'We will die of hunger': Anxiety over paltry Covid-19 lockdown aid in the Philippines

Metro Manila and nearby provinces will be locked down for two weeks starting on Aug 6.
Metro Manila and nearby provinces will be locked down for two weeks starting on Aug 6.PHOTO: PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Hair stylist Claire Ann Milan, 43, earns just enough to buy food and other daily needs for her household. Car shop machinist Ronaldo Morales, 49, is the breadwinner for a family of six. Both will be made to fend for themselves when Metro Manila and nearby provinces are locked down for two weeks starting on Friday (Aug 6).

They are among the 167,000 Metro Manila workers expected by the Department of Labour and Employment to be affected as the two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the strictest category in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, would force establishments in non-essential sectors, such as beauty and wellness as well as car repair, to close shop.

"For us who work at the salon, it's hard to have savings since we are not even minimum wage earners," Ms Milan said. "As a responsible daughter, it is my duty to provide for my mother's needs. But how will I do that if we are on a 'no work, no pay'?"

Mr Morales said: "I can't sleep because I keep on thinking that I have no idea how I will be able to support my family in the next two weeks. If I don't have a job, then our family will have no money at all, no source of income."

He said his family has never received financial aid from the local and national governments.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque earlier said that eligible residents of Metro Manila would receive cash assistance amounting to 1,000 peso (S$27) per individual and up to a maximum of 4,000 peso for each household.

This would be equivalent to only 71.42 peso a day for an individual and a ceiling of 285.71 peso a day for a family.

For Mr Aaron Altoveros, a minimum wage company driver, this was hardly enough to cover the needs of his family of five, with two children having lingering illnesses.

He lamented that such assistance would be insufficient since a single meal at an eatery already cost 70 peso, adding that "if they are going to impose a lockdown and that is the only aid they will give… we will die of hunger".

When ECQ was imposed on March 29 in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna, the government provided financial assistance of 1,000 peso per individual with a limit of 4,000 peso per family, to benefit some 22.9 million individuals affected by the strictest lockdown in these areas.

The ECQ was originally set for one week but was prolonged for another week until April 11. However, no additional aid was provided to low-income residents during the extended period.

Mr Altoveros said that if the government was going to impose a lockdown, it should allow businesses to continue operating so that families with only one breadwinner like his would not be adversely affected.

Partido Manggagawa party chairman Renato Magtubo on Tuesday urged the government to create a stimulus package intended to avert job losses.

He underscored the Nagkaisa Labour Coalition's proposal to the Department of Labour and Employment for unemployment support and work assistance guarantee, which should include a 10,000 peso income for those to be affected by the ECQ.

Depressing situation

In the 17 months since the Covid-19 crisis started, Mr Morales said he scrambled to find odd jobs, from painting to repairing cars. The money he earned, however, was still not enough to sustain his household.

Mr Morales said he used to tell his family to make do with what little money they had as Filipinos were still unsure when the pandemic would end.

With another two-week ECQ, he said he sat down with his wife and children again.

"We often encourage each other to keep fighting poverty. Without my family, I don't know where I would be now. It has been really depressing for all of us," Mr Morales shared.

Ms Vie, a 35-year-old accounting staff based in Metro Manila, lost her job because of a previous lockdown.

As the family's breadwinner, Ms Vie resorted to selling various goods she considered popular online and helped her mother sell street food in their neighbourhood.

She was also infected with Covid-19 in April, isolating her from her loved ones. Ms Vie's mother later suffered severe pneumonia and had to be hospitalised for a week, leaving their family helpless and without a source of funds.

"We are really scared to go out, to be honest. We thought that ECQ would be better since we won't be obligated to go out, but it's still difficult for us because of the 'no work, no pay' policy," she said.

She noted that the 4,000 peso maximum aid for a family would last about a week to buy her family's most basic needs such as rice and meat. Like Mr Morales, she said she has not received a peso from the government.

"We will have to make do with what we have. I'm thankful that I have friends who help me in any way possible but we'll keep working hard," Ms Vie said.

Mr Morales said: "It's like we're begging on the street for the government to give us cash aid just to survive. But until when will we have to endure? Everyone is already having a difficult time because we have nothing left."

The cash assistance to some 10.7 million Metro Manila residents during the two-week lockdown would come from the 13.1 billion peso in savings of various departments and agencies, according to Mr Roque.

He said an administrative order from President Rodrigo Duterte issued in May had directed the government to identify savings from their respective appropriations under the national budget so that these could be tapped to help the administration's pandemic response.

Money transfer

A lawmaker has also urged the government to use the "quickest and best way" to distribute cash aid to affected individuals in areas under ECQ.

BHW Representative Angelica Natasha Co said it could distribute the cash aid through the Department of Labour and Employment, the Social Security System and the Government Service and Insurance System, which could use money transfer outlets as well as electronic payment systems.

For House Committee on Ways and Means chairman and Albay Representative Joey Salceda, a ramped up vaccination has a very direct role in the job security of millions of Filipinos.

"(Lockdowns) are no longer the best approach at this stage of the pandemic. More jabs will save jobs," he added.