Under the newly passed Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which places the Philippines under a state of calamity and grants the president emergency powers, the poorest Filipinos will receive financial assistance based on the minimum wage in their area. Senator Bong Go assured that low-income families who are not part of the conditional cash transfer program will still be provided monetary aid given that the local government identifies them as indigent.
“Ang ating 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) beneficiary sa ngayon ay about 4 million families. Ang target po nito ay about 18 million families. Kasama na po rito ang lahat ng mga taxi drivers, tricycle, trisikad, habal-habal, vendors. Lahat po ng nangangailangan ng tulong, lalung-lalo na po ‘yung mga ‘isang kahig, isang tuka’ na inaasahan lang po ang kanilang sahod o kita sa araw-araw,” says Go.
Based on the implementing rules and regulations, which is currently in the works, “the assistance will be given directly to the target beneficiary.” However, these 18 million families have still yet to receive the government cash subsidies ranging from P4,000 to P8,000—leaving them no choice but to battle hunger without any help from the government.
In Bued, a village in Pangasinan, idle lots have been converted into small farms where people plant vegetables such as okra, tomatoes and eggplants. Local officials distributed seeds among households, making this community-based project a safety net in the case of food shortage. Bued farmers were also encouraged to sell their harvested rice to their officials who will then handle its distribution and thus sustain their community.
“At the moment we can assure at least a few weeks to a month’s supply. Succeeding supplies heavily depends on how current issues are handled. We did not anticipate this situation so incoming materials in the next coming weeks can be an issue,” says the Philippine Chamber of Food Manufacturers Inc.
Baguio City also enabled their locals to set up “survival gardens” through free vegetable seeds. Benguet supplies 80 percent of the country’s vegetable requirement. But due to the extreme enhanced community quarantine, the delivery of vegetables is temporarily on hold while officials are tracking people who might have contracted the virus.
The precautionary measures implemented in response to COVID-19 have caused serious delays, greatly affecting farmers. Because farmers have to stop in several checkpoints before they reach trading posts, the vegetables lose their freshness (and thus, its overall quality), which in turn eventually diminishes their market value.
The resiliency of Filipinos, particularly those who belong to the poorest sector, is often revered, but it doesn’t explain how farmers and other marginalized citizens are coping with the delayed service.
Two of 11 canneries in Zamboanga also cut their production outputs by almost half due to shortage in workers and fish supply due to the quarantine restrictions. Because public transportation was suspended in observance of the lockdown rules, many workers weren’t able to reach their factories. These 11 canneries make up 85 percent of canned sardines in the country.
Sardines brands Mega and King Cup are running on 60 percent and 50 percent capacity, respectively. This also pushed the companies to decrease their order of fresh fish from their suppliers.
In Aggasian and Fugi village in Iligan City, people are consuming corn smuts, a type of plant disease caused by a fungus. Permaculturist Elton Caranay said the locals were eating this as an alternative. Although corn smut is a delicacy in Mexico, Filipino farmers consider it a pest in the cornfield.
“It’s enough to fill our stomachs during quarantine,” Caranay says.
The resiliency of Filipinos, particularly those who belong to the poorest sector, is often revered, but it doesn’t explain how farmers and other marginalized citizens are coping with the delayed service. Being innovative and flexible is not borne out of creativity but out of necessity. When one is left with nothing but the desperation to survive, people resort to extreme measures. Unfortunately, they’re sometimes held accountable for it, when in the first place they were the ones deprived of the very means, and the right, to survive.
Private establishments supplying basic necessities, such as pharmacies, groceries, public markets, hospitals, drugstores and water stations, will remain open.
It is true that the current crisis, which is slowly evolving from a global health emergency to a humanitarian crisis, calls for a unified action between the citizens and the national government but urgency is needed because at a time like this, we know all too well that we can’t afford delays while lives are on the line.
“At the moment we can assure at least a few weeks to a month’s supply. Succeeding supplies heavily depends on how current issues are handled. We did not anticipate this situation so incoming materials in the next coming weeks can be an issue,” says the Philippine Chamber of Food Manufacturers Inc. (PCFMI).
“It’s enough to fill our stomachs during quarantine,” Elton Caranay says.
The 100-member group includes food companies most of which are manufacturing canned goods and ready-to-eat meals such as San Miguel Corporation, Universal Robina Corporation, Century Pacific Food Inc., Nestlé Philippines Inc. and NutriAsia Inc.. Fast food operators Jollibee Food Corporation and Golden Arches Development Corporation are also part of the food chamber.
“We appeal to the provincial governors, city and municipal mayors in Luzon, including the Visayas and Mindnao, to allow their respective farmers, fishermen and workers in food processing and manufacturing facilities to continue to do their jobs, provided they adhere to the social distancing protocol and follow health and sanitation measures,” Department of Agriculture secretary William Dar says.
The government hasn’t announced any case of food shortage in areas affected by the quarantine. Private establishments supplying basic necessities, such as pharmacies, groceries, public markets, hospitals, drugstores and water stations, will remain open. However, the food and business industries have to deal with the operational restrictions brought about by the pandemic. Food production and distribution, along with healthcare and security, are practically holding the country together. If either of these completely stop—which, at the rate things are going—is not impossible, what will be left of our nation?
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