“Sino-sino ba ang tinutukoy nilang ‘lahat?'” asks Nanay Alena of Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Pamilya ng Pantawid (SNPP). “At bakit hindi kami kasama?” (Whom are they referring to when they say ‘everyone?’ And why aren’t we included?)
The extended community quarantine (ECQ) has been especially difficult for people whose access to resources was already limited even before the pandemic. One such group is SNPP, made up of parent-leaders and beneficiaries of the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, more popularly known as the “4Ps.” When DSWD announced that it would be suspending cash grant distributions as a precaution against the spread of the virus following the Luzon lockdown, SNPP mobilized in protest aided by online supporters. The strategy must have worked, as not long afterwards, DSWD retracted and announced that it would continue distribution under the recently passed Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
Two SNPP parent-leaders tell their stories, their names changed to protect their identities. “Sarah Natividad” lives in Mindoro Oriental with her two school-aged children and her husband, a tricycle driver. They share their home with her two siblings, one of whom has 4 children and the other, 3. “Alena Lopez” resides in Manila with her husband, a construction worker, and their 5 children.
Two mothers speak
As of May 14, there are 19 cases confirmed for COVID-19 in Mindoro Oriental, with 2 deaths, and 17 recoveries. As of May 28, the City of Manila lists 693 active cases, 101 deaths, and 369 recoveries.
Sarah laments the lack of testing kits in Mindoro. Her neighbors believe that proper testing requires travel to Manila. With public transport banned, even the nearest hospitals and drug stores are far away.
In Manila, Nanay Alena reports that community members showing flu-like symptoms avoid going to hospitals lest they be rejected, or even worse, actually be admitted and there contract the virus. They fear being ostracized by the community and barred from receiving aid if they disclose their actual conditions. She wishes that barangay officials would take the initiative to let people know which hospitals are already overloaded and which hospitals and health centers can be approached for non-COVID-19-related health concerns. That would ease tensions in the community.
Recently (May 17, 2020), complaints have arisen about the inefficiency of the emergency subsidy program’s (ESP) cash distributions to 4Ps and non-4Ps recipients. Only a small fraction of the recorded number of low income families received the promised aid. Even the amounts normally allocated to 4Ps recipients appeared threatened. Delays in the release of ESP forms and the approved list of recipients heightened anxieties.
Nanay Alena is disturbed by media portrayals of the violence directed at the poor in Metro Manila. Seeing TV images of citizens from low income households being beaten, publicly humiliated, jailed, and even shot adds to the community’s disquiet. Soldiers enforcing restrictions on mobility rather than providing guidance on public health measures has become a dominant image of government. “Bakit kami ang kalaban? ‘Di ba COVID ang kalaban? Mas okay na mamatay sa virus kaysa sa baril,” she comments. (Why are they fighting us? Isn’t COVID the enemy? We’d rather die from the virus than a gun.)
Given the strict schedule whereby only a limited number of people are allowed outside the household, residents rush to markets at the prescribed times. The lack of public transport means walking long distances and carrying heavy purchases back home. Even if they have bank cards, ATMs are out of easy reach, delaying the collection of their cash grants and financial aid.
Older persons and PWDs in Manila experience similar difficulties claiming their cash grants. Add to this their particular vulnerability to the virus; many avoid venturing outside. The situation of pregnant women is similarly worrisome because of their unmet need for check-ups, vitamins, and nutritious meals.
In Manila’s urban poor communities, any delays or failure of the government to supply food relief packs have been somewhat offset by private donations activated through their well-developed networks. However, the limited number of relief packs and faulty beneficiary lists means that distribution is often chaotic. Nanay Alena has made it a point to distribute donated food packs to as many families as possible, even those not included in SNPP. Sharing and caring are important values.
In Mindoro, food donations from city hall are distributed regardless of family size, with one pack per household even though several families may be living under one roof. Lately, Nanay Sarah and her family purposely wake up at noon or later so that they need prepare only one or two meals for the day. Sarah observes that the food donations generally fail to meet the children’s nutritional requirements of milk, vegetables, and fresh food. She is however thankful that she can grow vegetables in her small patch of land.
An added worry for Sarah is the lack of accurate or clear information about the spread of COVID-19 and the corresponding protocols. Most of their information comes from community organizer group chats, which they disseminate widely. Both the Manila and Mindoro groups rely on social media and one another for information on the virus. They want to know the location of accessible health centers, scheduled sanitation programs in public areas, information campaigns on the virus, and how to prevent its spread.
Aware only of vague plans and safeguards that government sources say will be implemented after the ECQ is lifted, parent-leaders and community members in both Mindoro and Manila worry constantly about their income insecurity and accumulating bills. Most are anxious to start earning again to make up for the many weeks of lost income.
“Maganda din na sanay kami sa [simpleng] pagkain,” says Sarah. “Ang pagkakaiba nga lang ngayon iniisip na namin ang susunod na araw.” (It’s a good thing we’re used to simple meals. The difference now is we’re already thinking about the next day.)
Reflections of the researcher – Simone Sales
The reality is that the ECQ has affected the urban and rural poor in far more disastrous ways than the rest of society. Not only do they lack secure access to essential goods, but their appeals and complaints often go unheard by officials. Social media is fraught with comments and criticisms on the “special attention” going to 4Ps beneficiaries. The degrading stereotype of “the lazy poor” still flourishes, more dangerous than ever in being utilized to justify neglect and violence directed at the poor.
Nanays Alena and Sarah show that vulnerable though these SNPP communities are, they nonetheless display strong currents of bayanihan and togetherness and appreciate the same from outside benefactors. Some households even deflect aid asking that it be given to still needier families. Already at the bare minimum, families donate what they can to frontliners in gratitude for their generosity in attending to the needs of COVID-19 victims. (READ: Pay it forward: Cebu 4Ps beneficiaries organize coronavirus relief drive)
Although these communities live on society’s margins, they make up the majority of the country. What does it say when our leaders belittle the people who largely comprise the nation? Perhaps the “poorest of the poor” can teach them what lahat really means. – Rappler.com
Simone Sales is a graduate student at the University of the Philippines Department of Anthropology. She did the cellphone interviews as a member of Prof Mary Racelis’ Engaged Anthropology class. Her two SNPP co-authors reviewed the resulting article in its Filipino translation, and gave their permission for its posting on Rappler.com.
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