[Statement] The COVID-19 pandemic and the urban poor: a call to action -SALIGAN


An Open Letter to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Its Member Agencies

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a myriad of crises among the urban poor in the Philippines. With rising COVID-19 cases in major urban centers and with the government’s recent declaration of a quarantine extension that still puts highly urbanized areas like Cebu City and Mandaue City under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and the National Capital Region (NCR), Laguna, and Bulacan under Modified ECQ (MECQ), urban poor families are facing more risks and experiencing ever-increasing vulnerabilities.

Lack of access to testing and dense populations have particularly exposed urban poor communities to the risk of infection. Cramped in small shanties with very limited space for movement and with houses made of makeshift materials, physical distancing and home quarantine protocols are impossible to follow in most urban poor households. Overcrowded and with limited access to water and sanitation, urban poor communities are vulnerable to various health issues, including the unrestrained spread of COVID-19.

Job insecurity and loss of livelihood, coupled with lack of access to basic services, have pushed many urban poor families to extreme poverty. For two months now, most of the families have limited or zero income. The situation has exacerbated the insecurity and inflexibility of urban poor livelihoods and jobs. Informal sector workers and daily wage earners are immediately affected by the restrictions in movement and have narrow options in terms of alternative work arrangements. Families relying on microenterprises have used up their savings and working capital for their day-to-day needs during the quarantine.

Urban poor organizations have pointed out the inadequacy of the Social Amelioration Program (SAP). A significant number of vulnerable families and individuals have not been included in the lists and the selection process has resulted in conflict among community members, community leaders, and barangay officials. While local government units (LGUs) attempted to provide food assistance to families, food aid from government and CSOs has already dwindled on the third and fourth week of the community quarantine. The ban on public transportation without workable alternatives has disadvantaged poor frontline workers, workers in essential industries, patients requiring regular medical attention, and urban poor pass holders going out to buy food and medicine.

Human rights abuses and arrests related to quarantine violations of the urban poor have been documented by different human rights groups. Meanwhile, domestic and gender-based violence and child abuse have worsened, with victims trapped at home with their abusers. The pandemic has also taken its toll on the psychosocial wellbeing of urban poor families. Children especially suffer in the midst of uncertainty and insecurity.

Indeed, the vulnerabilities of the urban poor are manifold: first, to the virus; second, to hunger; third, to abuse; and fourth, to fear and anxiety. Without a vaccine, treatment, or cure in sight, immediate, inclusive, and comprehensive government intervention is required. The crises faced by the urban poor cannot be solved by enhancing or modifying community quarantines alone. Enhancements and modifications to the government’s health and social amelioration programs and services are also necessary. They are a matter of life and death.

It is in this light that we, the undersigned civil society organizations, advocates, and members of the academe, urge the IATF for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to consider adopting the following measures:

1) Conduct free mass testing in urban poor communities and, consequently, contact tracing of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Provide additional Temporary Treatment and Monitoring Facilities (TTMFs) and Local Isolation and General Treatment Areas for COVID-19 Cases (LIGTAS COVID) Centers as well as additional beds, food, water, sanitation facilities and equipment, and basic services for existing facilities and centers.

2) Automatically include all registered beneficiaries of the Urban Development and Housing Program, all qualified non-Pantawid urban poor households based on the guidelines of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and all families in National Housing Authority (NHA) Resettlement Sites, including non-traditional families and households, in the SAP. SAP allocation per community should be based on the actual number of families living there. Masterlists of registered beneficiaries and data on resettlement sites are immediately available at LGUs, homeowners’ associations (HOAs), people’s organizations (POs), and NHA.

3) Halt the incidence of hunger and fast-track the distribution of Food and Non-Food Items (FNIs) in urban poor communities. Augment the capacity of lower-income cities and municipalities to sustain the daily needs of big communities under their care.

4) Set up Mobile Palengke, Botika, and Family Clinics especially in communities that are far from city and municipal centers, marketplaces, and commercial areas. HOAs can help in the management of these initiatives.

5) Distribute face masks, alcohol, disinfectants, thermal scanners, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for community leaders who serve as frontliners in their communities, especially those with high numbers of COVID-19 cases.

