A call for national, regional, and city governments and everyday citizens to address the impact of COVID-19 on poor communities


People are being told to wash our hands and stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But what happens if you have no water, no food, no money, or no home?

There is a major gap in national and local government approaches to addressing the pandemic. Now on its second iteration of what is being called an ‘enhanced community quarantine’, this government has still extensively failed to factor in the needs of the poor. Without factoring the needs of the poorest and the most vulnerable, continuing to implement short-sighted and insensitive lockdown policies will deepen existing community inequalities, drive poverty and hunger, and magnify the health risks to the entire population. 

With approximately one month to go in this enhanced community quarantine, this gap must be addressed urgently.


On 17 March 2020, the Philippine Government declared a National State of Calamity to stem the spread of COVID-19, putting Metro Manila and the whole of Luzon in enhanced community quarantine’. People are now restricted to their homes. All modes of public transportation ranging from the MRT to buses and tricycles have been suspended, with the military and police instructed to man checkpoints across major thoroughfares. Similar to lockdowns instituted in China and affected countries globally, these measures are intended to ‘flatten the curve’, or lessen the rate of infection and transmission to a level that can be handled by the country’s health system. As of March 19, 193 confirmed cases in the country have been recorded. A recent model run by data scientists at the Asian Institute of Management projects an estimated 26,000 COVID-19 cases in the Philippines by end-March if community spread is not contained.

While it is universally agreed that ‘social distancing’ measures are paramount, netizens have criticized how policies have prioritized the rich and powerful: politicians and celebrities are the first to be tested despite the DOH algorithm; testing in posh private hospitals costs PHP 9,000  to process (the kit itself is free). Private vehicles are allowed, but day laborers and dialysis patients alike have been forced to walk for kilometers through multiple checkpoints. Homeless people on the street have been arrested. A viral video of a homeless man on what appears to be the Roxas Boulevard boardwalk asking the government to also think about them in times like this best sums up how current policies are anti-poor. Speaking through a used dirty mask, he stares at the camera, saying, “kinalimutan na kami ng gobyerno (we have been forgotten by government).”


But how bad is the problem, at scale?  Metro Manila is one of the densest urban agglomerations in the world, outstripping other major capitals such as Delhi, Paris, or Tokyo. It anchors political, cultural, and economic life on the island-region of Luzon, which contributes to up to 70% of the country’s economic output. Metro Manila’s official population data is estimated at 12.8 million but swells to a daytime population of about 15 million, while servicing a broader catchment area of up to 21.3 million. An estimated 2.5 million people in Metro Manila live in slums, while 3.1 million are homeless. Official government data from the National Household Targeting System of the DSWD shows that there are 15.1 million poor households nationwide, and approximately 300,000 in Metro Manila. An average poor household has 5 to 6 members. 

These daytime workers are the men and women who have been stuck at the checkpoints and borders north, east, and south of Metro Manila. Even within NCR, many people live and work in different component cities–all of whom are affected by the suspension of mass transit. JICA data estimates that at least 88% of commuters do not have private vehicles. A sizeable number of citizens live hand-to-mouth, or are forced to risk their lives daily with no-work, no-pay policies. Figures 1 and 2 below map out official statistics on poverty and housing informality in the National Capital Region. Figure 1 is based on the magnitude of poor households in Metro Manila from the dataset provided by the National Household Targeting System of the DSWD. 


Source: DSWD Listahanan 2017, DOH 2020 from UNRI, Mapadatos (JR Dizon)


Source: PSA CPH 2010, DOH 2020 from UPRI, MapaDatos (JR Dizon)
Note:  Informality was reflected using four variables from the Philippine Census of Population and Housing (2010), beginning with households who enjoy (1) rent-free occupation with consent of owner; and (2) rent-free without consent of owner. Based on the two categories, the result was filtered based on the type of housing, specifically homes where (3) floor area is less than 5 square meters, and whose outer walls are (4) constructed of wood and other light materials.

The families in these poor, deprived, and informal settlement communities described in the maps are often the same areas that are highly vulnerable to flooding, and have limited access to health or other basic social services. In dense settlements in major cities such as Pasig, Mandaluyong, Quezon City, and Manila, the only ways to access these communities is often by tricycle or habal habal-motorcycles. 

The basic demography of poor families living in the city is in itself a vulnerability. Poor families are often large, with an average of 3-5 children and with extended family members including grandparents living under the same roof. In most cases, poor families are also single income households, with the head of household serving as the sole and primary breadwinner. In these cramped spaces, ‘social distancing’ is impossible. Even without COVID-19, these poor living conditions also trigger various health issues related to overcrowding and WASH (water and sanitation, hygiene) the most important factor in the spread of the disease.  This holds especially true for the elderly population and the children, as this is just another layer to the risks they have to live with on a daily basis. 


