Bringing about “bayanihan” to tackle COVID-19 in the Philippines
“We went here to seek shelter, but we didn’t know there was a virus going around.”
Virgie, along with her family who are temporarily camped in Delpan Sports Complex together with other informal settlers, are not fully aware of what COVID-19 is. In the age of digital media, there are still those who cannot access important information about the current health state of the country - and sadly, they are the most vulnerable to the virus too.
On March 15 2020, Metro Manila was placed on Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). This was later expanded to cover the entire island of Luzon. Domestic land, air, and sea travel to and from Luzon are not allowed until 30 April 2020. International travel was initially allowed, but was then restricted the week after. The general population is limited to their homes, with only one household member allowed to leave the house to buy essential goods such as food and medicines only.
As soon as the quarantine was put into place, local government units (LGU) within Metro Manila started to take in the homeless, putting them in temporary shelters to prevent them from roaming around and lessen their exposure to the virus. It is only in these shelters that they began to understand why there are less people and cars on the street.
"It is not much of a concern to us. We are more concerned about our day-to-day survival."
For many like Virgie, another layer is added to their everyday struggles.
Urban poor communities in the Philippines find it hard to maintain social distancing, especially when they live in a two-meter wide (or less) shabby home, under the bridge, or on the steps of footbridges. Once the virus has penetrated one individual, it will only take a few days before the entire population of the community becomes infected.
Most of the breadwinners of the families living in these areas are part of the informal sector - public transportation drivers, porters, construction and factory workers - who stopped their operations for the duration of the ECQ, leaving them with no income for the rest of the quarantine period. This now puts the pressure on the barangays, local government, and the national government to provide food and hygiene kits for the affected population.
Four weeks into the ECQ, not all families have been able to receive the promised supplies from the government, forcing them to rally in front government offices, which has not ended well. Uproars within communities have been reported, adding to the long list of urgent things the LGUs have to address.
Private groups and generous individuals have begun to work together with LGUs to provide resources for those who need it the most. Local milk drives were started by lactating mothers; medicines and vitamins for those with existing conditions were prioritised; medical equipment innovations were enhanced by engineers, fashion designers, and professionals; information campaigns were translated to several languages - these are some of the efforts which continue to bring meaning to “bayanihan”.
Bayanihan is the Filipino term used to describe people working together out of generosity to achieve the same goal, which in this case is to fight the spread of COVID-19.
For Start Network members in the Philippines, it is quite a challenge to respond to this kind of crisis as we ourselves are affected. Movement is limited, supplies are high in demand, and the virus' risk is ever-present, but this hasn’t stopped us from delivering aid to the communities we work with.
Oxfam has recently conducted a webinar on the economic impacts of COVID-19 on women.
WASH centers with latrines, shower area, and handwashing facilities have been created by Catholic Relief Services.
World Vision has installed tents in hospitals around Metro Manila to serve as an emergency room extension and triage area for consultations.
CARE has also distributed vegetables to urban poor communities in Metro Manila.
This crisis has been throwing multiple arrows toward humanitarian workers all at once, but of course, we have our shields up - together with local innovators and budding inventors.
The Philippine Institute of Interior Designers - Eastern Visayas Chapter came up with COVID-19 prevention spaces, which can help protect frontliners from contracting the disease. Heidrun Milan, one of the designers of this initiative, was also part of the DEPP Innovation Labs, wherein he was able to prototype a foldable temporary shelter in times of crisis.
Another local innovator from Visayas was able to come up with a low-cost faceshield, which front-liners can use on the field. Jonathan Cartilla was also part of the DEPP Innovation Labs under Start Network in which he has developed a localized flood warning system.
In times of crisis, we see how resourceful individuals and groups can be, but this is not an excuse for both the government and humanitarian workers to provide sub-standard responses, especially during a health crisis where everyone can be affected.
Rya Ducason is Start Network's communications advisor in the Philippines and is CARE Philippines' Communications and Knowledge Management Specialist.
For many parts of the world, the battle against COVID-19 is far from over. That's why Start Network has launched Start Fund COVID-19 to anticipate and respond to virus-related humanitarian needs in low-income countries. However, of the 85 alerts received, funding is currently in place for only five and we are urgently seeking support to stop the spread of coronavirus to those most at risk.