[FIRST PERSON] Beyond health: The virus’ impact on the people of Del Pan Bridge

Jonjon S. Elago

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[FIRST PERSON] Beyond health: The virus’ impact on the people of Del Pan Bridge
'Mr President, just instruct your officials to tell the truth about the kinds of relief national government can actually give us. Don’t let people build up their hopes then leave them disappointed.'


The following is Part 1 of a 2-part series. Read Part 2, a reflection by social anthropologist Mary Racelis, here

Our world has changed a lot since COVID-19. People have to stay inside their houses. That means anywhere from 8 to 15 family members occupying the same very hot and crowded one-room space 24/7 – sleeping, eating, bathing, and everything else. People want to go outside but cannot. So they hang around the back of their houses and just chat. In our place they can’t congregate outside their front entrance because that would put them right on the street. 

As a Kagawad as well as PO President, I walk around telling people the lockdown requires them to stay indoors. Although it’s for their own safety, it’s hard to enforce. They shout all kinds of insults and pretend to comply, but I know that the minute I turn the corner, they venture out. People are really desperate because their families are hungry yet they cannot go out to work to buy food. It’s very hard for us barangay officials to control that anger if they have nothing to eat. That’s why it’s important they receive food, water, medicine, masks, and other necessities fast. That will make it easier for us to convince them they must stay home. (READ: ‘Walang-wala na’: Poor Filipinos fear death from hunger more than coronavirus)

So far, there are no COVID-19 cases among our 1,500 families. We do have the usual illnesses like diarrhea and fevers. Now though, when someone has a fever, the neighbors won’t go near anymore. We took one person to the hospital but the doctor sent him back home with instructions for self-quarantine. I was shocked when we brought the person back to the community; some people protested and didn’t want to let him in, fearing contamination. I had to threaten them with arrest if they prevented him from entering his house. It turned out to be just a regular fever and he recovered. Two others persons also had high temperatures but these again turned out to be ordinary fevers. 

The barangay has used some of its funds to help out our people but these are limited. The city and the Mayor have provided food packs. But how long will sardines, canned goods, and 3 kilos of rice last for a family of 8? Probably not even a week. Then what? As of today (April 2), the national government has not yet sent any assistance to us. 

What really complicates the situation are the TV programs where national officials announce that certain goods or cash are coming. People are relieved and hopeful, believing the items are on their way. Then a week goes by. Then another. They hear and see nothing more. That’s when their lingering fears and frustrations boil over. I explain that it takes time to organize the whole system to be sure those who are entitled are the ones who receive the money. But insecure and hungry people don’t easily accept that. Some shout at me asking where the money is, accusing us as government officials of keeping much of it for ourselves. They even taunt us as “KUPIT-19” (Pilferers-19)! That hurts! I really worry about maintaining order if the growing anger turns violent. 

Part of the problem stems from the confusing procedures for listing qualified recipients for assistance.  Last February, for example, we submitted to the municipal social welfare office our updated list of over 1,500 vulnerable families in 1,292 households. When the DSWD announced the Social Amelioration Compensation cash grants of P5,000 to P8,000 for vulnerable groups and those who lost their jobs or livelihoods, we were proud that our community profile was ready. But DSWD brought only 1,200 SAC forms, leaving out the remaining 92 households plus the additional 308 families in structures with two or more families.

It turns out the list the DSWD used for the SAC form distribution was not the one based on our household survey of families. Instead they relied on another list we had compiled for the issuance of quarantine passes during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). There we were instructed to count only the number of entrance doors because only one quarantine pass would be issued per structure. The designated person would thus be the sole member allowed to leave the house. (READ: Duterte chaos leaves barangay officials ‘helpless’ amid lockdown)

To our surprise the quarantine roster has become the official list for the SAC. We had a hard time explaining the mix-up to the people. The households with more than one family were really angry, since they assumed the SAC criterion favored families rather than households. DSWD did accede to our request for 300 more SAC forms which we promptly completed and returned. We don’t know though whether the national and city governments will recognize these additional entries because of DSWD’s insistence on the one-household criterion for SAC distribution regardless of the number of families or members in it.  Even the Mayor based his P1,000 cash assistance on the quarantine list of households rather than the family profile. (READ: [ANALYSIS] Challenges facing social amelioration for the coronavirus)

When we realized the gap, we decided to divide up the money he provided so that all families got P500 supplemented by a half sack of rice, which we asked the Tsu Chi Foundation to donate. You can’t keep relying on the government for everything but have to use your own imagination to look for additional resources. That’s what leadership is about: when you see a problem, you fix it!  

For me, it is terrible to look into the eyes of hungry children. Although poor families in a community like ours have always faced the problem of feeding their children, this time it’s different. Their parents cannot go out to earn and buy food. So they simply wait for government relief and other donations. I’ve reached out beyond government to all my outside contacts including NGO friends like COM, FDUP, and the church. They help and also put us in touch with other groups donating goods and cash. 

If I were to send a message to the President that would reflect what our people are thinking and saying, this is what it would be:

Mr President, just instruct your officials to tell the truth about the kinds of relief national government can actually give us. Don’t let people build up their hopes then leave them disappointed; that is what makes them angry. Don’t permit the government to make promises it doesn’t fulfill. Better still, make those promises come true – and fast! – Rappler.com

Jonjon S. Elago is Kagawad of Barangay 286, Del Pan Bridge. He is also President of the People’s Plan Ville Home Owner’s Association. 

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