6) Ensure sufficient water supply in all urban poor communities, especially in informal settlements and resettlement sites. In communities with limited access to washing and drinking water, water delivery and distribution should be undertaken.

7) Include programs and services for child protection and addressing domestic and gender-based violence as a core component of the government’s response to the pandemic, with sufficient resources and attention at national and all local levels. Facilitate the access of victim-survivors of domestic and gender-based violence and child abuse and exploitation to law enforcement, safety and security, legal assistance, and support services. This may be done by connecting the 911 Emergency Hotline to barangay violence against women (VAW) desks and women and children’s desks of the Philippine National Police (PNP), and allocating spaces that may serve as safe houses for victim-survivors. Barangay Councils for the Protection of Children (BCPCs) should also be activated to address child abuse and exploitation and domestic and gender-based violence alongside VAW desks. Existing protocols and guidelines for handling cases involving children should be promoted and popularized, and codes of conduct for the protection of children from abuse and maltreatment should be adopted by the PNP and LGUs.

8) Ensure the continuous access of children and adults to local healthcare services and facilities for nutrition, immunization, sexual and reproductive health, common illnesses, and mental health. All local healthcare workers must be provided with PPE. Physical distancing and regular disinfecting should be ensured in all health centers and facilities. The telemedicine program of the Department of Health (DOH) should also be made more accessible to children and adults in urban poor communities.

9) Undertake popular education and information campaigns to raise awareness and improve knowledge on COVID-19 and physical distancing and other measures in urban poor communities. Modules and materials for these campaigns should be age-appropriate, easily understandable, and accessible to PWDs.

10) Provide, in partnership with the private sector, free access of urban poor communities to the Internet as a crucial source of advisories and correct information related to the pandemic and the government’s programs and services. In this connection, measures to prevent online harassment and online sexual abuse and exploitation must also be adopted.

11) Reaffirm respect for human rights and human dignity as a policy of the State, especially in engaging and dealing with individuals suspected of violating the law to earn a living, to secure food, medicine, and basic necessities, and to air grievances. No individual suspected of violating the law should be physically or psychologically tortured or humiliated, or receive cruel, degrading, or inhuman punishment. Law enforcement protocols during the community quarantine should be exercised humanely and in accordance with principles of maximum tolerance, proportionality, and nondiscrimination.

12) Institute accessible and inclusive participation and feedback mechanisms at national and local levels especially for the urban poor and other vulnerable sectors, e.g. older persons, children, women, LGBT persons, and PWDs. Barangays should convene safe and regular consultations with community groups and organizations, such as HOAs, people’s organizations, and sectoral groups, for two-way feedback and inclusive recommendations on policies and concerns at the community level. Partnerships with CSOs working with different sectors should be built and strengthened to develop an inclusive whole-of-government approach that protects the vulnerable.


Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panlegal (SALIGAN)
Contact: JC Tejano | tejano@saligan.org

Associates of the Urban Poor, Inc.

Community Organizers Multiversity

Save the Children Philippines

Joly Homes Foundation, Inc.

Urban Forum PH

Samahan ng Mamamayan – Zone One Tondo Organization (SM-ZOTO)

Koalisyon Ng Mga Samahan Ng Taga-Balagbag, Inc.

Bagong Pag-Asa ng Taytay Homeowners Association, Inc.

Dr. Mary Racelis
Research Scientist, Institute of Philippine Culture; and
Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, School of Social Sciences
Ateneo de Manila University

Michael Lim Tan, PhD
Professor Emeritus
University of the Philippines Diliman

Edilberto C. de Jesus
Professor Emeritus
Asian Institute of Management

Agnes M. Brazal, PhD
Chair, Theology and Religious Education Department
De la Salle University

Randy Tuano
Assistant Professor, Economics Department
Ateneo de Manila University

Anna Marie A. Karaos
Associate Director
John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues

Skilty C. Labastilla
Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
Ateneo de Manila University

Athena Charanne R. Presto
Instructor, Department of Sociology
University of the Philippines Diliman

Simone Marie Sales
Department of Anthropology
University of the Philippines Diliman

Jennifer Kleskie
University of the Philippines Diliman

Noelle de Jesus

Deborah Nieto

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