An urban poor leader discusses life under COVID-19
COVID-19 has changed the way we live. In our urban poor community, we face uncertainty every day of our lives. The new demands placed on us by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) have made life even more precarious. Our monitoring shows that the barangay has 7 confirmed cases (as of May 14). Although we have been informed that probable and suspected COVID-19 cases were transferred to the barangay’s quarantine facility for closer monitoring or placed under strict home quarantine, we are uneasy and need more information. Severe movement restrictions have stopped us from working and earning. Practicing social distancing in our crowded homes and streets or washing hands thoroughly when water is scarce make compliance nearly impossible. (READ: [ANALYSIS] We need safe, clean water during the coronavirus pandemic)
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic came to Doña Imelda, we poorer residents living for decades in this middle-class subdivision’s park space faced many problems. Eviction was a constant threat. In 2003, government informed us that its flood control projects required those families on the 10-meter Pasig River easement to leave. Alarmed, our late and very dynamic President Ka Jose Morales invited Community Organizers Multiversity (COM) to help us. That led to the formation of our People’s Organization (PO), ULAP Doña Imelda (Ugnayang Lakas ng mga Apektadong Pamilya sa Baybayin ng Ilog Pasig at mga Tributaries, Doña Imelda). We lobbied instead for a 3-meter easement and in 2004 our counterproposal was granted. Through our alternative People’s Plan, we organized our members to legitimize the land claims of the entire community.
As the current president of ULAP Doña Imelda, I am leading the community response to the social impact of COVID-19. Quarantine restrictions make food and supplies really hard to access. Many here are hungry. I make my living as a padyak (pedicab) driver and street vendor. In more than 34 years here, I have proudly witnessed how through the help of COM community organizers, we have pulled through disasters and achieved some successes in struggles over land claims and related demands. ULAP’s priority now is organizing the community to handle COVID-19 problems.
Fortunately, the bayanihan spirit thrives here. Families are used to helping one another especially during crises. They received food donations and financial aid in periodic waves from the barangay, the city government, the parish, COM, and VP Leni’s office. Special care was extended to families directly affected by COVID-19. Senior citizens benefited from an organization connected to a local university. However, from the local commercial establishments and the residents of the middle-class subdivision surrounding us, there has been no word of organized initiatives to help our affected families.
People need reliable sources of information for systematic dissemination of COVID-19-related facts. The barangay updates us about the status of confirmed cases in our community. If we are fully informed about cases, we can encourage people to take the necessary steps for protection. The barangay should have a bulletin board with reliable, complete, and updated information. Otherwise, the spread of rumors and unverified information creates confusion, even fear. Mass testing has not yet begun. Those who were tested still await feedback from the barangay. Educational programs on contagion management from the Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT) have yet to come to our area. For the latest news on COVID-19, we have to rely on social media and television. (READ: [OPINION] Why we fear: Risk, society, and the coronavirus)
ULAP members proactively monitored distribution of financial aid from government agencies. Qualified recipients of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) were identified in two ways. On one hand, 24 families were interviewed and given forms by the Quezon City Social Services Development Department. On another, 42 families were identified and endorsed by our purok leaders to the barangay. Aid was distributed in batches. It took a while before all identified families benefited. Other families who did not receive forms for the emergency subsidy program reported the issue to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). Evidence speaks for itself, says CO Ivy. We have community data showing all qualified families for these programs; a number of them in Doña Imelda have not yet benefited. If we fail to monitor and report distribution-related issues, we are not fulfilling our duty. The government has announced a second wave distribution of cash. Until that happens, the truly deserving members of the community are left to hope and suffer.
The government’s lack of preparedness and poor management are a form of negligence. Nobody, not even our organization was, prepared for the ECQ. Hard times loom ahead.
The researcher’s perspective – John Joseph Posadas
Uncertainties regarding national timelines on lifting the ECQ place Kuya Ricky and his community in very difficult circumstances. Anxiety is growing over how long they can rely on outside food and medicine donations. The risk of his own family’s and others suffering from hunger heightens his fears.
Kuya Ricky knows that his livelihood depends on passengers and buyers living and working in the area. Understanding that link, he focuses on the situation of his riders and the larger community. “If I can make a living from pedaling my sidecar and peddling goods, I will have money to take home. But what if my riders have no fare to pay me?”
The ECQ has eliminated opportunities to work legally, but what if he tries risky diskarte (livelihood tactics)? If he peddles his padyak into an area where only motorized vehicles are allowed or sells his goods at a forbidden street corner because that is where the customers are, the ire of the authorities will descend upon him. Result? A bribe or the confiscation of his padyak and goods, or a few nights in jail.
Laws have been developed around the formal economy that do not fit the informal economy and automatically turn those who deviate from the law into “violators.” As Kuya Ricky remarks, “Pag mahirap ka, madali ka lang. Ikukulong ka nila agad. Ang hirap maging mahirap. Di namin nakikita na meron kaming justice sa kanila (gobyerno) ngayon.” (It’s easy for authorities to send the poor to jail. It’s hard to be poor. We don’t see any evidence of justice for the poor from government.) Before ordering people who live on day-to-day earnings to stay at home for an extended period, the government should have stockpiled food and other basic necessities for them in sufficient amounts beforehand. Otherwise, it is not the virus that will kill them, but hunger. – Rappler.com
Ricky Calinaya is the current President of ULAP Doña Imelda and an officer of the Pedicab Drivers Association of Doña Imelda, Quezon City.
Ivyrose Igup is the community organizer from Community Organizers Multiversity engaged with Doña Imelda for almost 5 years.
John Joseph Posadas is an Assistant Professor of Public Health Nursing at the UP College of Nursing. He wrote the stories via cellphone interviews in Filipino of R. Calinaya and I. Igup as part of the UP Diliman Engaged Anthropology course under Prof. Mary Racelis. His two co-authors reviewed this article and approved its dissemination to a wider public.
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