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Give marginalized, vulnerable sectors priority in COVID-19 fight

04:00 AM March 27, 2020

IBON Foundation estimates that the Luzon-wide lockdown due to COVID-19 could affect 11 million workers and informal sector earners, mostly from jobs related to construction, wholesale and retail trade, transportation and storage, accommodation and food service, and other service jobs. These are sectors of the labor force that mostly depend on daily earnings and are subject to a “no-work-no-pay” scheme. Without economic support, displaced workers and their families would struggle to survive during the lockdown, submerging them even further into the mire of poverty. We, therefore, urge the government to consider the following interventions to ensure that the public’s basic needs are met:

1) Stability in food quantity must be guaranteed by ensuring that food production meets the per capita consumption of Filipinos. Present government policies render the public vulnerable to market shocks and disruptions in supply and demand. For instance, the country’s liberalized rice industry only allows for 10 percent of rice supply to be sourced locally by the government during calamities, while an overwhelming volume is obtained by importing from other rice-exporting countries. The government must protect the public from possible cost-padding by some rice traders, who could exploit the crisis by creating artificial rice shortage.

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2) Transport of agricultural goods from farm to market must be expedited, given that time is a critical factor in the transfer of agricultural products, especially items intended for direct consumption. Delay in delivery would mean economic losses for producers and market suppliers, which could result in price hikes and deterioration in the quality of goods, which would in turn endanger consumer health. The absence of any clear policies on the movement of goods was evident during the early days of the lockdown, indicating that the authorities failed to recognize the critical function of food distribution at the market level. Household distribution of food products is also a rising concern, to lessen potential contact with the virus.

3) The government must ascertain adequate, safe, and affordable food quantity and quality at the local market. A price freeze must be imposed to protect consumers, especially those who are not able to work during the lockdown, from the volatility of prime commodity prices. Moreover, consumers must have access to food by ensuring that their mobility is not constrained, especially in areas where the limited transport system forces consumers to walk long distances to purchase basic needs.

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4) An initial projection made by UP scientist Darwin Bandoy on March 15 shows how the COVID-19 pandemic will peak in June and may even reach October. Thus, a drawn-out period of limited food supply is facing the population. It is critical for the national government to ensure a long-term sustainable food supply for the affected population in different parts of the country. Low-income families that have already exhausted their resources by this time should have access to appropriate and nutritious food. Targeting priority sectors in need of food products will require sound data, and must utilize community-based mechanisms to ensure accuracy. At the end of the day, it is the people, especially the vulnerable sectors, who suffer the most from the ongoing lockdown. The government must make public health and other social services available to them, prioritizing access to food and ensuring that those affected will not be condemned to hunger.

CAMILLE ROSE MUEDA,

chair, AGHAM Laguna,

[email protected]

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