Source: DSWD Listahanan 2017, DOH 2020 from UNRI, MapaDatos (JR Dizon)


All of this creates situations where ailing grandparents from our city’s slums will choose to walk through checkpoints and possibly contract COVID-19, rather than letting their children and grandchildren starve to death. Once infections are allowed to spread in these dense communities, it will be impossible to manage and contain. 

So what can we do, together?

We call on the members of the Interagency Task Force and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, local governments, private sector organizations, and everyday citizens to help make the implementation of Proclamation No. 929, Declaring a State of Calamity Throughout the Philippines Due to Corona Virus Disease 2019 more inclusive and sensitive to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable. To do this, we must:

  1. Find ways to increase community access to water and basic sanitation, particularly with increasing water shortages across the Philippines. Provide soap, hygiene kits, masks, and other basic supplies particularly in dense, deprived, and informal settlements across different cities. 
    • Water rationing with the help of the Bureau of Fire Protection, Philippine Red Cross and other local organizations with water tanks can be organized.
    • Continue regular garbage collection and ramp up sanitation efforts across cities
  2. Provide social protection support to the poorest families. Specifically, we call on the civilian bureaucracy led by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation,  Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Department of Labor and Employment, together with the Department of Transportation to implement, expand, and augment the existing social welfare programs to assist the affected labor force, marginalized, and other vulnerable sectors. Some of these programs include:
    • Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), Modified Conditional Cash Transfer Program (MCCT) for homeless street families, and Unconditional Cash Transfer (UCT)  under DSWD
    • PhilHealth, where coverage of  all costs should be increased to include testing, consultation and hospitalisation related to COVID-19.
    • Pantawid Pasada (DOTR/LTFRB), which should be expanded to also cover other affected sectors such as tricycle, jeepney, bus, AUV, and taxi drivers
    • TUPAD (Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged /Displaced Workers) under the Department of Labor and Employment
  3. Ensure that daily wage earners are not forced to leave their homes to feed their families by providing food aid and other incentives for the duration of the lockdown. The government must collaborate with private sector employers to assuage fears that they will lose their jobs if they are unable to physically report for work.
  4. Support the mobility of frontline services and health workers, and ensure that even citizens without private vehicles will have unimpeded access to health facilities, particularly those who are pregnant, undergoing dialysis or radiation, and in need of other essential health services. Options such as sanitized buses and bicycles can be provided for frontline workers.To the extent possible, provide options for temporary housing for front liners by coordinating with real estate developers, schools, and dormitories. Above all, efforts should be made to ensure that the implementation of checkpoint protocols are done in a humane, respectful, and non-arbitrary fashion, putting the health and safety of citizens first. 
  5. Support the health sector and local scientists to ramp up free testing capability across the Philippines, including for the poorest of the poor. With the absence of adequate laboratory facilities and trained personnel across the country, some of the PHP 27.1-billion package released by the Department of Finance should be channeled towards innovative solutions for addressing testing and the logistics thereof.
  6. Share accurate and timely information both at the national at grassroots level, in open, anonymized, and high-resolution formats; local languages and channels. Consolidate communication channels for clear messaging and information dissemination and take advantage of existing communication platforms such as the NTC text alarms to provide more useful information, not just brief regular reminders to the public. Data sharing between government agencies using such formats can also help in scientific and policy work in the long run.
  7. Encourage businesses to support the above mentioned efforts and coordinate with the government to create a singular, streamlined response.
  8. Extend the deadline of tax collection in consideration of the logistical hurdles posed by the quarantine, and call on banks, businesses, and property owners to extend and/ or defer deadlines of bill payments. 


While the evidence described in this call is focused on the experience of Metro Manila, we encourage national and local leaders in quarantined communities in the rest of Luzon and in Visayas and Mindanao to ensure that all policies support the poorest and most vulnerable of our neighbors.

Planning in the Philippines has historically been informed by colonial, extractive, and punitive perspectives that deepen class divides. This is an opportunity to take a hard look at how our cities and neighborhoods have been shaped by spatial inequalities that dictate who has access to resources and who does not, and who can comfortably watch Netflix from behind gated communities while others must walk for hours to find enough money to eat for the day.

As middle-class development workers and practitioners, we must do better. This is a chance to break down the walls and take care of our neighbors and each other.  


