Young people in the Philippines may not be the most vulnerable group to the sickness but the youth are vulnerable to the economic fallout during and after this pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis unfolded slowly and then dropped its full weight abruptly three months into the year in the Philippines.

As the outbreak worsened in different countries in January, the government refused to implement measures adopted by neighboring countries, such as temporary travel restrictions, to suppress the spread of the virus into the country.

In February, the government assured the public that there is nothing to fear, with the health secretary declaring that the Philippines is a model country in prevention.

The disruption started in the week of March. The government announced that they’ve recorded a case of local transmission– meaning, someone with no travel history has gotten sick.

Soon after, the government declared a total lockdown on the whole Luzon island region with a population of 53 million. People scrambled to go home to the provinces, daily wage workers found themselves without customers, and students in the middle of their term were put on standby as schools cancelled classes.

Now, work, school and all other mass gathering activities are suspended in the country’s once bustling capital region. Without a mass testing program in place, the government relied on travel restrictions to buy the health system some time to upgrade. As of writing, there have been 51,754 cases, 1314 deaths, and 12,813 recoveries in the Philippines.

The health and economic crisis posed a huge problem for the youth in the Philippines who not only comprise a majority of the student population but also the workers’.

The contraction of all economic activity to implement the quarantine has already resulted in more than 7.3 million displaced workers, according to data from the labor department. The extended suspension of work and closure of establishments has led some companies to lay off their workers. Street vendors, tricycle drivers, and other self-employed informal workers who rely on daily wages have been gravely affected by travel restrictions and curfews.

While the government has provided cash aid worth PHP 5000-8000 (USD 98-157) for affected families, the amount is less than half of what households with 5 members spend in a month.

Youth organizations such as Akbayan Youth, in solidarity with labor groups, have called for income guarantees instead of the current financial assistance scheme. The proposal is for the government to increase welfare subsidies to minimum wage rates, ensuring that families can still spend for their food, rent, and utilities despite the lockdown.

There’s also a debate on how schools should deal with the class disruption due to the enforcement of the quarantine. School administrators are caught in a bind as classes are suddenly suspended in the middle of the semester. Most schools have pushed for students to join online classes and comply with requirements from home.

However, an informal survey done by the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP) showed that only 4% of students have complete gadgets for learning and 62% lack internet or stable connection at home. Student groups have lobbied for their schools to freeze or end the semester and pass all students as an act of compassion amid the crisis.

This campaign has seen some successes in major university systems in the country. Major public and private universities across the country have decided to refund their students’ tuition fees and give all their students passing grades.

The country didn’t run short of acts of civic responsibility among the youth during the pandemic. While people are observing social distancing, social solidarity is high too.

After reports of sexual harassment in checkpoints and domestic abuse during the lockdown, young volunteers put up a chat service called the Lunas Collective to help women receive support for cases of gender-based violence and reproductive health. After households were caught off guard with the limited supply during the lockdown, Sangguniang Kabataan (Village Youth Councils) officers surveyed their constituents on their basic needs and prepared relief packs with alcohol bottles, canned goods and bags of rice.

Even with an overwhelming wave of solidarity, there’s still a giant gap for health and welfare that needs to be filled fast. The extended community quarantines has prolonged the suspension of work in some sectors in the cities across the island region. The government needs a plan, not only to protect families from sickness, but also to recover from a looming economic fallout and protect young people from unemployment and crippling debt.


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