COVID-19 THROUGH THE CRACKS: Helping the vulnerable and invisible during the pandemic

Mga kapitbahay, the latest set of The UrbanisMO Podcast episodes are out on all platforms. This time, we focus on marginalized sectors and far-flung regions that are as vulnerable to the deadly outbreak but don’t seem to get as much attention as NCR and other urban hotspots. Forgotten Filipinos are at risk of falling through the cracks.

To help ensure that the country’s coronavirus response becomes inclusive and more sensitive to the plight of the marginalized, UrbanisMO.PH, Young Public Servants and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism led a series of podcast conversations focusing on sectors that are perceptibly absent in mainstream discussions about the Covid-19 response: senior citizens, persons with disabilities, farmers and micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and conflict-affected communities outside Metro Manila. And we’ve got an amazing lineup of speakers, interviewed by our favourite historian Aaron Mallari.

Episode 1: The Covid-19 response: Are the elderly and disabled being left behind?

Emily Beridico from the Coalition of Services for the Elderly, Dr. Maureen Mata of AKAP Pinoy (Alyansa ng may Kapansanang Pinoy) and Dr. Grace Cruz of the UP Population Institute weigh in on the issue of inclusion in the time of Covid-19.

Episode 2: Lockdown learning: Making education accessible despite the pandemic.

Dr. Grace Zozobrado-Hahn, a physician and Steiner-Waldorf Education practitioner based in Palawan, says children face their own set of challenges during the pandemic, while Regina Sibal, former principal of Miriam College Grade School and Far Eastern University Senior High School, outlines measures that the government and the education sector need to take to ensure continued access to education. Elsa Magtibay, a school administrator at Xavier School in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, points to opportunities to improve educational delivery.

Episode 3: Covid-19 in the Bangsamoro (Part 1 of 2)

Bangsamoro ministers Atty Naguib Sinarimbo and MP Atty Laisa Masuhud Alamia discuss how the pandemic response has become one of the region’s biggest challenges to date, as it transitions to a parliamentary government that is autonomous, but somewhat still reliant on the national government. Prof. Rufa Cagoco-Guiam, an expert on governance and inclusion, weighs in on how the pandemic and the Bangsamoro government’s ability to deal with it is crucial to the peace process.

Episode 4: Covid-19 in the Bangsamoro (Part 2 of 2)

Bangsamoro parliament member Zia Alonto Adiong and Ma’am Azrifah Mamutuk of the Lanao del Sur provincial government discuss the aftermath of the Marawi siege more than three years and a pandemic later, while NGO leader Fatima Pir Allian calls attention to the plight of displaced Bangsamoro people outside the region.

Episode 5: Lifeline needed: Small businesses struggle amid lockdowns.

Charlene Tan and Mabi David of Good Food Community talk about the effects of the pandemic on farmers and local food systems, and local government responses to address these challenges, while Meann Ignacio speaks from her experiences in a cooperative that helps urban communities continue to earn a living. Ronn Astillas of the LGBT Chamber of Commerce discuss how LGBT companies are coping with the new normal of doing business.

These episodes are available on The UrbanisMO Podcast channel on Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Google Podcasts, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Spotify and Stitcher.




Google Podcasts: 



Spotify: Stitcher:

This five-episode podcast was produced by UrbanisMO.PH and Young Public Servants with support from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Philippines, International Center for Innovation, Transformation, and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov) and PCIJ.

Hat-tip to editor Carl Sayat and everyone who helped put this series together!

Adapting Humanitarian & Development Operations for COVID-19 Response in the Philippines


COVID-19 represents a challenge for the humanitarian and development sectors that was not in anyone’s work and financial plans. In the spirit of sharing and collaboration, we suggest seven early strategies and potential pivots for the consideration of development and humanitarian actors, building on the good practices and bottlenecks experienced in the last few weeks on the ground.

The downloadable PDF version is available as 


Adapting Humanitarian & Development Operations for COVID-19 Response in the Philippines

Seven early-stage handles and potential pivots for the humanitarian and development sectors

Ivan Ledesma, Ica Fernandez, Nastassja Quijano, Miguel Dorotan, Abbey Pangilinan

Note:  This was informed by context conditions in the Philippines and similar lessons from Myanmar. All opinions are the authors’ own and do not represent the institutions they may work with.


