How the marginalized fight their way through the pandemic: the Philippine case


The following article is authored by Eduardo C. Tadem.


For the past nine months, the Philippines has been under varying levels of lockdown and quarantine mandates to address the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures, implemented mainly by security forces, exacted a heavy toll on the Philippine economy, social fabric, and political life. The government foresees the 2020 economy registering its worst performance in the post-war period. Close to three million more Filipinos are now poor, half of the labour force is jobless, 7.6 million families experience hunger, and 30% of businesses have closed. The Philippines government sought to assist struggling citizens through their social amelioration programme, or SAP (Department of Interior and Local Government, 2020).
Community Response to COVID
While COVID-19’s adverse impacts cut across all sectors of society, poor and marginalized communities have borne the brunt of the crisis even with the SAP. Despite difficulties, however, some grassroots organizations have been able to provide relief for their communities, especially in areas where government support was lacking. We examined five grassroots cases in urban poor areas and indigenous communities.[1]
Utilizing collective leadership, mass mobilization, and self-regulation principles, the Alyansa ng mga Samahan sa Sitio Mendez, Baesa Homeowners Association (ASAMBA) in eastern Manila monitored mobility, retrofitted gates, established checkpoints, initiated an information campaign, and addressed food needs. These measures, however, were insufficient to control the spread of the virus. The prolonged lockdown, loss of jobs by workers, and their reduced income-generating activities also impacted heavily the community. 


Upon the onset of the pandemic, the Bantay Kalusugang Pangkomunidad (BKP), a Community Health Watch in northeast Manila, mobilized to respond properly – monitoring local health conditions, providing emergency first aid, undertaking education on COVID-19, and soliciting donations. Unfortunately, BKP lacks the resources to scale up health monitoring and education.


Igting or Maigting na Samahan ng mga Panlipunang Negosyante ng Towerville Inc., a women’s social enterprise focused on garment production in northern Manila, benefitted from initial bulk orders for face masks from partner NGOs. Their situation, nevertheless, remains precarious as no further orders came. Quarantine measures are also inflexible and cumbersome and inattentive to humane considerations. 


The indigenous Ayta Mag-indi community in two ancestral domain villages set up a communications system and checkpoints while learning all they could about the pandemic. The Aytas also relied on their traditional indigenous knowledge and ancestral lands for food security and physical safety. The pandemic measures, however, are alienating as these go against their age-old principles of solidarity and caring for one another. The Ayta Mag-indi case also reflects the lack of government support for small farmer agriculture which has exacerbated conditions of rural communities.


The Lumad community schools for indigenous children in Mindanao were disrupted by government counter-insurgency campaigns– forcing the closure of many of them and the evacuation of thousands of school children. The “Bakwit School” was thus created and many students relocated to Metro Manila. To offset the school disruptions, remedial classes took place addressing the wellbeing of the students by cultivating skills and hobbies such as traditional bead work, sports, learning musical instruments, and artwork. In spite of additional classes, the schools have limited access to technology and have struggled to adapt to remote learning requirements.


The five marginalized communities featured here reveal that those imbued with the principles of solidarity, social cohesion, organizational fitness, and sharing can undertake the minimum alleviating measures. However, because their own resources are scarce, and livelihood opportunities and basic public services are wanting, their capacities to fully cope with a health disaster of the COVID-19 magnitude are limited.


The government sought to alleviate these issues through their social amelioration programme yet reoccurring complaints within the community groups include that it has been slow and inadequately implemented, non-inclusive, selective, stressful, and arbitrary, thus benefitting few residents. The government should recognize and appreciate what the grassroots are undertaking on their own and provide additional support to these communities. A major rethinking of governance principles and paradigm resetting are essential to successfully address the continuing crisis.

Policy Recommendations
Given the dire Philippine health and economic situation, the national government should consider undertaking new and additional measures to arrest the deteriorating conditions. The UP CIDS AltDev team presented a set of five policy recommendations to representatives of eight Philippine government agencies in an online forum on December 11, 2020.

  1. The most basic measures are to adopt a new paradigm of a “whole-of-society approach” rather than a “whole-of-government” approach. This requires building partnerships between all sectors of society while developing a concrete master plan that goes beyond social amelioration measures and waiting for a vaccine.


  1. The health crisis management should be restructured by transferring leadership to the hands of professional health experts - with security forces taking a secondary role.


  1. Government should spend more on COVID-19 responses as current and planned allocations have been deemed to be inadequate.


  1. To raise funds for COVID-19 responses, the government should cancel debt service payments and impose a wealth tax on the richest Filipino families.


  1. Immediate measures ought to be instituted to rescue the flagging agricultural sector, alleviate the plight of the rural poor and extend support to the working classes and micro and small enterprises. 


Department of Interior and Local Government, 2020. Special Guidelines on the Provision of Social Amelioration measures by the DSWD, DOLE, DTI, DA, DOF, DBM and DILG to the most affected residents of the areas under Enhanced Community Quarantine.


[1] The research and the analysis was conducted by the University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies, Programme on Alternative Development (UP CIDS AltDev), with support from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).




Eduardo C. Tadem, Ph.D. is Convenor, University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies, Programme on Alternative Development (UP CIDS AltDev), and a retired UP Professor of Asian Studies. This article is a summary of a 77-page Report submitted to UNESCO on October 25, 2020 and co-authored with Karl Arvin Hapal, Venarica B. Papa, Ananeza P. Aban, Nathaniel P. Candelaria, Honey B. Tabiola, Jose Monfred Sy, and Micah Orlino together with community leaders and residents.
The author is responsible for the facts contained in the article and the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of UNESCO and do not commit the Organization.