Situation Report
Flood Prone Area
Transporting food packs in a flood prone slum area in Metro Manila. Photo credit: ACCORD

A series on localization: How the Philippines is quietly implementing a more localized COVID-19 humanitarian response (Part 2)

Faith-based groups (FBGs) have always played a critical role in responding to emergencies in the country. Throughout the years, they had established strong links with local government, religious and community leaders, at-risk communities, affected population, as well as with the military. Just like other Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), FBGs' engagement for localized COVID-19 pandemic response is considered game changing in terms of areas covered, number of people reached and distinct operational presence that runs similar to the government structure at the national up to the local level.

How do faith-based organizations support local government and at-risk communities?

Though still in its infancy, the Shared Aid Fund for Emergency Response (SAFER), a locally led fundraising platform for humanitarian response, has been activated multiple times since its establishment in 2018, including now for the COVID-19 pandemic.

To augment the SAFER initiative, The National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) has activated around 68 dioceses all over the country since March and has been directly supporting various local governments and affected communities. With robust partnership from the private sector and local patrons, NASSA was able to raise PhP 1.6 billion (US$31.6 million). So far, it has implemented a localized distribution of food and provision of cash and gift certificates to 225,000 families directly affected by the coronavirus pandemic in several provinces in the country, including urban poor communities in Metro Manila.

Only a few weeks into the lockdown, the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) has partnered with NASSA through Caritas Manila to distribute Php 1,000 ($20) grocery vouchers to 7.6 million families in Metro Manila. The partnership is part of the Project “Ugnayan” (Contact), a Php 1 billion cash transfer program to support over a million at-risk households. NASSA is one of the major partners alongside with other private foundations based in the National Region (NCR). PDRF recognizes the strength of NASSA to easily mobilize its social action community volunteers in areas affected by the lockdown and enhanced community quarantine. Founded in 2009, PDRF is the country's leading private sector network that coordinates disaster risk management among its members and partners.

Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines, said that 90 percent of the assistance came from local donors. “It proves that no matter what the circumstances, even those affected, or at-risk are still capable of providing support and share whatever they can. This is how we understand the nature and context on why our patrons and local donors can easily shell out certain amount of money and ensure those in great need are taken care of”, Gariguez added.

While some local funds are still available, NASSA is worried about how to sustain the humanitarian response if the crisis prolongs for several months or until the next year. Part of the network’s advocacy is promoting a “Bayanihan” approach to the provision of aid within the community and to allow communities the means to recover on its own. Bayanihan is the Filipino term used to describe how community members work together out of a spirit of generosity and selflessness to achieve a positive outcome, which in this case is to protect the most affected population.

International support will take time to reach the most vulnerable, according to the assessment by NASSA. With the various restrictions on mobility impacting conventional delivery of aid, they see an opportunity that will allow greater engagement of inter-faith organizations at the local level to fill the gaps and sustain solid partnership among community groups to sustain assistance in the context of the coronavirus crisis. Currently, some 30 organized FBGs are actively supporting affected local governments and at-risk communities in the country with projects re-aligned to focus on COVID-19. A number of common service partnerships have been established by FBGs and are ready to be rolled out, including cash provision and supporting local markets and short-term livelihood.

Bike Scouts contribute to psychosocial health through essential community connections

With more than 15,000 members across the country, the Bike Scouts of the Philippines is a volunteer group that has been providing free rides to health staff and daily workers in a number of provinces. Their services also include the delivery of essential goods and important documents at the barangay level, the lowest government administrative unit.

For the COVID-19 response, Bike Scouts acted as an essential messenger service between otherwise isolated communities, especially providing free rides and allowing free use of bikes to those who could not afford to travel due to lockdown and had lost their day jobs. Part of Bike Scout’s routine is the “house-to-house connection” where they ask households how they are coping up with the crisis, and then collect and record feedback, which they share with the local government.

“I think our main goal, apart from travelling around and supporting in the risk assessments and other logistics related concerns, is to help restore the essential need for communication between human beings. In a way, what we are doing is a form of psychosocial response, but unlike anything else it specifically addresses the need for human connection as a fundamental element of resilience and hope”, said Myles Delfin, Founder of the Bike Scout of the Philippines.

Around 3, 000 bikers have been actively providing direct support to the local government and at-risk communities across the Luzon and Visayas regions. Bike Scouts has been instrumental in reaching geographically isolated areas especially in the series of Rapid Information, Communication and Accountability Assessments (RICAA) organized by the Humanitarian Country Team’s Community of Practice on Community Engagement.

As COVID-19 pandemic to a large extent immobilized the conventional humanitarian system in terms of its ability to deliver aid, CSOs continue to mobilize resources, although limited, in order to fill the gap and ensure that provision of support to the people in need is not disrupted.