Coronavirus in the Philippines: How it is impacting the poor

“Isang kahig, isang tuka”

Pablo Virgilio David Follow


Bishop Pablo Virgilio David

As usual, it is the poor who suffer the most when a first world concept is applied in a third world setting.

Yesterday was Sunday. I thought of the thousands of drivers of jeepneys, tricycles and pedicabs who earned no income because there were no passengers going to Mass in Churches on account of the state prohibition of mass gatherings. I also thought of the peddlers in the streets, those who sell sampaguitas, candles, and all sorts of items to the Sunday worshippers. I thought of the casuals and contractuals who had to be sent home—no work, no pay.

The “unchurched poor” who think of Sunday, not as a day of worship, but as a day for earning a more substantial income by providing services or peddling things to Sunday worshippers did not earn their keep yesterday. Alas, for many of the urban poor in the slums areas in our diocese, rest on a Sunday is something they cannot afford.

“Isang kahig, isang tuka” (one scratch, one peck) is the common Filipino idiom describing the situation of the poorest of the poor. They are usually classified by the government not as “unemployed” but as “underemployed”. You cannot even call them contractuals because their means of livelihood do not involve any kind of contract at all. They have no social benefits like SSS, PhilHealth, & Pag-ibig. They have no day-offs, no maternity/paternity leaves, no vacation, no paid leaves. It’s always “no work, no income” for them. And no income means no food on the table. Period.

When people in government come up with measures and directives that impact the whole citizenry, who will speak out for the sectors that are practically regarded as non-entities in our huge metropolis? Do they even realize that not all our people are included in the government statistics? Are they even aware that among the slums in urban poor communities, anywhere between 10-20% of the people are undocumented, meaning “unregistered” because their parents failed to file for a certificate of live birth on their behalf? Do they know that we still have scores of unclaimed cadavers of EJK victims in funeral parlors because they remain unclaimed and unidentified?

The Sabbath Day was invented, not just as a religious obligation but as a matter of social justice. The idea is that people, especially the poor, are also afforded the luxury of having a day of rest and worship without going hungry.

Take note of the commandment as it is stated in Deuteronomy 5:13-15: “Six days you may labor and do all your work, Deuteronomy but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or donkey or any work animal, or the resident alien (meaning, the migrant workers) within your gates, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do. Remember that you too were once slaves in the land of Egypt, and the LORD, your God, brought you out from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. That is why the LORD, your God, has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.”


First world countries can easily declare “lockdowns” and “community quarantines” because they presuppose that their citizens have decent, relatively spacious homes with bedrooms where they can self-quarantine themselves and maintain “social distancing.” As Fr. Danny Pilario, CM asked a few days ago in his post, “Who will explain that animal they call ‘social distancing’ to the poor who live in our slums?” If they are ordered to “stay home” than loiter in the streets, are those who come up with such directives even aware that most of the urban poor live like sardines in their little shanties? As a matter of fact, they would rather stay outside precisely because there is a little more space out there in their street alleys, their covered courts, their “talipapas”.

In first world countries, their governments can declare paid no-work days because they presuppose that most of their citizens are employed. The unemployed and people with disabilities receive welfare subsidies. The retired ones receive their pensions. In short, even if they stop working they are assured that they will not go hungry.

Here’s the big nightmare: just one or two infected ones in an overly congested slum community would multiply into a thousand within a few days. Just one or two infected visitors in a city jail that has a maximum capacity of 200 but is actually holding 2,600 (as in Caloocan city jail and most other jails in the country), will multiply into hundreds and even thousands within a few days!

And which barangay health center has the capacity to do laboratory testings to determine whether the so-called PUMs (persons under monitoring) or the PUIs (persons under investigation) are positive of infection? And, presuming such testing procedures are made available in the health centers in the slum areas and are able to isolate the “Confirmed” virus carriers from the PUIs and PUMs, where will the infected ones be treated? Our public hospitals are always full already, COVID-19 or no COVID-19! It is not unusual to see the poor waiting in the corridors of public health care facilities. Obviously, the poor have no choice but wait in corridors because they cannot afford private hospitals, which, by the way, are not enough either.

I wonder if these questions even figure in the imagination of the people in government who set the directives? Just asking.

Obviously, because we cannot leave it all to government agencies, we have to do our part as citizens. Let his season of Lent be the perfect opportunity to come up with creative and out-of-the box responses motivated by Christian compassion and charity and aimed at mitigating the serious impact of “lockdowns” and “community quarantines” on the poorest of the poor in our vicinities. Let us call it “Love in the Time of COVID-19.”

David and Goliath : Bishop David and President Rodrigo Duterte

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