THE pandemic and the government’s failure to reach marginalized communities worsened inequality in the country this year, according to a study released by the University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies Program on Alternative Development (UP-CIDS AltDev).
In an e-mail to the BusinessMirror, UP-CIDS AltDev Convenor Eduardo C. Tadem said the country’s Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality, likely increased this year given the rise in poverty and joblessness.
Tadem noted that 40 percent of the labor force has resorted to taking on part-time work, while 30.7 percent of Filipinos experienced hunger this year. Many micro, small and medium industries have also decided to close.
“Although there are no official figures on Philippine inequality due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I am certain that the Gini Index has worsened,” Tadem said in an e-mail. “[Amid rising poverty and hunger], the big players have been raking it in and the millionaires and billionaires have increased their net worth.”
Tadem also warned that if the government will not prioritize the poor and marginalized communities in its vaccine distribution program, existing inequalities could worsen.
“If the government does not ensure that it prioritizes the poor and marginalized with free or subsidized care, it will follow that only the rich and privileged will get vaccinated first. The existing inequalities that exist in health care in the country will thus be exacerbated,” he said.
On the ground
In a briefing on Wednesday, Mina Justo, an officer of the Alyansa ng mga Samahan sa Sitio Mendez, Baesa Homeowners Association Inc. (Asamba), said they received insufficient help from the government.
This forced Asamba to shell out funds to help the community. They gave two rounds of ayuda in the form of rice, sardines, eggs and noodles for the 345 Asamba family members.
However, the ayuda did not include those members of their community who were just renting. So when the government’s ayuda arrived, Asamba had to prioritize these renters and provided additional ayuda because the government’s help was not enough.
In far-flung areas such as those belonging to the Ayta Mag-indi Community in Porac, Pampanga, the help extended to the Aeta community was also not enough.
The ayuda from the local government covered just 20 families. The community had to divide the assistance to as many as 250 families.
In this community, out of 950 families qualified for the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), only 417 received assistance from the government. The insufficient help received is a common story among marginalized communities.
“It is very difficult for us to keep on waiting and thinking of how and where we can get food because that is the most important. We cannot fight our hunger pangs,” Rowena Osal, a representative of Maigting na Samahan ng mga Panlipunang Negosyante ng Towerville Inc., said in Filipino in a briefing on Wednesday.
Apart from food and other basic needs, some 5,000 students in Lumad and Bakwit Schools were marginalized. Rose Hayahay, a volunteer teacher in the Save Our Schools Network, said 178 Lumad schools are closed in Mindanao.
Marivic Atacador, President of Bantay Kalusugang Pampamayanan (BKP) in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, said their group has continued monitoring their community members’ health.
They also sought to spread accurate information on Covid-19—all despite many BKP members and their families getting reduced pay or losing their day jobs.
These stories were included in the UP-CIDS AltDev study titled “Marginalized Societies and the State in the Time of Pandemic: The Philippine Case,” commissioned by the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization (Unesco).
Researchers spoke to Ayta Mag-Indi Indigenous People, Lumad “Bakwit” School teaching staff, an urban poor community, a women’s social enterprise cooperative, and a community health workers’ group to understand the unique ways in which the pandemic and lockdowns have affected the country’s most vulnerable.
“There is much more that can be done to address the health crisis. It will take a major rethinking of fundamental principles of governance and paradigm resetting for the situation to dramatically improve. What is essential is for the whole of society to work together,” Tadem and UP College of Social Work and Community Development’s Karl Arvin Hapal said in a think piece.
The UP-CIDS AltDev made eight policy recommendations, such as adopting a whole-of-society approach rather than a whole-of-government approach in addressing the inequalities created by the pandemic.
They recommended crafting a concrete masterplan to address the continued rise of Covid-19 cases, as well as restructure and reorganize the management system of the health crisis.
The study also recommended: addressing the reliability of data on the pandemic; refraining from incurring more debts and cancelling the existing ones; and enacting a wealth tax on the richest Filipinos to raise Covid-19 measures.
It said the agriculture sector must be rescued by extending subsidies and repealing the Rice Trade Liberalization law, writing off amortization payments for agrarian reform beneficiaries, imposing a moratorium on farmers’ debt payments, among others.
It advocated economic measures to benefit the working class, such as providing hazard pay at double or triple the regular rate; providing wage amelioration, cash assistance and unemployment insurance; promoting green jobs; and extending a one-time P500,000 grant to micro, small and medium enterprises in exchange for keeping their employees, among others.