Informal workers in Manila, especially women, struggled with hunger and unemployment after the Philippine capital and nearby cities were locked down for 90 days last year to curb virus transmission.
As a result, workers in the informal sector — from street vendors to household helpers — were forced to depend the most on government aid, said a case study that was released in March 2021. Although most informal workers received cash aid from the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), the funds were only good for one month, said the study, which consulted 70 residents in three villages in Tondo, the poorest district in Manila.
The case study — which also has a counterpart report about Tacloban City — is part of the Citizens’ Monitoring of Financing for COVID-19 Response and Recovery: Focus on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) Loan Project under the auspices of Social Watch Philippines and supported by Oxfam Pilipinas. [See: Manila Case Study]
The project examined the AIIB’s US$750-million loan to the Philippines which co-financed the COVID-19 Active Response and Expenditure Support (CARES) program. The program contains several measures to combat the pandemic’s adverse impacts, including, but not limited to, expanding medical services to step up testing and care for affected populations and providing social protection and livelihood support, especially to the most vulnerable sectors. The project also examined the SAP, which was funded by the CARES program loan that is co-financed by the AIIB.
With limited cash aid, informal workers had to rely on relief goods coming from the city government, large corporations, and non-government organizations, said the case study written by Sarah Salvador, the National Co-Chairperson of Aktibong Kilusan Tungo sa Iisang Bayan (AKTIB), one of the many partner organizations of Social Watch Philippines. Some even had to borrow money from friends and relatives just to survive, according to the case study. [See: Manila Case Study]
This exactly was the experience of Jocelyn Bayubay, a 42-year-old resident of Barangay 119, one of the three villages in Tondo, Manila selected by the case study.
Jocelyn, who is married to a tricycle driver and has 11 children, sells garlands of sampaguita (a small, fragrant jasmine flower) for a living. One garland has a dozen or so sampaguita flowers strung together and goes for P20 (US$0.40) per set of seven. These garlands are placed in religious altars in the homes of Filipino Catholics.
Before the pandemic, Jocelyn could sell as much as 1500 flowers from seven to nine in the morning and another 800 from four to eight at night while staying on her spot right by a nearby church. However, with the ensuing lockdown and a ban on large gatherings, she only currently manages to sell 500 flowers daily three times a week — Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.
During the strict three-month community quarantine, she was able to receive SAP funds twice just like most informal workers like her. She received P6,700 (US$134) during the first round and the full P8,000 (US$160) for the second.
However, the funds were barely enough for her children, the eldest of whom is a 23-year-old janitor who works for a bank but still lives with the family. Jocelyn’s youngest was born three years ago. This underscores the fact that while the SAP helped poor people’s day to day survival, because this was only provided twice — and the amounts were quite small — the money quickly ran out in a span of days.
“We just relied on the food packs given by the mayor,” Jocelyn said, adding that her family received relief packages four times for the entire period. However, each food package — five kilos of rice and several pieces of canned goods — were clearly insufficient for a family as large as hers. “If there’s no food left at the end of the day, I just give the kids P10 (US$0.20) each so that they can buy bread,” Jocelyn said. “I then let them manage on their own.”
From March to September last year, Jocelyn said she could no longer keep track of the number of times her family had to forego eating three times a day. “It was more than 20 days because it happened often enough,” Jocelyn said.
During those days, to make ends meet, Jocelyn had to run and borrow cash regularly from the elder sister of her sister-in-law who was married to someone who was working abroad. Nowadays, Jocelyn has managed to do two jobs at the same time. Besides selling flower garlands, she now helps out a friend selling food items and clothes in a nearby neighborhood market. “I’m able to pay them back little by little,” Jocelyn said. “After all, they helped me and my family survive.”