COVID-19 Op-ed

Community Quarantine Shows that in the Philippines, Basic Income is the Answer to Every Question

Written by admin

Miguel Paolo P.
University Research Associate, Third World Studies
Center, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the
Philippines Diliman

Nono* is a garbage collector. However, unlike garbage
collectors employed by local government units, who roam the streets aboard
garbage trucks, Nono pushes a wooden pushcart thrice a week through the
alleys of a low-cost housing bloc, often with his young children as helpers.
He serves as an intermediary between the residents of the four-story housing
units and the state’s garbage collectors, bringing down garbage and sorting
them, selling whatever he can to junk dealers. Each household in the bloc
gives him what amounts to a convenience fee; some leave the equivalent of USD
00.40 out with the garbage, others slightly more or even less.During the
current pandemic-induced Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) over the entire
island of Luzon, Nono continues to work, with at least one child helper. Some
of the residents have been providing them with food in addition to money,
knowing that the ECQ has made it generally
to procure necessities. However, they work without
protective equipment besides cloth masks. Among the garbage that they handle
are discarded surgical masks, used disposable utensils, and soiled disposable
diapers; their potential exposure to SARS-CoV-2 is very high. Yet now, as
before, Nono does not receive any form of hazard pay.Stella is employed by a
laundry shop near the abovementioned housing bloc. Besides doing laundry, she
and her co-workers also offer home-cleaning services. Before the ECQ, her
income was stable, though still within the same lower-class range as Nono’s.
Her employer remits the mandatory social security contribution deducted from
her earnings. However, she claimed that the company she works for struggled
to make a profit (like her fellow washer-cleaners, she also functioned as a
cashier).On the night before the ECQ took effect, Stella’s laundry shop
announced on social media that they would be closing indefinitely. They
thought that they could open after a week, but the ECQ
guidelines released by the national government
does not consider
laundry shops as essential services. She has been managing thus far; without
any profit, one wonders how long she can receive support, if any, from her
employer. One time, she went to a customer near her residence to receive a
small cash donation. With the ECQ recently being extended, she may soon be
more reliant on such charity. She claimed that she was not given relief goods
by the officials of the barangay (village) where she resides because she
lived alone; families only, she was told.Ruth lives with her family, which
includes her two-year-old daughter, in a barangay near Stella’s. She is one
of the custodial staff in a nearby government office. However, she is not a
government employee. She works for a manpower agency subcontracted by the
government office for custodial services. The contract duration is usually
one year. If another agency wins the bidding for the next one-year contract,
the unit in the office where Ruth is currently assigned must petition for her
to stay on as their custodial staff, or else she may find herself assigned
elsewhere, or worse, she may become a “reliever,” given work—and a
paycheck—only when a worker with an assignment is absent.As a daily wage
earner, she used to work even during holidays. With work suspended because of
the ECQ, she is relying on various forms of aid. As of this writing, she says
she has received relief goods only once from barangay officials. Her family
receives some funds from the state’s conditional cash transfer program, thus
is qualified for additional
government assistance
, which they have yet to receive. Moreover,
she says she has not received her last salary. She has received some
financial assistance from the employees in the office where she is
assigned.All three suffer from socioeconomic insecurity exacerbated by the
pandemic and the state’s inadequate responses thereto. Their precariousness
is due to a systemic undervaluation of their work. It is appalling that they
currently rely on individual generosity and delayed and/or arbitrarily
distributed government aid. As has become clear
to others,
the very least that should be provided to the likes of Nono, Stella, and Ruth
is a basic income—sufficient so that their survival at any time need not
depend on self-endangerment and seasonal charity.*All the names of
the actual individuals whose current circumstances are factually described
here have been changed for privacy reasons. The information about them was
gathered from brief face-to-face conversations, text/direct messages, and
authoritative second-hand accounts.
of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Labor and Employment,
Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Agriculture, Department of
Finance, Department of Budget and Management, and Department of the Interior
and Local Government. (2020, March 29). Special guidelines on the provision
of social amelioration measures by the Department of Social Welfare and
Development, Department of Labor and Employment, Department of Trade and
Industry, Department of Agriculture, Department of Finance, Department of
Budget and Management, and Department of the Interior and Local Government to
the most affected residents of the areas under enhanced community quarantine
.Kabilang, G. (2020, March 21). Gov’t allows only one person per household to
leave home; other guidelines for ECQ. Manila Bulletin.
Retrieved from,
S. (2020, March 16). Community quarantine over the entire Luzon and further
guidelines for the management of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
situation . Office of the President of the Philippines.Tharoor, I. (2020,
April 10). The pandemic strengthens the case for universal basic income.
The Washington Post. Retrieved from,
J. (2020, April 7). Spain is moving to establish permanent basic income in
the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Business Insider.
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