The Philippine Commission on Women reported a 50% decrease in the reported cases of VAWC, from an average of 74 reported cases per day in 2019 to 56 reported cases per day in 2020, during the pandemic lockdown. However, this doesn’t necessarily reflect reality.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the triple burden experienced by women as main actors in childbearing, homemaking, and wage-earning. Disguised as resiliency, women are frontliners and victims of a broken system. Filipinos have continued to demand financial aid, food, mass testing and free vaccines, but the Philippine government disregarded them and instead imposed a militarist lockdown.
The longest military lockdown resulted in the biggest annual economic contraction since 1947 at 9.5% (2020), exceeding the economic plunge brought by the Marcos dictatorship, as well as the Asian and global financial crises. Remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFW), which keeps the bankrupt economy afloat, decreased by 0.9% compared to that of 2019.
The number of virus infections continue to grow alongside the numerous human rights violations committed by law enforcers themselves. At present, the administration spreads fear by displaying armed military and police personnel, legitimized through Memorandum Order No. 32, Whole-of-Nation approach (Executive Order No. 70) and the Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL). The anger that the administration only strengthened the collective power of the Filipino people and the women’s movement.
Not long after the declaration of the nationwide community quarantine, workers began finding themselves robbed of their sources of living. According to the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), more or less 700 factories of car parts, electronics, industrial, and consumer goods in Luzon temporarily closed. Shopping malls and restaurants ceased regular operations as well. About 400,000 drivers lost their jobs after banning public transportation. This sudden shutdown of companies and establishments left 7.2 million individuals jobless, 2.4 million of them are women, in the middle of a pandemic with little to no aid received from the national government. Filipinos barely survived through meager government relief and initiatives done by fellow citizens, people’s organizations, and NGOS; jeepney drivers begged for food in the streets, women shifted to online selling and other means to earn and provide for their families.
Various schemes were done by factories and large companies in attempts to avoid their responsibilities to their workers. Many women workers are still in a “floating status” with no assurance and information on their job status. Factories producing essential goods continued their operations but did not provide transportation for their laborers who were then forced to walk for hours to and from work. Shifts became “rotational”, and many workers did not receive overtime pay. In some companies, 12 hours of work was compensated with Php300-Php600 per day. The implementation of strict health protocols became an added burden to the working force as they had to pay for their own swab tests and medical clearances due to the absence of mass testing. Those with COVID-19 symptoms were asked to observe a 14-day quarantine that was counted as “no work, no pay.”
Contractual laborers do not have benefits, and thus no economic nor health protection from their employers during this pandemic. For those who were allowed to work from home, electricity and internet bills were shouldered by the workers, resulting in additional costs to their household’s meager budget. The inability of the labor force to keep up with the health crisis and increasing costs of basic needs is met with the campaign of Php100 immediate wage relief to help the working class survive through the pandemic.
Even before the pandemic, the health services of the Philippines were inadequate due to the limited state funding and support. One of the most impacted are health workers, seven out of which are women, who were exploited through low wages and poor working conditions. Majority of hospitals remained under private ownership. During the first few months of the pandemic, there were already calls for strict and efficient contact tracing, and use of medical solutions to fight the virus before it became uncontrollable. The lack of clear and proper information dissemination resulted to discrimination experienced by health workers in their various communities, thought as carriers of the virus. Private hospitals were exposed selling donated PPEs to their health workers. After almost a year of the nationwide lockdown, about 14,000 health workers tested positive with COVID-19.
Filipino farmers are considered as the “food security frontliners” of the country but they remain as the most neglected sector, experiencing grave hunger and poverty. Still unable to recover from the eruption of the Taal volcano in January, farmers attempting to find work in surrounding cities were faced with a new problem having imposed the Enhanced Community Quarantine in Luzon. This brought a halt to the planting and harvesting in the agricultural sector. Checkpoints hindered agricultural products from arriving to markets in the urban areas. Tons of goods were left to rot, farmers and fisherfolk fell deeper into debt. The pandemic was especially difficult for women farmers and their families, who did not have their own land. In 2020, the total agricultural output of the country fell by 3.8%. Meanwhile the price of pork reached its highest within two years. According to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics the price of rice fell upon the implementation of the Rice Liberalization Law. In 2020, the average price of local rice was Php18.78 per kilo. Vegetable farmers decided to not continue the production of vegetables due to the cost of transporting their goods to trading centers.
Despite the numerous shutdowns, harassment and deception towards the indigenous people (IPs) and the violation of their rights persisted. Limited information regarding the virus reached their communities. Due to development aggression and land use conversion, Lumads were forced into construction work and various jobs to afford food. Not all IPs received emergency relief from the national government; majority of the aid they received were initiatives from NGOs and CSOs. Indigenous women continue to be impacted by development aggression projects. At present, 276 mining claims and 124 energy projects are approved in the Cordillera Administrative Region. Non-stop quarrying, mining and deforestation continue to damage the country’s natural defense as seen in the effects of the recent typhoons in Bicol, Quezon, Cagayan, Rizal, at Surigao del Sur.