In solidarity,

The community


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As a loose collective of professionals working in various fields linked to urban and regional planning and local economic development, we offer our help for free. If there are local government units (LGU) who would need technical assistance in thinking through packages for their constituents, kindly send us a message at

Posible: An Experiment on Community-led Innovation

What would happen if we localize DT/the innovation process and bring it to grassroots communities?

Last May 31, Limitless Lab, in partnership with Urbanismo PH conducted a prototype/first experiment of our community design thinking workshop called POSIBLE. The participants were community leaders and volunteers in Brgy. 105, Tondo, Manila.

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For the group, the mission for that day was simple – to get them to break out of their mental barriers, inspire creative confidence, let them know that they don’t need to wait for an NGO or a donor foreigner to come in to help them create change in their community.

Don’t get me wrong, studies show that people in slum areas are some of the most creative people in the world, primarily because they have to survive with really limited resources. But based on our observation, they are most of the times stuck with their usual sources of livelihood and usual way of doing things (e.g peeling garlic as their main source of livelihood).

We divided the participants into two design challenges: one for maintaining cleanliness and for livelihood.

We began with a few alterations to the process, with a Community Vision Boarding (Pagtanaw), and Stakeholder Mapping (Pagkakaisa). Then we went through the full design cycle from Empathy (Pakikipanayam), Define (Pag-Analisa), Ideation (Brainstorming/Paggawa ng mga Ideya), Prototyping (Pagbuo ng Modelo), and Testing (Presentation).

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After the ideas were presented, we gave them play money and asked them to vote for the ideas that they would like to invest (mamuhunan) in or support.

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I’m proud to present that ideas that came out of the session:

1: Segregation Truck with Party Music and Lights (complete with a jingle and all) – This one won first place. They came up with this idea to solve the problem of people in Tondo often ignoring/not minding much when the garbage truck is arriving to collect their trash. As Nastassja Quijano said, this makes the garbage truck arrival and collection of trash as a community event. Also a little similar to our Mamang Sorbeto who has music that announces its arrival and makes the kids go out to buy ice cream. 

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2. Basura Mo, Premyo Mo – gamifying throwing of trash. Winners can get prizes such as vegetables and food that will come from a community garden that they will build.

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3. Sustainable Street Food Cart – building standard but affordable food carts for halo-halo and fishball vendors in Tondo, using zero-waste materials (e.g coconut shells instead of plastic cups for halo halo). This is something similar to the jolijeep in Makati, but for streetfood. And no, they didn’t know about jolijeeps before.

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4. Indigenous Shopee – an online store for well-designed and high-quality home decor made out of trash like old cans and plastic wrappers.

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Thank you so much to our partners who helped make POSIBLE happen: Tulay Ng Kabataan Chevening Awards (FCO)

To our teammates for this initiative, thank you so much! We’re so lucky to be working with amazing people! Li Ya Nastassja Quijano Katrina Ang Jan Jacob Jansalin Geisha Shaina Lyn Sanchez Emman Llego Dante Salvador Jr Vincent Trautmann

This post was originally written by Joie Cruz of Limitless Lab, UrbanismoPH’s partner organization.


UrbanisMO Phase 1: Balik-Tanaw

Last Saturday we closed out the first chapter of UrbanisMO with a brief sensing workshop to review what we’ve organically achieved with this experiment, and where we might want to take it in the future.

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Despite this being something that we all do in our spare time, the initiative somehow spawned fourteen (14!) different activities across our multiple interests of inclusive mobility and transport, zero-waste management, peace and security, health and social welfare etc between February 2018 to June 2019. These things would not be possible though without the collaboration of partners as wide-ranging as Arkitektura, the Escolta community, the City Government of Pasig, the Provincial Government of Lanao del, Sur, Disgruntled Young Professionals (DYP), Effective Altruism Philippines, Likha Initiative, Young Focus Foundation, Limitless Labs, as well as the many individuals and community members who agreed to jam with us.

