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  • Writer's pictureNow You Know PH


By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento

We all know someone, not just performing artists and filmmakers, who suffered serious financial setbacks during this pandemic: waiters and baristas, barbero at manicurista, the once ubiquitous street vendors--the elderly man who was the lone casualty at Angel Locsin’s well-intended birthday pantry used to sell balut. Most were casual workers at best, paid on a daily basis. The lockdowns meant they couldn’t work for months on end. Our neighborhood garbage scavenger lost his tiny makeshift kariton, so essential to his livelihood, when this was stolen by an unidentified unfortunate, who was probably even worse off than him.

When the lockdown eased into GCQ with next to no public transport allowed, there were too many heartbreaking stories of cruel commutes. Eg, a shop clerk in her 2nd trimester walked 4 hours from Antipolo and back home each day for weeks, to her minimum wage-no benefits job at a San Juan mall. She had no choice, being the breadwinner. One reason for our sluggish economy was that many Filipinos still chose to stay home. Apart from Covid fears, they probably had nothing to spend. The 1Sambayan Townhall Kuwento at Kuwenta sa Panahon ng Pandemiya noted that some 84% of households lost income, 502,000 jobless OFWs were repatriated, and 5M more Filipinos joined the ranks of the officially poor.

According to the Asian Development Bank, over 70% of businesses in the formal sector shut down temporarily, while the World Bank found that 15% had closed shop permanently. Over half of wage-earners would only be able to survive for two weeks should their salaries stop. The bump upwards in e-commerce was only 6%, because most Filipinos (probably including those who lost income and fell below the poverty line) don’t shop online or order food delivered.

For those who live from paycheck-to-paycheck, it’s hard to conceive of P245B in cash transfers, or that last July 2020, Congress budgeted P390B for emergency programs. Small comfort to know that under said Bayanihan I, P10B went to PPE--mostly imported, which resulted in hundreds of millions of losses for local manufacturers and thousands of lay-offs for their workers. UP Economist J. C. Punongbayan cited an instance where the government paid P1,400 each for P26 surgical masks. Despite the lack of mass testing, P5.2B went to testing kits. P3.1B was for rice and only P0.9B to food. Thus, the need for a self-help citizen initiative like the community pantry. It’s not clear where the rest of the money went, although it is noteworthy that only 10 of 434 suppliers for Bayanihan I account for 67% of the value. Punongbayan further pointed out that even if the Department of Budget circulars require suppliers to deliver within 9 days, the 5 biggest contracts for the government’s pandemic relief projects took anywhere from 16 to 100 days.

Even before Covid 19, around P0.7B of our money had been budgeted for the Dolomite Beach. Imagine if that had been added to the P0.9B for food instead. However, Manilenos must forget their empty pockets and grumbling stomachs, to feast their eyes on a pekeng Boracay instead.

Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.

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