COVID-19 represents a challenge for the humanitarian and development sectors that was not in anyone’s work and financial plans. While some agencies are more geared than others towards so-called ‘adaptive programming’ and ‘thinking and working politically’ and have already deployed on the ground, the declaration of a National State of Calamity and the establishment of ‘enhanced community quarantine’ restrictions across Metro Manila, Luzon, and selected pockets across Visayas and Mindanao on 17 March 2020 poses a new set of restrictions that are likely to continue for the rest of the year until the global pandemic is curbed.

While the health sector should take the lead in COVID-19 response, flattening the curve”—keeping the infection growth rate down—and keeping the hospitals as the last line of defense entails a complex set of efforts across multiple sectors. It will involve community level initiatives such as social protection, water and sanitation, transportation and logistics, food security, manufacturing and supply chain innovation, data analytics, peace and security, and the fiscal and macroeconomic calibrations to maintain all of these operations in the midst of a global recession. 

More than anything else, COVID-19 magnifies existing weaknesses in our service delivery structures and amplifies humanitarian and development challenges that existed before the pandemic. 

Adjusting operating procedures to COVID-19 social distancing and mobility restrictions at global and local levels means that ‘parachuting’ in from donor capitals or extensive domestic air or land travel will no longer be possible.

Now that that mobility even for essential services is now largely limited at the level of the barangay and city, service deployment is now more area-based, and will entail hyperlocal investments and partnerships. Social distancing requires limiting large public gatherings such as workshops and distribution meetings. Even as meetings now pivot to Zoom and other online platforms, many of the communities that need most support have limited access to internet,  mobile phone signal, or traditional radio or TV coverage. This will be doubly challenging for communities with large internally displaced populations such as Lanao del Sur and Sulu in the BARMM, which have existing conflict-related checkpoints and lockdown restriction policies. 

As such, creativity and innovation in engaging and strengthening hyper-local expertise, assets, and relationship/supply chains will be a challenge, not least being able to do so in support of national and regional-level action plans led by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID). 

The following suggests seven key strategies for the humanitarian and development community, including multilateral and bilateral donors, members of the Humanitarian Country Team and the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee, and INGOs and NGOs for the next few weeks of adjustments:



1. Adapt and reframe project goals of existing grant envelopes.



  • Pivoting operations to respond to COVID-19 means reviewing what ongoing projects and platforms can realistically change, adapt, or reformulate their goals, target outputs, and activities. Aid calendars for multiple countries have been pushed back as a result of the lockdowns. But even so, these pivots within existing portfolios must be done immediately, with the appropriate evidence-based review. 
  • For this to be useful, bilateral and multilateral donors will have to allow current and future implementing partners to revise Standard Operating Procedures regarding field work, which may in turn affect the pace and frequency of activities. Such revisions might include channeling of support to smaller subgrantee institutions and individuals with clear deliverables and more relaxed financial reporting requirements.


2. Focus on redesigning interventions for supporting the most vulnerable.


  • Although COVID-19 does not discriminate amongst those it infects, the severity and adverse effects of the virus and the various social measures taken to contain it disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable communities. This specifically refers to the homeless, urban poor and informal settler families, the internally-displaced, daily wage earners, and other populations that are often uncounted in government databases and have limited access to water, sanitation, and basic health services. As we have discussed elsewhere, protecting these vulnerable communities means protecting everyone else. Governments all over the world are now deploying social amelioration/protection packages of emergency cash transfers, rent freezes, among others. In support of these efforts, bilateral and multilateral donors should encourage their implementing partners and subgrantees to prioritise and provide safety nets to target the most vulnerable communities and populations, complementing the government’s response. 
  • This also means that time and effort should be redirected in sharpening available data for targeting and decision-making, at the most localized spatial scales possible. A blanket approach in undertaking this crisis has proven to be ineffective and can be used to further widen the gap between those who can and cannot protect themselves from this crisis. 


