Updated: Jul 24, 2020
With most jobs put on hold because of the pandemic, the government's Social Amelioration Program (SAP) aims to ease the lives of the poor while the country is under enhanced community quarantine. So how did it start a rift between social classes? E examines the disapprobation against the lower class during this crisis.
The Covid-19 pandemic affects everyone. This disease doesn't discriminate among genders, social classes, and races. No matter who you are, where you come from, or what you have in life, you can get infected by the virus.
However, we can't deny that privilege still plays a huge part on how we are able to respond to this crisis.
I, for example, come from a middle-class family. I'm a freelance writer based at home, so I have continuous work despite the economic shutdown. My father is a government employee, so he still receives his monthly salary despite work being suspended during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). We have a comfortable home. We have internet connection and cable TV. We always have food on our table. When we run out of supplies, we can have groceries delivered to our house.
In other words, we are lucky to have the privilege to stay at home during this crisis. But not everyone is as fortunate as we are.
COVID-19 versus the Lower Class
Based on the most recent data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the poverty incidence in the country is at 16.6%. Among families, the poverty incidence is at 12.1%, which accounts for about three million families in the Philippines. For these Filipinos, their "per capita income is not sufficient to meet their basic food and non-food needs." Moreover, 5.2% of Filipinos and 3.4% of families can't even afford to meet their basic food needs.
Street vendors, jeepney and tricycle drivers, and construction workers—most of these Filipinos eat on an isang kahig, isang tuka basis. If they can't work, they and their families can't eat.
While the ECQ is a necessary step to flatten the curve, we can't ignore the negative impact that it has on our fellow citizens. There are Filipinos who are literally starving because they haven't earned any income since the ECQ was implemented last March 16, 2020. That's 50 days of no steady work, no income, and no way to feed their families.
Aside from not being able to work, the lower class is perhaps the most vulnerable sector of the population. A lot of these Filipinos, especially those who reside in Metro Manila and other urban places, live in squatter areas where houses are built so close together.
If one person who lives in this type of community is a front liner (say, a garbage collector or a street sweeper), and they get exposed to the virus, the risk of infecting the whole community is higher than, say, if a doctor who lives in a gated subdivision (where houses are farther apart) becomes infected. Wouldn't you deduce the same?
A lot of these people also live in one-room homes where all family members eat and sleep. If infected, the person with the virus won't have a room to isolate themselves in.
In this crisis, the lower class faces another challenge that those in middle and upper classes may not have to worry about— the cost of COVID-19 treatment. In the Philippines, an 18-day hospitalization for COVID-19 can amount to P1.1million!
While it is true that PhilHealth will shoulder the cost, how many poor individuals or families do you think have a PhilHealth membership? If a poor person gets COVID-19, will they be able to afford the cost of hospitalization? I think the answer to this question is obvious.
The Government versus the Lower Class
As part of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the government launched the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) as a way to help 18 million poor households in the Philippines. The beneficiaries will receive P5,000 to P8,000 of cash and/or in kind assistance.
The government implemented the Luzon-wide ECQ on March 17, 2020. Filipinos did not have enough time to prepare for the lockdown. In addition, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) did not sign, enact, and release the guidelines of the SAP until March 30, 2020.
For two weeks, the poor had to rely on the president's promise that there is a budget, that he will make sure they are taken care of, and that he (or the country) wouldn't run out of money to give to the poor.
Two weeks without work. Two weeks without food. Two weeks with nothing but the president's words to hold onto.
(In some places, it took longer than two weeks before the budget was distributed by local government units (LGUs). Some had to wait for almost a month, others even longer than that.)
If you've been watching or reading the news, you've probably heard about Sitio San Roque in Quezon City and its 21 residents who broke quarantine protocols to ask for food and financial aid from the local government. Police arrested them, and they were asked to pay P15,000 each as fine for illegal assembly (mass gathering during the quarantine).
If these people are asking for food and financial aid, how are they supposed to pay the P15,000 fine? Thankfully, concerned citizens were able to raise money to help the San Roque 21 post bail.
However, instead of rebuking Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte's poor governance, President Duterte, during his press conference, said this:
"I will not hesitate. My orders are sa pulis pati military...na pagka ginulo at nagkaroon ng okasyon na lumaban at ang buhay ninyo ay nalagay sa alanganin, shoot them dead. Naintindihan ninyo? Patay. Eh kaysa mag-gulo kayo diyan, eh 'di ilibing ko na kayo."
(This statement was connected to alleged "riots" organized by the left. Note, however, that not a single group has protested on the streets during the ECQ. The only incidence that can be considered a "riot" in the country at this time was what happened in Sitio San Roque, Quezon City.)
Let's also not forget that when pro-Duterte senator Koko Pimentel broke quarantine protocols, the government's response was to show him compassion. Recently, pro-Duterte Mocha Uson (who is Deputy Administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) also attended a mass gathering in a resort in Batangas where repatriated overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are currently in quarantine. However, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that the Malacañang will not take action against her.
The Middle Class versus the Lower Class
On social media, I have seen a lot of friends and relatives post about how the poor are "pasaway" and do not deserve the assistance they are receiving from the government. They say that the poor should not receive aid because they do not pay tax. They say that the poor should have stayed in school, should have found better jobs, should have saved enough money for this kind of crisis, etcetera...
Most of the people who post these kinds of sentiments are from the middle class.
They defend Duterte's anti-poor statements and lack of compassion. They generalize the poor and call them thieves, alcoholics, gamblers, drug addicts, and drug pushers. Some of them even go as far as saying that Duterte should declare Martial Law, as if they would be exempted from it because they support the administration.
In a time when we should all come together to defeat the real enemy, which is COVID-19, it's really disappointing to see society's disapprobation against the poor. How did the poor become the villain during this crisis?
Why don't we empathize with the less fortunate instead? Get off your middle-class high horse and try to see the world from their eyes. If you were in their situation, what would you do to help your family survive?
Actually, let me rephrase that question. What would you NOT do to ensure that your family survives this crisis? If your children are starving, wouldn't you be pushed to do desperate things as well? Wouldn't you ask for help?
This post is sponsored by Simula PH.