital at 11:15 PM on March 19, and upon his arrival Franco could not believe what he saw. “There was a vast assembly of terribly sick people lined up on chairs along the driveway coughing, shaking, and beaten down by the virus — all waiting for their turn to get medical attention. Till then, none of them were allowed to even enter the ER. There were so many of us…and this was supposed to be the time of the day where the line was at its shortest.”

Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

Franco added, “Just imagine being headed for that extraordinarily harsh environment, except you arrive with the most violent of shivers, a skyrocketing fever, body aches, cough so dry it feels like sandpaper in your throat, and your shirt drenched in so much sweat as you take your spot in a daunting line composed of other people going through the exact same thing — all waiting just to be tested. It didn’t feel real.”

This is by far the sickest Franco had ever been, as he felt that his body was physically deteriorating. “I felt like I was dying. But then it was finally my turn to get tested. I was still trembling from the fever, then waited for five hours on a chair connected to an IV drip as I didn’t want to go home without my results.”

Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

When the nurse came back, it was explained to him that it was ‘Positive for Covid with Pneumonia in his right lung’. “I wasn’t even a little bit scared or sad but what a monumental monkey wrench thrown into all my plans for the next two weeks, is what I thought,” he recalled. 

THE LOLAS

After being tested, Franco faced another drawback. The admission line at St. Luke’s was already 35 people deep, so he had to find another hospital to be admitted to, and eventually ended up at Diliman Doctors Hospital. 

“Practically every hospital within and just outside Metro Manila proper was bursting at the seams with COVID-19 patients, many of which have died in the last three days following the tremendous surge in cases, triggered by the new, hyper-dangerous variants,” Franco explained.  

Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

All this time, Franco could have easily called in for favors, but he chose to abide by the rules knowing that there were a lot of high-risk COVID-19 stricken seniors struggling to survive.

Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

Franco was first placed in a make-shift tent with senior citizens in their 70s, who were all in critical condition. Amidst it all, Franco found his disposition somewhat delightful, even if it was a certainly uncommon way for him to meet new people.

He recalled fondly: “These ladies are my new friends and I literally had to take care of them myself because I was the only one who could walk. Bathroom breaks, extra pillows, broken IV drips, charging cell phones…everything. The granny next to me is blind yet she let me watch Falcon And The Winter Soldier on my phone while she listened to the Catholic hymns on her radio. The other one peed in her sleep earlier and wet my luggage. They’re both so cute.”

Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

After three hospitals, two ambulances, and sixty hours in the make-shift pandemic tent, Franco got his own private room the next day, but realized that he was going to miss his new found friends. “When I left the tent, they were all sad but happy for me. They said thank you and I replied, “don’t die,” he recounts. 

During his admission however, he later found out that one of the lolas had fully recovered and was discharged – Franco was surprised. He was also told that the granny was looking for him, but to his dismay, Franco couldn’t even leave his room to say goodbye.

HEALTHCARE SYSTEM

Franco soon learned, too, that the scope of it extended beyond his needs. During Franco’s stay at the hospital, he was  approached by doctors and nurses who would narrate to him in excruciating detail how they’ve been massively underpaid for months. He said they gave their personal accounts, and specifically on how PhilHealth continued to deplete the funds of so many hospitals nationwide and how most medical workers have been criminally underpaid since the beginning of the pandemic.

One may recall that Franco underlined in a Facebook post  that so many hospitals across the country are immensely affected at a level that is so ‘alarming’ and so ‘indecent’ due to Philhealth’s sizable debt. “Most of our frontliners now go to work everyday with difficult, oftentimes shameful amounts of money in their pockets — and I had zero idea how bad this whole thing was until I got sick. The overwhelming majority of doctors, nurses, staff and officials that aren’t getting paid their due are good human beings who do not steal, misdiagnose or commit any form of fraud. They do their jobs and save people.” 

Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

The political strategist carried on, “Imagine putting yourself in a situation everyday for a minimum of 12 hours, forced into an intimate space where you’re required to touch and breathe alongside some very sick, highly infectious strangers — only to go home financially wounded because billions of pesos magically disappeared. And no one has been held accountable so far.”