3. Journey with national and local governments. 


  • The humanitarian and development community should work to complement the national, regional, and local governance and delivery structures put in place. In the Philippines, this means supporting the IATF-EID and the National Action Plan, filling in gaps, helping establish SOPs and coordination mechanisms across levels and workstreams, and supporting governments to do better. These tasks–which includes helping with analysis and process guidelines for targeting, delivery, coordination, and monitoring and evaluation–are traditional strengths of the development and humanitarian sectors.
  • Support should be directed towards strengthening community-based responses. Donors can also consider supporting existing local government structures whose administrative capacity will be stretched to the limit while implementing various expanded social programs of the national government. They might allocate certain funds to augment local staff or procure technologies (e.g. testing kits, hospital mechanical ventilators, aerosol boxes, open-source designs for PPE) to enhance the efficiency of delivery systems. Facilitating access and mobility for implementing partners and subgrantees will also be needed as restrictions are put in place.



4. Diversify partners portfolio – celebrate local and private initiatives.


  • The last two weeks have seen how small-scale, local, and private initiatives or loose collectives and coalitions, private individuals, and small organizations can mobilize quickly and effectively. From providing a platform for donations, amassing private sector support, to mapping of vulnerabilities, these small interventions have so far proved to be the most successful, given the ongoing context of lockdown, immobility, and access restrictions. With the burden of service delivery with municipal and city-level local governments, we have seen the rise of local leaders being able to innovate by delivering food to marginalized populations, instituting spacing queues, deploying rolling stores, and encouraging non-motorized transport such as bikes and scooters to complement government-established bus shuttle routes for frontliners. The most effective governance platforms have also been able to collaborate with the private sector for fundraising, emergency food pack and PPE donations, and encouraging manufacturers, clothing designers, and 3D printing fablabs to pivot and address urgent needs. 
  • To support this, bilateral and multilateral donors should widen their partnership portfolios and consider directly supporting local and private sector actors who have provided tangible results for the most in need. Arguably, with the paralysis of many larger development and humanitarian actors, supporting smaller organizations can cut through several layers of bureaucracy and inject assistance to where it is much needed. In order to partner with these organizations, relaxing selected procurement rules may be considered. This is also to ease the accelerated onset of private sector donor fatigue, as sustained cross-sectoral collaboration will be needed in the coming months. 


5. Institute workforce adaptation and adjust operational modalities.


  • Portfolio decisions and streamlining for COVID-19 readiness means that the workforces of implementing actors and subgrantees must also adapt accordingly. As these administrative and human resources (HR) related changes are happening, there is a need for flexibility and creativity in figuring out the best courses of action, whilst not leaving dependent populations (particularly in humanitarian response operations) without any lifeline. Such measures would include adopting remote management practices, mapping and engaging private sector service providers who have access to move to deliver basic social services (i.e. delivery of food kits through third-party freight companies instead of implementing partners’ logistics teams). In terms of HR support and lifeline, supporting implementing actors and their subgrantees by expanding their health coverage, specifically for potential COVID-19 exposure, would provide a certain level of security to the frontliners. 


6. Repurpose budgets and monitoring, evaluation, and learning mechanisms – ensure grant flexibility.


  • In many cases, approved budgets submitted by implementing partners and subgrantees  will require revision to address the COVID-19 response. Though actors will strive to do what they can, bilateral and multilateral donors’ support in handling these revisions with the utmost flexibility will be necessary. Additional top-up support in parallel to government financing may also be considered, if existing programs already target the vulnerable communities and current appropriations are not enough. These can be adjusted periodically based on available local and global evidence and good practice.
  • A good existing practice that can be applied in these times of emergency is the Fixed Obligation Grant (FOGs), where implementing partners can have more output oriented financial reporting with less stringent requirements. 



7. Acknowledge that adjustable project durations are necessary because a quick return to “Business as Usual” is unlikely.


  • Following portfolio-level reviews, adjusting project durations for implementing partners and subgrantees may also be required, including possible extensions. Extensions and adjustments should be based on supporting the most vulnerable populations. It should be acknowledged that some current developmental and humanitarian programming (for example, any activity that requires large physical gatherings of people such as trainings, community distributions, conferences) are not necessarily relevant and could pose more harm to communities if sustained.
  • Existing global evidence shows that it will take months to address this global crisis. Returning to ‘business as usual’ will be impossible. Donors and field actors alike will need to quickly pivot programming to those that would address emergency needs as well as future gaps and repercussions. Global changes in programming will likely require significant layoffs, changes, and suspension of other types of support, which should be properly and clearly communicated to both implementing partners and communities. The tolls of rapid organizational shifts notwithstanding, a massive sea change in how humanitarian and development institutions operate and collaborate is unavoidable.


