By MARK LAVARRO
STA. CRUZ, Laguna – Formerly a beneficiary of a community pantry, Beth Concha, 67, a single mother, is one of the volunteers for Flag Brigade PH, an initiative launched by labor group Defend Jobs Philippines.
For Concha, the government’s inept COVID-19 response has caused so much hardship for his family. Last year, when the country began implementing the lockdown, Concha lost her job in a restaurant service where she has worked for six years. Thanks to community pantries, Concha and her family were able to meet their daily needs, especially food. To survive, she would wake up early in the morning and stand in line with the various community pantries across Manila.
It was during these morning runs to community pantries that she met Defend Jobs.
“I’m used to this kind of work,” said Concha Bulatlat in a telephone interview, referring to the service she provides for Flag Brigade PH.
“I’m not afraid because I know I don’t break any laws now that I want to help others,” she said, adding that her age had not deterred her from volunteering.
Community pantries have sprouted up in many parts of the country this year, as part of an effort by individuals and groups to provide food to starving families, especially those who have been made redundant. One of these is Flag Brigade PH, which has since evolved into a mobile pantry inspired by the Malaysian White Flag movement.
Initiatives like this help alleviate hunger for many of Manila’s poor as the Philippine capital returns to tighter lockdown with very little help for affected families. For Flag Brigade PH, they are providing food and other essentials to poor families and those most affected by the lockdown like Concha.
On the first day, despite threats from government officials limiting humanitarian aid, the group was able to provide food aid and other essentials to around 200 poor families in Manila.
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In order to cope with the growing incidence of hunger caused by the pandemic, the Home and Local Government Department (DILG) said cash assistance will be distributed to at least 11 million people in the region. Metro Manila affected by the stricter lockdown. Households can receive one-time cash assistance of up to $ 80. However, this has been criticized for being barely enough to meet the needs of the majority of those affected by the lockdown.
âWe could get by with my job before, even when I was only getting 450 P ($ 9) per day for the two days I can work per week. I am grateful to Defend Jobs Philippines because they gave me hope; may our family be resuscitated, âsaid Concha.
In separate statements, Tulong Kabataan and Defend Jobs Philippines insist that the government should focus comprehensively on the demand of the population instead of refusing humanitarian relief, especially in this time of worsening pandemic and insufficient help.
The independent think tank Ibon Foundation said the poorest 70 percent of families, who number around 17 million, have lost an average of P13,000 ($ 260) to P32,000 ($ 635) in income over the years. Last 17 months.
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The group also noted that the Philippines has the largest increase in unemployment in all of Southeast Asia. This year alone, government data revealed that the country’s unemployment rate rose slightly in one month, from 3.73 million in May to 3.76 million in June.
âThe lack of real fiscal stimulus is a major factor in the raging unemployment crisis,â said the Ibon Foundation.
Youth group volunteering too
In addition to Defend Jobs Philippines, young activists have also started a relief network that provides hot meals to the poor in Quezon City.
Abi Sillas, an 18-year-old volunteer from Tulong Kabataan, has been involved in the effort for over a year. She said their initiative made her understand that people, especially young people, must act.
âWe cannot remain victims of the systemic problems in our society. I realized that we have a role to play, âsaid Sillas.
Their efforts, however, were maligned and the initiative marked in red.
Earlier this year, Peace Philippines, a Facebook page claiming to be a youth-run organization, tagged Tulong Kabataan Network and its community pantry, claiming, without merit, that it is a weapon of the Communists to recruit members. .
Four volunteers were also arrested last year. The city attorney released them along with 14 other residents for further investigation, citing insufficient evidence.
âWe challenge the government to give what the communities need. They should look for the roots of the problems and not treat COVID-19 as a security issue, âHayme Alegre, head of Tulong Kabataan said in a statement. Bulatlat maintenance.
He added that the government should instead fund efforts that can help defeat this pandemic, and not allocate public funds that contribute to the red marking and terrorist tagging of young activists and aid workers.
Defend Jobs Philippines, for his part, said desperate attempts to discredit and highlight community pantry efforts have no place and must be condemned in this time of the pandemic. (JJE, RTS)