Social protection should be sector-specific – UP experts

By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz

The experts from the University of the Philippines (UP) have recommended that the government should take into consideration the sector-specific needs of the vulnerable and marginalized to be able to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

A study conducted by the UP pandemic response team, which was released on Tuesday, suggested that basic sectors must be provided social protection, including income and food security; quality health care; constant water supply and sanitation services; regular, accurate, and accessible public health messages on COVID-19 in easy to understand formats, particularly for persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and other vulnerable groups; and venues to participate in decision- making.

Under the Republic Act 8425 or the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act, basic sectors are composed of farmers and landless rural workers, artisanal fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous people and cultural communities, workers in formal labor and migrant workers, workers in the informal sector, women, children, youth and students, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, victims of disasters and calamities, non-governmental organizations, and cooperatives.

The team specified that there should be free and accessible COVID-19 testing and treatment for all who are in need of these; decent and safe isolation areas with food and medical care for persons with mild symptoms, or those under investigation or monitoring due to exposure; and burial assistance, such as free crematorium services for fatalities.

It also said that hygiene kits, along with food packs, should be distributed.

Access to disinfectants, wash stations, and personal and protective equipment should be provided for frontliners not only in the health care sector but also among those rendering essential services outside their homes, it added.

For persons with disabilities (PWDs), the UP experts said that disability-related costs should be taken into account, considering it as a major driver of poverty among PWDs. Their households should also benefit from COVID-19 social assistance.

For older persons, the response team suggested including indigent senior citizens receiving benefits from the social pension program to be included in the Social Amelioration Program.

Meanwhile, the experts recommended that indigenous peoples should not only receive adequate, timely, and effective services, but also culturally appropriate.

“Improve COVID-19 medical services in parts of the country that include IP areas. Focus on the more vulnerable IP communities closer to metro centers such as Manila (i.e. Dumagat Remontado of Rizal/Region 4 and the Agta/Aeta of Central Luzon). Guarantee the continued access of IPs to the natural resources necessary for survival,” the team pointed out.

They also suggested the provision of emergency interventions and psychosocial support for women and those belonging to the LGBTQI group who feel unsafe or experience gender-based violence within their households.

The group also cited the women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights by ensuring safe pregnancies and childbirth, and the availability/accessibility of family planning commodities. “Free and accessible distribution of modern contraceptives and menstrual hygiene products must be done at the community level by local government units,” it added.

Likewise, they recommended that women frontliners and health volunteers should be prioritized, such as when providing protective gear.

The UP team said that workers in the informal economy should be given access to the “Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) and other cash for work programs to cover workers in the informal economy who are unable to work for the duration of the enhanced community quarantine.”

Displaced vendors and other workers in the informal economy should also be provided mobile markets and kitchens to reach out to communities while observing physical distancing.

“Continue provision and extension of food and cash transfers to indigent households, including those of the working poor as well as the near poor or new poor resulting from the pandemic,” the team said.

The home-based workers and others in the informal economy who are producing masks, gowns, and other personal protective equipment, should be also provided meals as well as transport, delivery, packing, sorting, and other services to frontliners, such as health workers, traffic and law enforcers, among others.

Also included in the UP team's recommendations for possible assistance are the street dwellers.

They suggested the provision of temporary shelter for street dwellers where they are found, as well as the necessary physiological support systems such as food, rest and comfort areas, and medicines/first-aid kits in temporary shelters.

The street dwellers should also be given individual medical check-ups and health assessments and ensure that the proper medical protocols for those who are deemed suspect, probable, and confirmed are observed.

The team also said that the local government units must explore the possibility of recruiting/engaging healthy street dwellers to become productive members of the community by making them a part of either the Barangay Health Response Teams or the LGU’s livelihood program initiatives.