The Philippines was hit early and hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, ranking along with Indonesia as the countries with the highest prevalence and fatality rates in the region for most of the pandemic.
Emboldened by the special powers entrusted to him by quickly-enacted emergency legislation, then President Rodrigo Duterte placed the whole country under a state of calamity, justifying a top-down and punitive response, and enacted one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world. Metro Manila and other urban centers in particular were gravely affected by these measures.
The sweeping economic fallout that followed proved devastating for the country and its people, and was not alleviated by the massive yet nevertheless deficient and uneven government cash assistance program. The Philippine economy experienced one of the worst contractions since World War II, resulting in a significant expansion of the country’s already large impoverished population and an increase in the incidence of hunger. Community-based initiatives on the part of citizens and civil society groups sprouted to address the pandemic and its impacts. Among the most visible initiatives, hundreds of community pantries emerged in mid-April 2021 under the motto of “Give according to your means, take according to your needs”.
While these bottom-up initiatives irrefutably became a crucial stopgap measure for the poor, they were flagged for surveillance by the public authorities who perceived them as providing a detrimental image of both the government and its social protection efforts.
Rosalia Sciortino is an associate professor at the Institute for Population and Social Research (IPSR), Mahidol University and director SEA Junction in Bangkok, Thailand. She is emeritus regional director for East and South-East Asia with Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Singapore and for the Rockefeller Foundation in Bangkok.