Since the COVID-19 / Coronavirus outbreak communities around the world have been waking up and finding that they need a new way of thinking to build a better community where we live. Some are using this as an opportunity to respond in a way that creates a new way of living together. Every day we see more and more people connecting online and finding ways to come together and talk about what is needed now. The result of some of the conversations points to building a stronger social fabric that takes care of each other, instead of relying on government and organizations to do it for them.
A couple of nights ago I sat down (virtually) with my good friend and comrade, Cris who lives in the Philippines to talk about what is happening in Manila. I found out that Cris has been getting some attention back home because of what he is doing to support his community during a lockdown in Manila.
The government decided to locked-down Metro Manila to fight the spread of the disease and to offer continued isolation for cases confirmed. As result, most of the public utility vehicle drivers are also temporarily closing their offices and business during this time, leaving many folks, who have left their homes to work, without transportation. Knowing that many people can not afford or have the privilege to work at home, Cris jumped into action. He began offering frees rides to the public here is his story, presented in Q/A interview style.
What is the current situation in the Philippines, related to the COVID-19 / Coronavirus?
Hi there. I live in Pasig City part of Metro Manila which is the first region to be locked down by the national government last March 15, 2020. As of the current situation here, most of the people stay at home especially at night but on day time people go out to buy food supplies and other essential needs. In this locked down, the first agency to be deployed by the government is the police and military to conduct checkpoints on every border of the cities. As of this moment, most of the industries we’re closed, and the work is suspended, only the groceries, supermarket, some banks, clinic, and hospital are the ones who we’re still open. When the lockdown happens many informal workers, self-employed like drivers, vendors, contractual workers, and other no work no pay people are in a hard situation because most of them had no savings to stock foods or anything while under the stay at home policy. Every night has a curfew from 8 pm till 5 am. The medical test kits that used to be the most important equipment needed are still unavailable in most cities. The mass transportation we’re suspended and all the air, land, and sea travel we’re canceled. The whole Philippines are in a state of calamity declared by the President. From what I see in the past days and my monitoring of the situation since the coronavirus we’re on the news, the national government is not prepared how to handle the health emergency, the first one who is in panic is the government itself with no clear plan or solution on the matter. The national government and the local government unit are not well-coordinated. There is still no financial aid or subsidies from the government to help the affected people who stop working but some areas help their constituents with food packs.
How is the general public responding to the situation?
The general public responds to the call of the government to “stay at home” and most of these people are privileged enough to prepare and stock supplies but some are still questioning the call to “stay at home” especially the homeless in Metro Manila and other urban poor communities who don’t have enough money to buy stock. According to them “ they will first die in hunger than the virus”.
What are you doing to respond to the situation? (Is this part of collective action?)
My action is only based on my own capacity. The free rides for health workers, front-liners, and other public commuters to buy essential needs are my personal initiatives supported by my family and partner. But I and my neighbor are discussing doing collective action to experiment/ mix disinfectant or alcohol to provide it for free in our community in the coming days. We don’t have a collective name but we collaborate on different initiatives.
In the past, you have been on the front-lines of other emergencies, such as flooding. Can you tell me a little about what you have done and how creating this free taxi service relates?
Yeah since before if there is an emergency, we try to do direct action to make solidarity work as a value that we learned on anarchism. The free taxi/tricycle service that I made out of frustration, compassion, and empathy. The story behind that is, we try to commute to go to the market but there are no available public utility vehicles because of the suspension of mass transportation including tricycles. We ask the authority (police and barangay) stationed in our area if there is an available vehicle that we can use but they said that all the people are just walking and we should do that too while their police mobile and barangay service are unused and only stationed in the area. So, what I did is to get my tricycle even though my tricycle is illegal I used it and we went to the public market then after that I gave the direct initiative to give free rides to people who want to buy essential needs like food, medicine and vitamins and free for those health workers so they will not walk a long distance in the summer heat.
What do you want to achieve with creating this service?
For me, it’s very simple. I want to achieve it for people to realize that they can do something to help each other to stay and survive in this health crisis. Hope that at this moment they see that they cannot depend on or rely on an incapable government.
Why is Mutual Aid so important?
In this time of situation, Mutual Aid and voluntary cooperation are very essential to balance the order and the panicking situation. It is alarming when the government institutions are not prepared and the authorities are not well-equipped and not well-informed to handle the crisis. Mutual Aid and community care are the most sensible actions that people can do. It is very practical that we help each other immediately because we cannot wait for the bureaucratic government to help us out. We actually experienced that here at the moment, in the first week of the lockdown until now we don’t receive any support coming from the government.