Schedule Event
February 2018 UrbanisMO Rockwell
April 2018 UrbanisMO Escolta
May 2018 UrbanisMO Podcast #1
August 2018 Makisawsaw: Condiment Making Workshop in Support of Nutriasia Strikers
September 2018 Ecobrick Workshops
December 2018 Food Security and the City (Podcast #2)
February 2019 UrbanisMO : Bike Any Means Necessary (Podcast #3)
March 2019 UrbanisMO: Health and Cities (Podcast #4)
March 2019 Lanao del Sur PDPFP Technical Workshop, Marawi City
March 2019 UrbanisMO X DYP X Sandata x Lente – Cities in the Time of the Drug War
March 2019 UrbanisMO X DYP – It’s Tubig A Problem
March 2019 UrbanisMO x Effective Altruism: How Do We Know If We’re Helping Effectively?
May 2019 UrbanisMO Zero Waste –  Sitio Anahaw (with Likha Initiative)
June 2019 UrbanisMO Zero Waste – Happyland Tondo (with Young Focus Foundation and Limitless Lab)

The next stage though demands a shift from these experimental, output-based prototypes into something ideally more outcome-directed and scale-able. Given how sparse the current urbanism-directed ecosystem is right now in the Philippines, there’s so much space for innovation, but so much more that needs to be done despite limited time, energy, and resources. 🙂

Abangan ang susunod na kabanata. 🙂

The UrbanisMO Podcast: New Episodes!

After a busy summer for the whole crew, we finally have ten (10!) new episodes of The UrbanisMO podcast out on

Series 3: Bike Any Means Necessary covers the February UrbanisMO x Chevening Chat on bike commuting with our favorite two-wheeled pedestrians Rob Siy, Omi Castañar, Jillian Roque, and Aldrin Pelicano.  (Episodes 3/3)

Series 4: Healthcare in the City features mostly medical professionals and Chevening alumni Migs Dorotan, Mai Valera-Co and Julze Alejandre with Kathy Villegas and Clara Buenconsejo. This totals to 7 episodes of kwentuhan about what we can do about the measles outbreak, the importance of health promotion, mental health, improving access to health services, and the implications of the Universal Heath Care scheme. This was recorded on 11 March 2019 at the Nipa Brew Taproom, Makati.

We’re hoping to get the podcasts distributed on Anchor and Spotify soonest–hopefully that won’t take another quarter to get going. 🙂 Happy listening!



Bike Any Means Necessary

bikeanymeans-01 Tired of traffic? Sick of being stuck somewhere you’d rather not be? Feeling depressed watching government make no progress on transport, and even make it worse? It’s time to do something about it. Join’s panel of wheeled pedestrians to learn how to get to where you need to be. No motor vehicles required – join us and find out how to commute bike any means necessary.

Featuring our favorite commuters R A Siy Omi Castañar Jillian Roque and Aldrin Pelicano of mnl moves!

Jillian Roque is a development worker and activist. She has been involved in various social justice, human rights and environmental causes for over a decade. She promotes cycling as a sustainable mode of transport and has “biked the talk” since 2014. She does a lot of traveling for her work—both local and overseas—taking her bike wherever she goes. Jillian is passionate about pushing and redefining the limits of what she can do with her bicycle by going on solo, unsupported rides or joining long distance cycling events such as Audax. In her spare time, she enjoys reading comics, playing with her cats and dreaming of her next cycling adventure.

Omi Castanar is a person who likes to ride a bicycle everywhere he goes. He works on public financial management policies for the Philippine government. He’s been biking to work since 2013 and he has four titanium plates in both arms to show for it. When Omi is not on a bike, he likes spending his time playing board games.

Aldrin Pelicano is a father of two young children. He works full-time for an Australian infrastructure, environmental and social development company. He has academic training in political science, public administration and urban planning. Aldrin passed the local licensure examination for urban planners in 2015 and has worked with local government units update their land use and development plans. He is a folding bike enthusiast and daily bike commuter.

Rob Siy is an economist who specializes in the planning, delivery, and management of infrastructure projects, with a focus on public transit projects and policy.

From Shaw Boulevard MRT:
1. Exit Shangri-La through Mercury Drug Side
2. Walk down Lourdes towards Richmonde Hotel
3. Turn left at Pearl Drive

From Shaw Boulevard jeeps:
1. Get off at intersection of San Miguel Avenue
2. Walk towards Richmonde Hotel, turn right at Lourdes intersection
3. Turn left at Pearl Drive

For more information, visit

The UrbanisMO Podcast, Series 2

Dear fellow urban dwellers, here’s a little something to kickstart your work-year.

In this second UrbanisMO podcast series, economist JC Punongbayan, urban planner Jean Palma, and lawyer and urban planner Benedict Nisperos weigh in on the issue of food security in cities. Bakit mahal na ang bigas? Is expensive sili really silly? What has been done, what can we do, and how do we push for friendly neighborhood green urbanism in ways that fill the belly?

These talks were recorded on 1 December 2019 during the UrbanisMO x Chevening Chat on Food Security in the City at the UrbanisMO Community Space in Project 3, Quezon City.