The Need to #CovidPivot:

COVID-19 has brought the world to its knees, causing significant losses of life, disruption of social norms, and unprecedented shocks to the global economy. 

It also poses a direct challenge to all institutions and individuals working in the development and humanitarian sectors. It is clear that usual modalities of delivering aid and social services through the current system are no longer viable. This is particularly true in responding to the specific needs of the most vulnerable populations. The time to pivot and revolutionize the way we think, innovate, and serve, during this time is long past. We are playing catch up. And while many are constrained by working from home, many smaller, more localized initiatives led by local governments, the business sector, and citizen-led efforts are proving that with the right approach can still be impactful even during these challenging times. We ask the international development and humanitarian aid community to consider these seven key messages, and open up platforms for engagement, localisation, and quick action.


Pivoting in times of COVID19 is not optional.




The UrbanisMO Podcast Series 3: #COVID19PH AND THE CITY

Hello po, mga ka-quarantine! Something for your weekend listening pleasure!

As the Philippines faces the threat posed by the Covid-19 Global Pandemic, we feature three conversations covering different aspects of this challenge.

Episode 1 covers the implications of COVID-19 to the Philippine public health system with physicians and public health experts Dr. Miguel Dorotan and Dr. Lei Alfonso.

Episode 2 looks at the economic repercussions of COVID-19 with economist JC Punongbayan and geographer Mylene Hazel De Guzman.

Episode 3 listens to the experiences of communities on the ground with community leader Jai Catacio

Discussions were recorded via Zoom and Viber on 23 March 2020, while NCR and the whole of Luzon was a week into the enhanced community quarantine.

This podcast is brought to you by and Young Public Servants, with support from the British Embassy Manila and the Chevening Alumni Fund.

Thank you to historian Aaron Mallari for hosting these episodes!

URBANISMO PODCAST SERIES 3: Ang Pilipinas sa harap ng Pandaigdigang Pandemyang Covid-19

Habang nagpapatuloy ang pagharap ng Pilipinas sa hamong dala ng Pandaigdigang Pandemiyang Covid-19, layong himayin sa mga podcast na ito ang ilang aspekto ng krisis. Nakatuon ang tatlong podcast sa pagtalakay sa kalusugang pampublico at sistemang pangkalusugan kasama and mga doktor na sina Miguel Dorotan at Lei Alfonso; epektong pang-ekonomiya at ugnayang panlipunan kasama ang ekonomistang si JC Punongbayan at geographer na si Mylene Hazel De Guzman; at ang danas ng mga komunidad kasama ang lider ng isang samahan na si Jai Catacio. Kaalinsabay ng punyagi sa paghahanap ng makabuluhang pamamaraan sa pagharap sa multi-dimensyonal na krisis, hangad naming na palawakin ang talakayan at pakinggang ang iba-ibang tinig tungo sa mas malalim na kaunawaan sa mahirap na sitwasyon.

Naganap ang mga talakayan na ito noong 23 Marso 2020, lagpas isang linggo na mula nang maipatupad ang enhanced community quarantine sa buong NCR at Luzon.


In Metro Manila, Fighting COVID-19 Requires Helping the Poor—Now

Thank you to Sheila Coronel and PCIJ for helping us release this to a wider audience.  Also available on with a shorter summary on

In Metro Manila, Fighting COVID-19 Requires Helping the Poor—Now

Old methods of emergency response no longer apply

By Ica Fernandez and Abbey Pangilinan with inputs from Nastassja Quijano, Dr. Miguel Dorotan, Patricia Mariano, Benedict Nisperos, Zaxx Abraham, Clara Buenconsejo, David Garcia, and Mirick Paala. Maps by JR Dizon/Mapadatos 

UrbanisMO and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism 



A surge of COVID-19 cases is expected to hit Metro Manila in the coming weeks and the city is grossly unprepared.

Home to nearly 13 million, Metro Manila is the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. Despite the government’s aggressive efforts to contain the pandemic by sealing off the capital and shutting down businesses and transport, the contagion is likely to spread and worsen. 

