By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Nearly a year since the lockdown has been imposed, a women’s research center said the number of economically-insecure Filipino women has climbed by 3.5 million, following the loss of jobs, absence of due social protection, and the continuing neoliberal policies that have long been detrimental to the poor even before the pandemic.
In a presentation a week before the International Working Women’s Day, the Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) highlighted that economically-insecure Filipino women have increased from 16 million in 2019 to an estimated number of 19.54 million in 2020.
The Philippine economy has significantly dipped, with a 9.5-percent contraction in 2020. Ibon Foundation earlier said this is the “worst on record” since the end of World War II, when the gross domestic product started to be the economic estimate for the country.
On the ground, CWR said this meant voluntary shutdown of at least 700 factories nationwide, while the remaining workers are made to work on rotational shifts of three to four days per week without overtime pay, and are not provided with safe working conditions.
The group lamented that even workers in the so-called sunshine industry, the business process outsourcing, were affected. Those who were allowed to work from home had to cough up funds to buy their own laptops and upgrade their internet connection to a higher speed, while those who are reporting to their physical offices were not provided with safe sleeping quarters.
Women food producers, urban poor also left vulnerable
CWR Executive Director Cham Perez considered women farmers “as most neglected,” as they were left buried in debts.
Food producers in many farming communities suffered from the very low farm gate prices, particularly of palay, as imported rice continues to flood the local market, following the passing of a law that lifted the cap on importation. This has led to a further decline in the agriculture sector.
Ibon Foundation earlier noted that from 2017 to 2019, the Philippine agriculture’s growth is only 2.1-percent, the slowest pace in the past 70 years. The research group attributed this to the low budget allocated for agriculture and agrarian reform – with an average of 3.6-percent of the total budget from 2017 to 2019, and further reduced to 1.7-percent and 1.6-percent in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Perez said that the low palay farm gate price and the very high rice price in the local market showed how very little government support was provided to farmers.
“These are truths that no amount of lies can ever hide,” said Cavite-based farmer Miriam Villanueva, reacting to the CWR’s report.
Meanwhile, CWR also documented at least 10,000 displaced Filipino urban poor due to demolition, despite the “stay-at-home” order during the lockdown. Ever farmers, as in the case of Lupang Ramos in Dasmariñas, Cavite where Villanueva lives, are also being evicted from the land they are tilling.
“Where do they want us to live?” Villanueva asked.
Health protection remains wanting
Perez said the COVID-19 pandemic also highlighted the debilitating impacts of privatization and devolution of health services in the Philippines.
Citing government data, Perez said 68-percent of the health facilities in the country are in the hands of private owners. She also added that even at the height of the pandemic, these private health facility owners still received heaps of earnings from swab tests that amounted somewhere between $82 to $268.
“Poor Filipinos were reluctant to get tested because they feared discrimination or losing their jobs. But apart from that, it was also because of the prohibitive cost,” said Perez in Filipino, adding that it was only in November last year when the Philippine government implemented a price ceiling on swab tests.
Instead of allocating more budget for health, the CWR decried how the government prioritized infrastructure and military spending in the 2021 budget.
No social protection for the poor
Instead of providing social protection for the poor, CWR said many poor communities were neglected and left confused.
Perez said the social amelioration program (SAP) distribution is confusing and chaotic. She estimated that at least 31 percent of target households did not receive any financial assistance at all, resulting in poverty and hunger during the lockdown.
The group, citing a Social Weather Station survey, said that 54-percent or more than half of the target households received financial assistance once, while 46-percent received twice as of November 2020. In fact, the Department of Social Welfare and Development reported a P10-billion untapped funds during the Senate deliberations of the 2021 budget.
Farmer Villanueva complained they were not given aid because they did not have government-issued IDs. “After getting our village clearance and we got into the long queue, we saw relatives and friends of local government officials way ahead of us,” she said.
Instead of providing help, Filipino women were instead subjected to red-tagging and graver human rights abuses. Nine women human rights defenders have been extrajudicially killed under the Duterte administration.
Perez said they documented the shrinking democratic and civil spaces for women defenders who have championed women’s rights and welfare, challenged inequalities, and held the powerful to account.
Women in solidarity
Still, women find hope in collective action.
Women farmers stood up for themselves, and continued to till the land. In those days where they had no money to buy food, Villanueva said they were able to gather enough produce for the community to share.
“We even have an anti-COVID garden,” she shared, adding that they planted herbal medicines and vegetables that can help boost their immunity.