The role of Filipino bayanihan in the time of a pandemic

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The call for social distancing has only strengthened Filipinos’ communal unity in developing tangible solutions to the current socioeconomic problem that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Laguna (CNN Philippines Life) — To date, the community quarantine has been the government’s biggest attempt in flattening the curve of novel coronavirus cases in the Philippines. Since its enactment in Luzon and selected provinces, officials have continuously emphasized on the importance of the general public’s cooperation in its observance.

However, several points seem to have been overlooked upon the abrupt implementation, rendering marginalized sectors vulnerable amid the lockdown.

This resulted in several volunteer-driven efforts organized to address these lapses and give aid to those at risk. From frontline health workers and agricultural workers to women and daily wage laborers, there are initiatives focused on helping sectors most affected by the lockdown.

"During a crisis, if [women's] needs are not met, they may turn to unconventional solutions which may endanger their health," says Power in Her Story member Lara de los Reyes. Photo from POWER IN HER STORY/FACEBOOK

Addressing the urgent needs of marginalized women

Upon the implementation of the lockdown, numerous people have made frenzied rounds of panic-buying to stock up on supplies, leaving the urban poor and persons with limited mobility with insufficient supplies. Because of this, donation drives have been providing marginalized sectors with care packages to help them get by during this crisis.

Feminine hygiene kits are seldom prioritized in donation drives for the marginalized, despite being a necessity for most women. As a self-identified feminist publishing house, Power In Her Story (PIHR) acknowledges this current situation.

“Access to personal care products such as sanitary pads should be available to women and girls,” says PIHR founder Nikki Luna. “Our bleeding does not stop, and it should be part of essential needs when distributing goods to the most vulnerable.”

PIHR began the donation drive by only disseminating free sanitary pads to underprivileged communities, but the collective soon included rice, canned goods, and noodles to their “Collective Caring packs” to address women’s needs more comprehensively at a situation such as this.

Aside from Luna, who is an artist, PIHR comprises other women from diverse backgrounds: government organization officers Chang Jordan and Twyla Rubin; artist Lara De Los Reyes; and poet Faye Cura. Jordan and Rubin spearhead the collection, purchasing, and repacking of donations, as well as the coordination with beneficiary communities.

PIHR focuses their efforts in the benefit of women with disabilities and their families from four areas: Barangay Holy Spirit and Batasan in Quezon City, North Bay Boulevard North in Navotas, and Peoples’ Plainville in Manila. The collective also attends to families of EJK and tokhang victims, and has distributed feminine care to three hospitals for staff working ‘round the clock during this crisis.

Find Power In Her Story on Facebook for more information on how to donate.

Life Cycles PH seeks to provide bicycles to front liners — health workers, grocery employees, pharmacists, and other people critical to a functioning society — to aid in their problems with transportation. Photo from LIFE CYCLES PH/FACEBOOK

Providing alternatives for front liners

The enhanced community quarantine entailed shutting down public transportation in Luzon, with only private vehicles allowed to travel. But such is a privilege that not everyone has, forcing some front liners to walk for hours just so they could report to work and head back home.

This is what inspired Life Cycles PH to start their community drive, says founder Keisha Mayuga: to offer a third viable option for transport that is “sustainable, affordable, and compliant with social distancing requirements: taking a bike.”

This idea is now an actual operation run by a team of 34 people. The team sought out partnerships with institutions to help their front liners with this concern on transportation. “With bikes, their commute gains a little more dignity, and they are able to protect themselves while rendering much needed service to all of us,” says Mayuga.

With the help of their donors and supporters, Life Cycles PH was already able to raise ₱1.6 million for the Filipino front liners after roughly two weeks of operation. At the time of writing, Life Cycles PH has been able to give out a total of 318 bikes to 18 institutions, including the LGUs of Pasig and San Juan, and hospitals such as The Medical City, Philippine General Hospital, and Philippine Heart Center, among others. The team has also set up an online group where bike lenders can connect with borrowers, which has led to more than 250 matches.

Find Life Cycles PH on Facebook for more information on how to donate.

PAGASA partners with community volunteers to provide survival packs to daily wage workers and prepare hot meals to health workers. Photo from PAGASA/FACEBOOK

Developing a ‘new civil society’

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the People for Accountable Governance and Sustainable Action (PAGASA) has started conducting initiatives to respond to the “critical and urgent” and “un-addressed” need to feed daily wage workers and health workers.

But founder Katrina Stuart Santiago explains that PAGASA is more than a relief operation; instead it seeks to become a “new civil society that can respond to the Duterte times. The goal was a large enough organization that is neither Left nor Liberal, with people who see the limits of the current divide.”

When asked about their process, Santiago, who is a writer and a critic, explains that the Survival Packs for Daily Wage Earners core team (Santiago alongside cultural worker CJ Despuez, government worker Leslie Umaly, and PAGASA’s social media managers Keisha Uy and Anina Abola) partners with organizations and regular citizens who have access to food acquirable for the Survival Packs and can directly serve their immediate communities. PAGASA was able to reach out to over 50 communities in its first week, having delivered more than 1,600 survival packs.

Funneling some of the funds for the survival packs, the team was able to launch another project, Hot Meals for Health Workers, which benefits staff of small and underserved hospitals.

Santiago does not sugarcoat when asked what prompted PAGASA to start their relief operations: “These initiatives exist because the government is not doing its job… There is no public health response to a public health crisis. And we need to respond in the small ways that we can to address the needs of the most neglected, the ones who suffer the most.”

Find PAGASA on Facebook or Instagram for more information on how to donate.

Rural Women Advocates and Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women are calling for cash donations to help agricultural workers in Sorsogon, Isabela, Bataan, Cagayan, and Cavite. Photo from RURAL WOMEN ADVOCATES/FACEBOOK

Supporting farmers as food security frontliners

Farming communities are one of the most affected sectors due to the community quarantine, with checkpoints hindering farmers to harvest and the suspension of public transportation limiting the number of products they deliver to markets. This has caused the prices to plummet, with palay now as low as ₱14 per kilo, according to reports from Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon-Bataan.

To support agricultural workers, who serve as the frontliners of food security, amid the COVID-19 crisis, Rural Women Advocates (RUWA) and Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women have organized a donation drive for farming communities in Sorsogon, Isabela, Bataan, and Cagayan, as well as a fishing community in Cavite.

Through the support of allied collectives — Gantala Press, Me & My Veg Mouth, Sunday Smoothies and The Philippine Artisan — RUWA and Amihan launched an online call for donations.

Aside from encouraging citizens to support peasant families through monetary and in-kind donations, the organization also urges the National Food Authority to purchase palay from rice farmers to provide financial aid to the farmers and food supply to those most affected by the community quarantine.

As of this writing, ₱20,000 has already been donated to communities in Sorsogon, which will benefit 100 families from two barangays.

Find Rural Women Advocates or Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women on Facebook for more information on how to donate. 

Solidarity amid social distancing

Curiously, the call for social distancing has only strengthened Filipinos’ communal unity in developing tangible solutions to the current socioeconomic problem that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to.

The emergence of several volunteer-driven relief operations amid the COVID-29 pandemic is proof that Filipino bayanihan thrives in times of crises, that people, regardless of their social status, can set their differences aside to come together and work towards a singular goal.

In a matter of weeks, these independently organized community drives have demonstrated how solidarity can be fostered at a time like this, and help the most vulnerable sectors in today’s health crisis.