The hard facts

 Data scientists from the Asian Institute of Management estimated 26,000 COVID-19 cases in the Philippines by end-March. Many, if not most of these cases, will be in Metro Manila, which has accounted for more than half of the 636 recorded COVID-19 cases as of March 25. Most of the 38 recorded COVID-19 deaths were also in the capital. 

As the table below shows, there are not enough doctors and nurses to cope with the projected surge in cases. Moreover, most health care workers are employed in the private healthcare system, which caters to only about a third of the population. Nearly 70 percent of some 1,500 hospitals in the country are privately owned.

There is already a shortage of doctors and nurses. In a recent Senate hearing, Philippine General Hospital (PGH) Director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi said there should be at least 44 doctors, nurses, midwives, and medical technologists for every 10,000 Filipinos. The ratio is currently at 19 per 10,000.

Table 1. Distribution of Health Workers in Government Hospitals

Doctors Nurses Midwives Dentists
Philippines 10,447 30,368 16,610 1,812
Metro Manila 3,890 (37%) 8,161 (27%) 1,947 (12%) 599 (33%)

Source: DOH, 2018

To date, two major hospitals in Metro Manila, the Medical City and the University of Santo Tomas Hospital, have had to quarantine 674 exposed health workers. Four high-end private hospitals— St. Luke’s BGC and Quezon City, Makati Medical Center, and The Medical City in Pasig City—have now said that they are unable to attend any more COVID-19 cases. 

Equally worrisome, a recent Philippine College of Physicians survey revealed only 1,572 ventilators are available in the country, 423 of them in Metro Manila. Global estimates show that 3 to 5% of COVID-19 patients require mechanical ventilation, crowding out others like stroke and heart attack patients who need intensive care.

Even as the Department of the Interior and Local Government ordered local governments to set up isolation facilities for milder COVID-19 cases that do not require admission to hospitals, not all barangays have been able to comply. 

Flattening the curve”—keeping the infection growth rate down—and protecting hospital frontliners means keeping people at home so the virus doesn’t spread. While at home, people must be fed and their health and sanitation needs must be provided for right in the places where they live.

The COVID-19 battleground, therefore, is not just hospitals, but the poorest communities that lack the means to feed and protect themselves. Protecting these communities means protecting everyone else. 

The issues: Poverty and density

Metro Manila is one of the densest cities in the world, outstripping Delhi, Paris, or Tokyo. It  produces 70% of the country’s economic output and is the center of political, cultural, and economic life in Luzon. But it also has one of the largest concentrations of poverty.  Some 2.5 million of the city’s nearly 13 million residents live in slums, while 3.1 million are homeless. 

This map shows the poorest areas of the capital (the darker the color, the larger the percentage of poverty in the area) and their proximity to hospitals and COVID-19 cases. 

Map 1. NCR COVID Poverty POI 20200324Note: The poverty numbers in this map refer to the number of poor households in each barangay that have been identified through the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction, the government’s primary database of who and where the city’s poorest and neediest are. The numbers indicate families that have been targeted by the Department of Social Welfare and Development for social protection programs such as conditional cash transfers. These families are the poorest of the poor but their numbers do not include the homeless and the so-called “near-poor,” who are equally vulnerable.

In these poor communities, families are packed in small shanties with 4 to 6 children plus several  extended family members, including grandparents, sharing small spaces. Social distancing in these cramped places is difficult, if not impossible. 

The Issues: Access to health, sanitation, mobility and food security

 Even without COVID-19, poor living conditions trigger various health issues related to overcrowding and WASH (water and sanitation, hygiene), the most important factor in the spread of infections. This is particularly true for the elderly population and the young. 

The poor have limited access to health or other basic social services, like public transport. In dense settlements in major cities like Pasig, Mandaluyong, Quezon City, and Manila, looban communities deep in packed slums are accessible only by three-wheelers or habal-habal motorcycles that fit the narrow alleys.

Those with private vehicles are allowed to use them for urgent trips, but day laborers, frontline nurses, and poor dialysis patients reliant on public transport have been forced by the quarantine to walk for kilometers through multiple checkpoints. Everyone must now show a pass, whether one issued by the barangay government or the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).  This limits the ability of residents of poor communities to get food and urgent health care, making them more vulnerable to the spread of infection.

