Steadily, Filipinos have gone back outside their homes and resumed their work as the guidelines on mobility were relaxed by the government. Still, the COVID-19 virus remains and so do the many issues of society that the pandemic brought out into the open – in health, education, economy, food security, national security, and sovereignty. However, more than any branch or group in government, it is the local government units (LGU) that have to urgently respond, manage, and address the day-to-day needs of each Filipino in their respective communities. 

Last November 6, 2020, in partnership with, the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) launched a new segment under its #ISAngKilosBayan Advocacy Series, this time focusing on local governments and community-rebuilding. 

Starting off with the Visayas and Mindanao episode, ISA invited Mayors Jerry Treñas (City Government of Iloilo), Oscar Moreno (City Government of Cagayan de Oro), and Maria Isabelle Climaco (City Government of Zamboanga) to discuss the recovery process within their communities. 

The webinar also featured Mr. Charlito Manlupig (President, Balay Mindanaw Foundation Inc.) and Ms. Katherine Velmonte (Executive Director, Research Group for Alternatives to Development Inc.) as reactors, and Atty. Paolo Salvosa (Director for Strategy and Knowledge Management, Office of the Vice President) as moderator. 

At the local level

If the early months of the pandemic were like putting out fires as they came, now, key respondents have a little more knowledge to go on as they mitigated the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. 

Cagayan de Oro Mayor Moreno shared how important it was to involve the health sector in strategizing against the spread of the virus. 

“As early as March we’ve been doing our press briefing until now. With me were Northern Mindanao Medical Center, the City Health Office, and police. The information we got from the hospital was very enlightening. Our main mission [became] two: (1) prevent the spread of the virus; and (2) accelerate recoveries either in hospitals or quarantine facilities.

As for Iloilo City’s Mayor Treñas, a survey was commissioned at the onset to understand the challenges of controlling community transmission. With that, he grew to discover the role of barangay health workers (BHWs) when it comes to disseminating information to the community. 

“I didn’t even consider that before. Now it’s important to empower BHWs because they’re already embedded in the barangay. It’s easier for them to explain. Constituents listen to the BHW, I think, even more than the doctors or nurses in the health center, and maybe even some politicians. We should never give up on looking for new ways on how to bring the message across. ” expressed said Mayor Treñas. 

This was also echoed by Zamboanga Mayor Climaco, who underscored the need for stronger risk communication to inform people about the need to comply with health protocols.

“Police and military have a hard time with enforcement because the people at the barangays do not see the need for wearing masks. [So] we really have to strengthen risk communication, public communication, and [have the] DILG go down to the barangays,” said Mayor Climaco.

Economy vs. Health tug of war

Eager though everyone is to jump back into normalcy, there is still tug of war between economic recovery and compliance with health protocols. This was a particular concern shared by the Visayas and Mindanao mayors. 

“[We have to] find the balance between economy and health. We are in the 8th month of quarantine. Many businesses have closed, many jobs have been lost. It’s very imperative we will slowly allow the economy to reopen,” expressed Mayor Treñas. 

However, with that move also come the list of safety protocols that Filipinos must now be mindful of. According to Mayor Treñas, opening up malls and establishments actually helped in implementing safety protocols because security personnel were present. Still, at the community level, it’s a different story.

Thus, for Mayor Moreno, there’s a need for a change of attitude and the need to accept the limitations and minor inconveniences of the new normal since the general objective is still to contain the spread of the virus.

Family first approach

On that note, the three mayors agreed that controlling the transmission of the virus had to begin at the most basic unit of society — families and barangays. 

As per Mayor Climaco, “We really have to secure the welfare of each other by making every family accountable [and] responsible [for following] the minimum health protocols because it is very risky and costly to get COVID. We cannot even quarantine at home because we share a common toilet and bath [so,] we really have to tighten our belt.”

The very localized approach was also what made contact tracing more efficient according to the Iloilo and Cagayan de Oro Mayors. 

“We did house-to-house. We mobilized people—three groups. It’s not perfect but it helped. It gave us a signal so we can detect the beginning of a positive case,” shared Mayor Moreno. 

As for Iloilo, what complemented the house-to-house tracing was the provision of food, aid, and testing.

“I want to make sure that we only quarantine for 14 days those who are positive. As I have said, I want to make sure that the businesses start to recover, and a person who cannot work for 14 days will also affect his financial stability,” added Mayor Treñas.

Planning and participation

In the latter part of the program, Mr. Manlupig and Ms. Velmonte joined the discussion, synthesizing the main points raised by the local chief executives in terms of developing a strategy towards recovery and offering their input on these learnings.

Ms. Velmonte reiterated the importance of three things: data collection and use of that data for decision making; community engagement at the local level especially through BHWs; and learning from one’s experience in order to make new development plans. 

“Vulnerability can be solved when people are equipped, capacitated, and able to respond to the disasters,” she said.

On the other hand, Mr. Manlupig emphasized that the key to empowered, sustainable, resilient, peaceful communities is good governance that is not only a function only of the government but is present within the dynamics between and among the various stakeholders of society.

“A local executive who understands this invests in creating, building, and nurturing these mechanisms for participation of all stakeholders. A local executive who understands this harvests later on the rewards of investing,“ said the Balay Mindanaw Foundation President.

This episode is the first of the three-part segment where more discussions on rebuilding and reshaping more resilient and sustainable communities will be the topic of the day. 

View the full webinar episode here. Check out the highlights from previous episodes here.