Women working in the informal sector — owners of sari-sari stores and food stalls, manicurists and pedicurists, domestic workers, are also impacted with the loss of their livelihood due to quarantine restrictions. Unlike those in the formal sector, self-employed women are usually not covered by labor regulations and social protection. It was recorded in April 2020 that 2.6 million lost their jobs in the informal sector, many of whom are women. Under the guidelines of the social amelioration program, said workers are to receive a Php5,000-Php8,000 cash subsidy but according to the interviewees, many only received SAP once or some not at all. Issues hound the implementation of the program — names missing in the list, issues in identifying qualified recipients, discrimination when only one in each indentified household or roof can receive even oif two or more families are residing in such household. On the other hand, the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) program was allocated only Php20 billion, almost the same amount devoted to the NTF-ELCAC.
More than half of Filipino migrants are women, concentrated in low paying jobs with high risk of abuse. More than 400,000 OFWs returned to the Philippines since the beginning of the pandemic. Aside from the increased working time of domestic helpers, they were also robbed of their weekly day-off. Expenses for purchasing facemasks and alcohol are also shouldered by the migrant workers. Many did not receive any aid from their host country nor the Philippine government. This affected the Filipino families that greatly depended on the earnings of their OFWs. To add, according to the report of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the number of OFWs who tested positive for the virus reached 14,389 cases and 954 deaths (February 2021).
While the country suffers in a deep economic crisis, human rights violations remain rampant. The Center for Women’s Resources recorded the arrest of at least 54 women human rights defenders, activists, farmers and youth from January 2020 until February 2021. It was also noted that eight women human rights defenders were killed last year, including teacher, paralegal and human rights advocate Zara Alvarez. The militarist lockdown was used as a front to continue the red-tagging of individuals and organizations by the state, harass farmers, and abuse indigenous people. This administration’s hands are stained with the blood of two newborns, children of political prisoners and mothers Nona Espinosa and Reina Mae Nasino. The regime’s fear of women is made apparent through the disqualification case against Gabriela Women’s Party and terror-tagging of the Makabayan bloc by the NTF-ELCAC. Journalists from alternative media sources are also attacked for reporting truths. Said arrests include Lady Ann Salem, arrested on Human Rights Day, and Kimberlie Quitaso from and Khim Russel Abalos from Northern Dispatch charged with cyberlibel for an article on the Chico River Dam heroes’ monument. Last February 15, AFP-PNP raided a retreat house of Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) Philippines Southern Province in the University of San Carlos (USC) in Cebu city. The “rescue mission” was an illegal arrest of two volunteer teachers and students of legal age with trumped up charges. Lumad Bakwit Schools are products of the militarization, destruction and bombing of schools in Mindanao ordered by the Duterte administration. Youth Lumad only aim to continue their right to education and take part in the development of their tribes.
While the efforts of the administration are focused on suppressing and silencing expression and resistance, Filipino women continue to defend their democratic rights through arousing, organizing, and mobilizing. Initiatives were made to express unity and solidarity, be it online or on the ground — to demand economic relief, mass testing, support for frontline healthcare workers, food producers, and workers. Both in rural and urban areas, they joined barricades, picket lines, bungkalan and other forms of creative protests to forward women and people’s agenda and raise their call for accountability and justice. Extreme hunger, violence, and poverty push oppressed women to join arms with the basic sectors to forge a new system that genuinely serves the people.
Indeed, for women, solidarity and a change in the broken system of neoliberalism are the only antidotes to COVID19 and lockdown.#
If there is one lesson in agriculture the pandemic has taught us, it is that food security through sustainable agriculture is crucial in ensuring the most vital needs of the entire population amid crisis. Small farmers are most affected by the government’s failure to concretely respond to the pandemic. In the beginning of the lockdown, strict quarantine restrictions and travel bans have prevented farmers from transporting agricultural products to markets and trading centers.
In addition, further militarization in the communities have even prevented them from going to their fields without interrogation and intimidation. In addition, farmers have suffered very low prices of agricultural products at the beginning of the lockdown, while enduring the continuous rise of prices of commodities. Relief goods and cash subsidies from the local and national government are limited, especially in far-flung rural communities, where actual government support is seldom felt. Instead of providing much needed support for farmers during the lockdown, the government prioritized Build, Build, Build, its flagship infrastructure project, through foreign loans, at the expense of farming communities. In the middle of a pandemic, farmers are in constant threat of eviction and demolition to pave ways for roads, train lines, and commercial establishments that ultimately ensures profit for local and foreign elites. Peasant women have carried the multiple burden of caring for the health and safety of their families and being the primary educators of their children as classes have gone online or modular, while ensuring their daily needs and seeking means to augment daily income in the middle of the pandemic.