 All of these create situations we’ve already seen, like ailing grandparents from the city’s slums braving checkpoints and possibly contracting COVID-19, to get food and medicine; otherwise, their children and grandchildren will starve to death. Once infections are allowed to spread in these dense communities, it will be impossible to manage and contain.


Hot Spot: Quezon City 

Quezon City is the largest and most populous city in the Philippines, home to over 2.9 million people living in 175.33 square kilometers.

Its large land area eases overall population density pressure. Based on 2015 data, Quezon City’s population density is at 17,759 residents per square kilometer. In contrast, eight of the other 15 cities in the National Capital Region surpassed the region’s average population density of 20,785 persons per square kilometer.

Table 2. Most Densely Populated Cities of Metro Manila

Municipality Population Density
1. City of Manila 71,263 persons per km2
2. Mandaluyong City 41,580 persons per km2
3. Pasay City  29,815 persons per km2
4. Caloocan City  28,387 persons per km2
5. City of Navotas 27,904 persons per km2
6. City of Makati 27,010 persons per km2
7. City of Malabon 23,267 persons per km2
8. City of Marikina 20,945 persons per km2
Source: Philippine Statistics Authority, 2015

Although it is one of the least dense cities in Metro Manila, a 2015 analysis from the World Bank shows that more than a third of the total slums in the capital region can be found in Quezon City. The second ranking city, Taguig, hosts 10% of the total slum area of the region.

The largest clusters of the Quezon City slums are in Batasan Hills and Payatas, but informal settlements can be found in the borders of universities, beside affluent gated communities, and in the shadows of high-rise malls and high-end mixed-use developments, as in the case of Sitio San Roque. In these slums, daily-wage-dependent families do not always have access to water or soap. These families also do not have the luxury of space as they live in shanties too warm, packed, and uncomfortable to stay in for long periods of the day. This makes it impossible to follow the recommendations of the quarantine: social distancing of at least two meters between persons. 

As of March 23, 42 of Quezon City’s 142 barangays have COVID-19 cases. Of these, 12 are under “extreme enhanced community quarantine.”  


Table 3. Quezon City Barangays under Extreme Enhanced Community Quarantine

District Barangay
1 Maharlika
Ramon Magsaysay
San Isidro Labrador
2 Batasan Hills
Bagong Silangan
3 Masagana
4 Damayang Lagi
6 Pasong Tamo
Source: Quezon City Government, March 23
Note: Brgy. Central has no COVID-19 cases as of March 23, but has been placed under extreme quarantine due to its proximity to major hospitals.


According to the health department, there are 66 hospitals within Quezon City’s borders; 15 are government owned and 51 are private. Only 20 are categorized as Level 3 hospitals that have intensive care units, with some 7,500 beds. 

Key hospitals serving COVID-19 cases include the Lung Center of the Philippines, which is one of the six hospitals in the country with testing capability and has dedicated one wing with 40 beds for COVID-19 patients; and the Philippine Heart Center, where over 20 health workers were exposed to the virus after a patient withheld travel information. 

As of March 23, at least six doctors at the Heart Center have tested positive. Three have already died. At least 3 COVID-19 cases in Quezon City, with one from a congested urban poor community,  have been sent home for lack of bedspace. Not all barangays have been able to set up isolation tents for the sick.   

Map 2. QC Poverty and Covid Cases 20200323
Map 3. QC Informality, Covid Cases Zoomed 20200323Note: The numbers of households in informal housing was calculated based on four variables from the 2010 census. First, we calculated the households who enjoy (a) rent-free occupation with consent of owner; and (b) rent-free without consent of owner. We then filtered those numbers based on the type of housing, specifically homes where (c) floor area is less than 5 square meters, and (d) whose outer walls are constructed of wood and other light materials.


The Department of Transportation and Office of the Vice President are running free bus services to bring health workers to hospitals, but many frontline workers live in different cities or have no access to “last-mile” transportation that can connect them from the pickup or transfer stations and back to their homes. Many nurses and other frontline medical personnel are forced to walk to work. A few have been able to obtain bicycles. 

The maps also show locations of supermarkets and groceries, including major “bagsakan”’ consolidation markets like NEPA QMart and Balintawak Market. In the coming weeks, the lack of transport could endanger the food supply if produce deliveries are unable to enter the capital and if markets cannot operate at full capacity because their workers cannot report to work. 

