COVID-19 Op-ed

The most affected people and communities at the heart and start of the Covid-19 crisis response

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Patricia MirandaPatricia Miranda is the Policy
Advocacy Lead of Oxfam Pilipinas. Oxfam is an international confederation of
20 organizations working together with partners and local communities in more
than 90 countries. Oxfam has been working in the Philippines for 30 years to
address poverty’s underlying causes through its various programs on economic
justice, conflict transformation, gender justice, and humanitarian response.
See: https://philippines.oxfam.org/

The Philippines has had one of the “strictest and
longest” domestic containment measures to address Covid-19 (Armas 2020).
Almost seven months on, this unenviable title continues amid curfews, limited
public transportation, additional roadblocks, checkpoints, social media
monitoring by the police (Liboro 2020), and additional police deployments in
business districts (Caliwan 2020). Despite (or, arguably, because
of
) these measures, the Philippines still has the highest Covid-19
incidence in Southeast Asia based on data from Johns Hopkins University and Southeast
Asian Health Ministries (2020). The Lancet, an international medical journal,
has given the Philippines a dismal ranking of 66 out of 91 countries in terms
of measures to suppress the spread of the disease (Sachs et al. 2020).While
wartime rhetoric, including calls for ‘obedience,’ have been used to justify
draconian Covid-19 strategies (Aguilar 2020; Santamaria 2020), there is
plenty of evidence in the Philippines and elsewhere in the region that highly
securitized responses to this multi-dimensional public health crisis deters
health-seeking behavior due to stigmatization and fear of punishment for
actual, or even perceived, violations (see Abo and Ayao
2020; Barredo 2020; Catolico 2020). Narratives of people and communities’
lived experiences in Southeast Asia show that militarized responses are not
just harmful, but deadly in contexts where there are
pre-existing social inequalities and weak socio-economic and legal safeguards
(Barredo 2020; Chen 2020; Miranda and Angkaya-Kuhutan 2020).Leveraging local
mechanisms and interventions
In the Philippines,
the pandemic comes at the heels of several humanitarian emergencies,
including earthquakes, typhoons, a volcanic eruption, and ongoing armed
conflict in the southern Philippines. In May 2020, Oxfam Pilipinas, together
with 21 organizations, conducted a Covid-19 rapid gender assessment (RGA)
survey among 900 respondents from urban poor and rural communities in the
Philippines across six administrative regions. Sixty percent of the
respondents reported that Covid-19 had negative impacts on their incomes and
their mobility. The RGA results showed that vulnerable women and girls have
been negatively impacted the most as they put in additional hours of unpaid
care work in contexts worsened by humanitarian responses that are not
gender-responsive. The findings affirm that women living in poverty are
particularly hit the hardest by health emergencies and humanitarian crises
(Ampilan 2020; Aranas 2020).The RGA results also confirm that communities
(see Niederberger et al. 2019), not the police or armed
forces, can play a much more significant role in the rights-based and
health-focused containment, control, prevention, and management of COVID-19.
For example, 80% of the RGA respondents confirmed that it is easiest to
access the barangay (village) health center and secure
health-related information. The majority of the respondents also reported
that barangay-level interventions had provided food,
medicines, and livelihoods. On the other hand, national and municipal
agencies provided short-term support of food and medicines only
(Kindipan-Dulawan & Esturas, 2020).Respondents have also explicitly
identified barangay processes as a more trustworthy
response to violence against women and girls compared to other municipal or
national mechanisms. Further, 40% percent of the respondents also said that
they would report gender-based violence to barangay
authorities or leaders, while only 26% said they would report to
the police (Dulawan & Esturas, 2020).Mobilize communities, not the military
These findings matter. Affected communities are
experts on their specific contexts, and their perspectives and insights are crucial
to developing sustainable and feasible long-term solutions.
Barangay or village leaders and health workers will be
better equipped to identify and understand their community’s shared norms and
values. This, in turn, may help improve response strategies, allow for
context-sensitive risk mitigation, and strengthening community resilience
during emergencies and crises (see Ampilan 2020;
Niederberger et al. 2019).A rights-based approach (as opposed to a securitized
or militarized approach) to health requires that policies and programs, and
their implementation, must place the needs of those furthest behind first to
achieve fundamental equity. This principle has been echoed in the 2030 Agenda
for Sustainable Development and Universal Health Coverage. Together with 192
other states, including all ASEAN member states, the Philippines committed to
achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, which includes ensuring
universal health coverage and access to safe and effective medicines and
vaccines.Interrogating
‘resilience’
While it may be true that
extraordinary collective efforts are needed in these extraordinary times,
response actions should not lead to diminishing the dignity and agency
of affected communities who are dealing with multiple threats and risks
alongside Covid-19. Therefore, it is vital to interrogate how ‘resilience’ is
framed and claimed, especially when weaponized to justify the use of force.
Resilience narratives cannot be genuine if used to silence those who are
suffering or unable to cope or to erase the stories of those who do not
survive the pandemic. Further, depictions of ‘resilience’ should not
reinforce gender stereotypes or gendered inequalities, or be used as a
cover-up for disaster governance accountability gaps.A ‘better normal,’ which
indicates a vastly different way of doing things, has been the clarion call
among civil society groups and advocates pushing for a healthy, equitable,
sustainable, feminist future in the Philippines (Oxfam Pilipinas et al. 2020)
This, however, can only be achieved when the most affected people and
communities are at the heart and start of all decisions and response actions
that affect them.References Abo,
Noraida, and Abie Ayao. 2020. “The New Humanitarian | After Ceasefire
Failures, Mindanao’s Displaced Women and Girls Are Caught between Conflict
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Krissy. 2020. “Duterte: Lockdowns, Public Obedience Helped Flatten PH’s
COVID-19 Curve.” INQUIRER.Net, September 7. Retrieved
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(https://shapesea.com/op-ed/covid-19/securitization-of-covid-19-in-timor-leste-a-gender-perspective/).ins
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Jeanette,  and Erielle Esturas. 2020. Covid-19 Rapid Gender Assessment:
Initial Findings and Analysis as of July 2020. Oxfam Pilipinas. Forthcoming.Miranda,
Patricia, and Salma Angkaya-Kuhutan. 2020. “Legal Preparedness during
‘Business Unusual’ | Inquirer Opinion.” Retrieved September 24, 2020 (https://opinion.inquirer.net/129753/legal-preparedness-during-business-unusual).Niederberger,
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Pilipinas, Action for Economic Reforms, Social Watch Philippines, and
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Karim, Lara Aknin, Joseph Allen, Kirsten Brosbøl, Gabriela Cuevas Barron,
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