Food Security and the City

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Our deep thanks to everyone who made it out to yesterday’s UrbanisMO x Chevening Chat on Food Security in the City: Grappling with Green Urbanism Through the Belly. Shoutouts to our awesome speakers economist JC Punongbayan, environmental planner Jean Palma, and lawyer-planner-local economic development specialist Benedict Nisperos, along with impromptu reactors Boni Javier of FAO and our dear chicken-plant-mum Drei Castillo of Good Food Community. We hope to release the podcasts soonest. Special thanks goes out to the British Embassy in Manila and the Chevening Alumni Association of the Philippines, who generously sponsored the food and conversation.

We’ll be doing two more UrbanisMO x Chevening Chats in the first quarter of 2019, starting with one in January on bike commuting and non-motorized transport. Watch this space. 🙂

The UrbanisMO Podcast S01

Seven urbanists walk into a bar and talk about participatory urban planning, resilience, and the joy that is DRRM in the Philippines.

Featuring community organizer Abbey Pangilinan, conflict and governance specialist Ica Fernandez, mapmaker David Garcia, public-private partnership expert James Nicolas Cruz, transport economist Robert Anthony Siy, medical doctor and disaster operations guy Miguel Dorotan, and heritage advocate Clara Buenconsejo.

All episodes recorded on 15 April 2018 at the Nipa Brew Craft Beer Taproom in Makati City. Thanks, Stephen and Mai!

The UrbanisMO Podcast Episode 1: Origins

Ano nga ba ang UrbanisMO sa Pilipinas? Participation, the realpolitik of public consultation, and the challenges of working with the urban poor, transport reform, and health service delivery.
Alphabet soup alert! The episode’s acronyms are: ISF (informal settlement families) and GIDA (geographically isolated and deprived areas).

[Running Time: 35:48]

The UrbanisMO Podcast Episode 2: Resilience

Is the Fiipino spirit truly waterproof? Why is it that after years of projects, we still see flooding and other kinds of disasters year in and year out? Why do people still go back to danger zones? If resilience is the answer, what is the question?

Alphabet soup alert! The episode’s acronyms and buzzwords are:

  • DRRM (disaster risk reduction management) and the underlying assumptions regarding hazard, vulnerability, and capacity
  • Disaster memes about smiling kids and waving flags in the flood
  • Resettlement and No Build Zones
  • #PrayForInsertPlaceHere
  • The Big One
  • nudge economics
  • forecast-based financing
  • disaster-proof infrastructure
  • learning from the past
  • archipelagic thinking
  • utak pulbura = utak semento

[Running time: 37:25]

The UrbanisMO Podcast Episode 3: The Right Way to Regulate TNVS?

Chismis about the Uber-Grab merger, Build Build Build, and LGU Transport Work Grab.

First, we talk TNVS. Regulating Transport Network Vehicle Services (TNVS) – such as Grab, the recently-merged/departed Uber, and services such as Wunder Carpool – spark heated debates in all cities that use them. TNVS companies and their users point to the fact that they give more people the safety, security and convenience of private car travel. Critics point to the companies’ allegedly exploitative labor practices, and the growing evidence that they contribute to congestion, pollution and road crashes in the cities where they operate. Clara points out that while TNVS fill many gaps in the transport system, they don’t quite meet all needs. James ponders the impact of various regulatory approaches on driver and commuter welfare.

The debate is still very much open on the effects of TNVS, but the studies all seem to point in the same direction. Here ( is a comprehensive look at the effects of the TNVS in the United States that examines evidence from different cities. TNVS optimists: brace yourselves.
Next, the group tackles the Build Build Build Program. James and Clara both agree that the Build Build Build program builds welcome awareness of infrastructure, but transparency and clean deals are key to the program’s success. While there are plenty of projects that get infrastructure nerds excited, how do you get the public engaged in the work that is almost literally nation-building? Aside from big-ticket transport projects like trains and subways, why doesn’t Build Build Build contain projects like heritage preservation? Sidewalks? Even tree planting? Do we have enough non-concrete projects?

The Projects of the Build Build Build Program are enumerated on

Finally, what do people know about how LGUs affect transport? What can people actually ask their LGUs to do? As Clara recounts Manila’s bus scheme, sometimes the actions of one LGU affect many others. However, capacity and ability to execute projects is a challenge. James points out that Land Value Capture ( is one method that can help LGUs fund their projects. As LGUs will be required to plan their own public transport through local public transport route plans, they’ll need to reach deep into their toolboxes to deliver the results people need.

[Running time: 46:20]