Farms and factories suffer from the same restrictions. Farmers from Cordillera, Laguna, Nueva Ecija, Cabanatuan, and Marinduque have taken to social media to warn that thousands of tons of produce are going to waste due to transport restrictions and the lack of markets to purchase the food.



What can be done—now!

 We cannot arrest the contagion without coordinated efforts to address the problems of poverty, mobility, and food security among the poorest and neediest. 

With the signing of Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act on March 24, the Executive Branch now has enhanced powers for the next three months to stem the tide of COVID-19 across the country. 

For this to be effective, the national government needs to work with local governments, the private sector, and everyday citizens. 

The first two weeks of the enhanced community quarantine have seen the private sector stepping up to provide assistance to frontliners and vulnerable communities. Big brands are donating their advertising budgets and securing support for their staff and suppliers. Private companies and citizens have begun to pledge support to fundraising initiatives. 

These initiatives are also partnering with community-based organizations such as Caritas Manila and Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Pantawid Pamilya (SNPP) to reach families sorely affected by the lockdown. 

Everyday citizens, including students, restaurant owners, and vendors alike, are donating what they can, including time, food, and bicycles for frontline workers. Citizen information drives such as @CureCovidPH and #PHCAN are now preparing information materials in vernacular languages for community use.

Many local government units have also begun distributing food packs to their barangays and have tapped into their Quick Response Funds to produce more in the coming weeks. But these efforts are not enough. 

Old methods of emergency response no longer apply under the conditions of COVID-19. The checkpoints and other mobility restrictions mean that all efforts must be hyper localized, building on human resources and social capital within these respective cities for months to come.


These efforts should focus on:


1. Finding 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. 

    • Organize water rationing with the help of the Bureau of Fire Protection, Philippine Red Cross and other local volunteer organizations with water tanks.
    • Continue regular garbage collection and ramp up sanitation efforts across cities.
    • Set up sinks and handwashing stations in strategic common areas.
    • Repurpose clear plastic sheeting to serve as droplet shields for storefronts and other high-traffic areas.
    • Prepare methods for social distancing, quarantine, and care that uses the household and not the individual as the unit of care.

 2. Providing support to the poorest families. Specifically, 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 should  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. However, packages for families not included in Listahanan must also be considered.
    • 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. Ensuring food security during the duration of the enhanced community quarantine

  • The IATF-EID, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Trade and Industry must ensure that the strict quarantine guidelines will not disrupt the food supply chain. The DA assured the public that there is enough food for everyone. However, despite clear statements from national government that the delivery of food, agricultural products, and essential commodities should remain unimpeded, this has not been clearly applied across all local government units, many of which have installed their own checkpoints with varying interpretations of the rules established by the IATF-EID.
  • Local government units must start innovating in order to ensure that the people will have access to basic food necessities. Pasig City is presently implementing mobile markets to bring food closer to where people are, as is the  Lanao del Sur provincial government. Mandaluyong is including fruits and vegetables in their food packs, while Baguio and Laguna are distributing vegetable seeds for ‘survival gardens’.

3. Ensuring 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. Supporting the mobility of frontline services and health workers, and ensuring 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. Supporting 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 P27.1-billion package released by the Department of Finance should be channeled towards innovative solutions for addressing testing and the logistics thereof.

6. Sharing accurate and timely information both at the national and grassroots level, iand in local languages and channels. Consolidate communication channels for clear messaging and information dissemination and take advantage of existing communication platforms such as the government’s text alarms to provide more useful information, not just brief regular reminders to the public. Data sharing of anonymized information to protect patient privacy can also help in scientific and policy work in the long run.

7. Encouraging businesses to support the above mentioned efforts and coordinate with the government to create a singular, streamlined response.

8. Extending 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 and rental payments.


While these measures are focused on the experience of Metro Manila, quarantined communities in the rest of Luzon and in Visayas and Mindanao must also take steps to support the poorest and most vulnerable. 


[Note: This is a popular version of a longer paper prepared by members of UrbanisMO, a group of urban planners and development professionals, in cooperation with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. The papers in English and Tagalog are available on,, and A podcast on COVID-19 and urban poor communities will be released by UrbanisMO and Young Public Servants later this week.]