By FORMER SENATOR ATTY. JOEY D. LINA
For people caught unprepared for the sudden lockdown in Luzon, uncertainty can be as scary as getting infected with the deadly virus spreading all over.
The enhanced community quarantine imposed to slow down the highly contagious COVID-19 is undoubtedly causing severe adverse effects on the economy as operations of businesses, offices, schools, public transportation, and many others have screeched to a halt, fueling intense anxiety among those whose lives are extremely affected.
For the tens of thousands staying home and unable to earn badly-needed income to buy food and basic necessities, the situation can be so frustrating. Being anxious and uncertain over the immediate future can be truly sickening.
The daily wage earners, drivers of public utility vehicles including tricycles and pedicabs, the street and sidewalk vendors, the many others who eke out a living in the so-called underground economy, and who suddenly find themselves without any income at all are among the most vulnerable to the current crisis.
Of course, the most vulnerable during the lockdown are the millions of impoverished Filipinos who have no fixed income, who can barely afford to eat three meals a day, who are suffering from extreme hunger and various forms of malnutrition and severe undernutrition.
It is these Filipinos in the most vulnerable sectors of society that efforts must be focused on to mitigate the adverse effects of the onslaught of the new coronavirus and resulting lockdown.
While the fight against COVID-19 requires all-of-government and all-of-society efforts, taking care of the most vulnerable certainly needs tremendous efforts of both government and private sectors. And it’s uplifting to know that support is pouring out for our needy Filipinos.
As of this writing, Congress is set to allow President Rodrigo Duterte to realign around P275 billion of this year’s national budget to fund government’s response to the crisis.Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda said that of the P275 billion, around P144 billion “would be earmarked for 17.9 million Filipino families which will each receive an P8,000 financial assistance.”
And many local government units are also giving out financial help to their needy constituents. In Makati, for instance, around 2,000 jeepney drivers residing in the premier city are getting around P2,000 in aid. Also to be given financial assistance are Makati’s 6,000 tricycle drivers. “We empathize with them and want to give them something to help tide them over for a few days. We know this is not enough, but I would like to assure everyone that more help is on its way,” Mayor Abby Binay said.
Also stepping up efforts to help the most vulnerable is the local government of Pasig City where around 400,000 food packs consisting of three kilos of rice and cans of sardines, corned beef, tuna, and meat loaf are being distributed to needy residents. The Cebu City local government also said it shall distribute 100,000 sacks of rice to help its no-work-no-pay residents.
And for the country’s farmers, additional financial assistance would be given to ensure food security during the crisis. Agriculture Sec. William Dar said that agriculture workers “can draw from a P2.8 billion loan fund” in the second tranche of a COVID-19 rescue package. “We will continue to work with the farmers, farmers’ cooperatives and associations [for] continuous production and to have enough food supply today and in the future,” he said.
The Department of Labor and Employment, for its part, said that private sector workers affected by the lockdown can avail of P5,000 lump sum assistance from government. Such assistance will be coursed through employers and will be credited directly to employee bank accounts within two weeks, according to DOLE Department Order 209.
Private businesses including the nation’s largest companies are also stepping up to the challenge of helping the vulnerable. Among those leading the pack is Jollibee Foods which has reportedly “allotted P1 billion to pay for the one-month salaries and 13th-month pay of its employees put out of work by the month-long quarantine of Luzon.”
And many shopping malls, led by SM Group, Ayala Malls, Robinsons, and Megaworld Corp., have heeded calls to waive rental fees during the duration of the lockdown to enable tenants to divert rental money to help their employees.
Also, many companies are helping in efforts to enhance public health. The country’s leading breweries and distillers are converting millions of liters of alcohol intended for liquor to be used in producing 70-percent ethyl alcohol needed to fight the virus.
And San Miguel Corp. is set to produce vitamin-packed Nutribun. “This is safe, sufficient and nutritious food for the hardest-hit families facing hunger as a result of the COVID-19 crisis,” according to SMC president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang who described the bread as “packed with nutrients and provides instant energy at 250 calories per bun.”
With all the help pouring in for those severely affected by COVID-19, there’s no doubt we Filipinos shall overcome this crisis wreaking havoc across the world. We shall overcome indeed, especially if all of us call on God Almighty during this national week of prayer declared by President Duterte in Proclamation No. 34 which states: “Through prayer, let us, as one nation, find the strength to defeat this invisible enemy, with the aid and blessing of God.”
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