State neglect amid worsening crisis
The inept, unsystematic, and unscientific response of the Duterte administration to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the government’s lack of preparedness in disaster response have resulted in a decline of 3.8% in the value of agricultural production in 2020. Value of crop production dropped by 0.4%, livestock by 12.9%, poultry by 5.5% and fisheries by 4.7%.
According to the Department of Agriculture, around 14,759 farmers and fisherfolks lost more than 326, 566 metric tons of crops, fish, poultry and livestock and a total of Php 9.9 billion in agricultural facilities and infrastructures due to Typhoon Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses. A total of 274, 000 ha of agricultural land were damaged. Demands of release for calamity funds for affected communities have fallen into deaf ears.
Agricultural liberalization is poison to PH agri growth
Two years after the implementation of the Rice Liberalization Law, prices of palay from local producers have plummeted to Php 18.78 per kilo, from Php 21.45 in 2019 and Php 24.74 in 2018 according to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics. However, in conversations with peasant women in the Cordillera Administrative Region, they have reported that palay prices go as low as Php 10-12 for “wet palay” and Php 13-15 for “dry palay.” But because most small farmers do not have their own drying facilities, they are forced to sell their palay at much lower prices. Palay prices in Quezon, Cavite, Bicol and Cagayan Valley also go as low as Php 10 per kilo. Noting the fact that these four provinces were worst hit by recent typhoons, peasant communities are faced with ballooning debts and constant threats of being driven away from the meagre parcels of land they till.
Agricultural liberalization results in an increase in commodity prices because it removes the government’s power to regulate prices, while allowing cartels to monopolize and set the price that they want. Towards the end of 2020, pork prices rose to Php 400-430 per kilo. Instead of supporting local hog raisers affected by the African Swine Flu (ASF), the Department of Agriculture pushed for tripling the amount of imported pork in the country, from 54,000 MT to 162,000 MT. Instead of supporting local production, the government is pushing for an “economic cha-cha,” which in essence, is a unilateral, and complete surrender of our economy to foreign ownership, as well as increasing foreign direct investments, as a measure to rebuild the country’s economy. In a separate statement, CWR have explained that Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) have little to do with the much needed sustainable and genuine development in the countryside.
Citing IBON, CWR discussed that in 2017, agriculture only received 0.6% of total FDIs. Relaxing the economic provisions in the constitution to allow foreign ownership of land and other resources will only be detrimental to peasant communities. In addition, landlessness and massive land-grabbing continue to drive away peasant and small farmers away from agricultural production. CWR also noted that in ten years, from 2007 to 2017, the number of Filipino women engaged in agriculture has decreased from 2.9 million to 2.25 million, or a decrease of 675,000.
Peasant women as frontliners, community leaders
At the height of a global health and social crisis, peasant women have stood at the forefront of ensuring food security in their communities, managing collective gardens and their bungkalan, leading organizations for consultations and protest actions. Their urgent demands include Php 10,000 social amelioration and Php 15,000 agricultural production subsidy. If there’s any actual seriousness in the government’s pronouncements of rebuilding the economy, it must focus on the immediate needs of the people, especially, that of Filipino farmers. A sustainable and self-sufficient future is possible. The collective efforts of peasant communities to ensure their needs have proven that enough support for local production and food security will ensure economic progress for all. Thus, we must continue to push for an alternative economic framework, one that prioritizes local agricultural development instead of ensuring profit for landlords and foreign corporations through programs and policies. Furthermore, we must continue to demand government accountability for its continued subservience to US and China imperialist masters, at the expense of the majority of the Filipinos. Peasant women, along with their communities have collectively created mechanisms to respond to their daily needs amid fear of the COVID-19 pandemic and constant threats and intimidation by landlords and state forces. More importantly, farmers, along with different sectors supporting the call for genuine agrarian reform, have continued to stand together, clamouring unwaveringly from their fields to the streets, to make their demands realizable. #
Arcalas, J. (November 2020). Harvest loss from Quinta, Rolly may have already reached P8.4 billion. Business Mirror
Center for Women’s Resources. (2020). Filipino Women in Agriculture: The Hands That Feed Center for Women’s Resources. (2021). Press Release: Cha-cha will only worsen pandemic impacts on women
Center for Women’s Resources. (2021). Ulat Lila 2021: Kalagayan at Pakikibaka ng Kababaihang Pilipino sa Panahon ng Pandemya at Militaristang Lockdown
IBON Foundation. (June 2018). Stop over-relying on foreign investments, government told
Lazo, N. (January 2021). PH agricultural output down 3.8 pct in Q4, down 1.2 pct in 2020. ABSCBN News
Ocampo, K. (December 2020). Palay price slumps to low of P 10/kilo. Inquirer.net
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