The Philippines has struggled to keep Covid-19 at bay. As of the end of January this year, the Philippines registered the highest number of reported Covid-19 cases in the World Health Organisation Western Pacific Region, surpassing populous countries such as China, Japan, and Vietnam.
The country ranked among the lowest scoring countries in the Bloomberg Covid Resilience Ranking by the end of 2021, indicating a lagging performance in indicators of vaccine coverage, overall cases and mortality, and mobility.
Faced with increasing cases and a burdened health system, the Philippine government has resorted to mobility restrictions characterised by complete lockdowns, increased presence of uniformed personnel, and limited reopening of industries. The message spread by the government throughout the country since the onset of the pandemic is to ‘stay at home’.
As the crisis seems to have no end in sight, more people have started to question the ‘stay at home’ orders. Restricted mobility means people are not able to go to their workplaces and open their businesses. In these situations, people turned to the government for ayuda.
Ayuda is a Filipino word that means ‘aid or ‘assistance’. The word has been used to pertain to forms of assistance, such as cash or food, distributed during the aftermath of a disaster.
Throughout Covid-19, the Philippines saw ayuda take the form of cash subsidies to households amounting from PHP 5,000 to 8,000 (USD 100 to 150) for a maximum of two months from the ‘Social Amelioration Program’ of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Other forms of ayuda included sporadic food packs that usually contained rice and assorted canned goods provided by local government units, religious groups, and nongovernment organisations.
While the provision of ayuda has been the saving grace for many households affected by disruptions to lives and livelihoods, the experience has also unveiled inadequacies of the social protection mechanisms that prevent households from falling deeper or back into poverty.
Solidarity amidst lockdown: Volunteers distribute food to residents lining up in a Community Pantry in Maginhawa, Quezon City, Philippines (Photo by Jire Carreon)
During the onset of the pandemic, cost become a key concern as governments remained uncertain if they could afford funding to cover all vulnerable households in the country. The Philippine government was quick to enact the ‘Bayanihan to Heal as One Act’ in March 2020 as a measure to reallocate, realign, and reprogram national budgets for programs for health and social protection.
A total of nearly PHP 200 billion (USD 3.9 billion) was allocated to the social welfare department for the provision of ayuda. However, several distribution issues marred the program.
In starting distribution, there was no updated record on who is eligible to receive the ayuda. The social welfare department released guidelines on priority beneficiaries to be identified by the local government. However, reports of assistance distributed to ineligible individuals, duplicate recipients, and priority groups being denied due to being non-voters in the area, became common during the distribution.
For those fortunate to receive the ayuda, the benefits to the household were short-lived. The amount distributed was far below the monthly income of minimum wage, with even lower amounts allocated in some regions. Higher amounts were distributed in urbanised regions although this was still inadequate as prices of goods and rent remain higher in these areas.
Constantly changing guidelines on mobility compound issues on ayuda. New surge of cases within a province, city, or municipality lead to restrictions imposed by the national level. In most cases, the decision to restrict mobility becomes unpopular due to people’s frustrations and the government admitting to reliance on depleted resources for responding to both pressing and emerging needs from the pandemic.
Until the Philippines is able to achieve the balance between ensuring stable health service-delivery and the revitalising of the economy, many people will continue to look to the government, both national and local, to support their survival needs.
Ayuda is needed to address initial shocks, but questions still arise concerning how the government can improve its approach. The answers warrant input from other sectors beyond health such as labour and employment, trade and industry, agriculture, to mobilise their resources to cushion the effects of the pandemic more quickly and effectively.
The Philippine government needs to explore and institutionalise more proactive and long-term actions such as creating adaptive employment and livelihood opportunities to complement its social protection measures. Only then can people gain confidence to navigate the socioeconomic uncertainties of the continuing pandemic.
This is one of a series of blogs supported by the IDS alumni office and written by current IDS students and PhD Researchers from academic year 2021-2022 Autumn Term.
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