Franco also received dozens of messages from owners of private hospitals and smaller provincial hospitals who are struggling to keep afloat. “Each of them told me that they’ve been screwed over so obscenely by PhilHealth that they’re now faced with the following options: take out a loan, file for bankruptcy, shut down permanently. In some instances, they claim that the unpaid debt per hospital is in the hundreds of millions. How could they possibly operate? And what’s unfortunate is that these owners are too scared to speak up at the risk of being cut off completely, either in the short or long-term.”

Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

Given that this has been an ongoing issue for many years, Franco, like the rest of Philhealth’s detractors, continued to go on a 2-week campaign and vehemently berated the corporation on their shortcomings. Netizens, including senators, concurred with Franco’s claims and denounced the company for failing to tend to the needs of medical professionals. Eventually, change started to take place, and Franco was relieved when he discovered in the news that President Rodrigo Duterte issued a mandate for Philhealth to accelerate payments to hospitals.

Photo from Twitter (@francocruzmabanta)

“Well, here’s a beautiful text from the owner of one of the largest hospitals in Metro Manila, who first messaged me and then called last night to say thank you as PhilHealth honorably paid them P2 million, instead of the usual P200,000 or less per week that they would usually receive. He said several other hospital owners have also received similar increases in pay — and that they were all joyous and bursting at the seams with gratitude,” Franco shared in another post. 

Franco was so moved and delighted with how things had panned out, that he now believes that things are on the right track, in spite of existing unsettled debts. He has seen a lot of incredible things unfold during the pandemic, but for him, this is by far the most ‘breathtakingly victorious’ milestone.

Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

“At this pace, many hospitals won’t need to file for bankruptcy. And consequently, so many doctors, nurses and staff will feel their pay gradually begin trickling down. If you understand how monumentally challenging these hospital issues have been, not just since 2020 began, but for the better part of the last decade, you’ll recognize with a heightened clarity how great, powerful and universally beneficial this step in our societal development is — not just for our health care workers, but for our patients, too,” he said on a positive note. 

Franco also added, “Thank you, President Duterte. Thank you to everyone who whispered and who yelled. And thank you, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation — please keep it coming.” 

LESSONS

On March 26, Franco received good news that his pneumonia was gone, and he was finally discharged from the hospital. Luckily he didn’t have to shell out a single cent because of his health insurance. “Last year, my very good friend Raffy Zamora called me a hundred times to convince me to purchase health insurance with the good people at AXA Philippines. I paid something like P50,000 then. Now that I’m hospitalized with COVID and pneumonia, do you know how much I have to shell out? Zero pesos. Yep, as in nothing,” he explained. 

However, this experience made him realize that he had to learn the hard way, and he also bore in mind that COVID-19 was something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Franco admitted that he downplayed the virus’s severity and its health risks, similar to a netizen he encountered who flouted COVID-19 related announcements made by the government. “I’ve always had a healthy respiratory system and a strong mental constitution…I’m one of the lucky ones who’ll make it through for sure. But last week was easily and by far the sickest I’ve ever been. Do you know why? Because I had the same nonchalant, naive, lacking-in-compassion, flippant attitude that this gentleman is trying to propagate.” 

Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

Franco continued on saying, “I absolutely agree with not being overzealous and panicky, and I hate what the lockdowns are doing to our economy, but calling this national surge the “flu season” is so wrong and so unbelievably disrespectful to the doctors and nurses who have to very intimately get in your face and take care of you when you literally feel like you’re about die.”

Apart from surviving COVID-19, Franco also took to heart the amount of love and support he has received from loved ones while he was battling with the virus. The tycoon became emotional at one point and said in a shoutout, “Over 3,000 public and private messages and counting. I’m so deeply touched by all the words of support and kindness. It’s been humbling. The sheer volume alone of people I’ve never met or even know at all who persist to reach out to my parents and sisters was not expected.”

Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

He also pointed out, “My close friends sending me video greetings and voice notes from their children has been awesome in itself, but the fact that so many of you continue to offer actual physical help and medicine and connections and personal services — how wonderful. Truly. You guys really care and I feel it. I don’t get sentimental often but today — as has been the case all weekend — you moved my heart. Lucky me. (pancit canton). – Love FCM.”

*Cover Photo/Thumbnail Photo from Facebook (@francomabanta)

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