How Filipinos have responded to Covid – some great new research on ‘Emergent Agency’

As part of writing a paper with the overall findings from our ‘Emergent Agency in a Time of Covid’ project, I’ve been catching up with some fascinating recent work from the Philippines, where Oxfam and the Philippine Sociological Society are publishing a fascinating series of case studies of civic responses to Covid. They include the Community Pantry Movement, supporting cycling when other forms of public transport were shut down, information hub and advocacy networks set up by grassroots political organizations (see pic of their Facebook page, below), and two social enterprises: Veggies for Good, which connects indigenous food producers with urban consumers, and Sewing Hope, producing masks and other PPE.

Some extracts:

On Community Pantries: ‘Our data cover the period the emergence of the first Community Pantry on April 14, 2021 up to the time it went viral on April 17 and to the time of the writing of this initial report on April 18, 2021. [Yup, that’s 5 days in total]

The first community pantry was set up by Ana Patricia Non on April 14, 2021, on a street corner along Maginhawa St., Teachers Village, Quezon City. She herself has a small business that was adversely affected by the reimposition of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila. It was with help from family and friends that she was able to stock up food supplies during the lockdown. Having more than what she needed, she decided to share her excess supply with those who are more in need in her neighborhood.

With only a bamboo cart and an instruction written on a piece of cardboard that says, “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan. Kumuha batay sa pangangailangan” (Give according to your ability. Take according to your need.), Non set up the Community Pantry in front of a former food park on Maginhawa Street, first buying vegetables from nearby vendors and later stocking the pantry with other essentials such as an alcohol sanitizer, canned goods, and rice. Soon, people flocked to the pantry, either to acquire the food that they need for the day, or to donate goods and supplies to replenish the pantry. Four days later, the community pantry became a viral phenomenon with many similar efforts sprouting all over the country attributing her act as the source of their inspiration.

Based on an initial mapping of 49 unique community pantries, we make the following observations: In its viral stage, from April 17 onwards (date of writing of this report is April 18, 12 midnight), a total of 44 community pantries were set up from as far as Davao and Iligan in the south, Aklan in Visayas, and as far as Pangasinan in the north with majority in the National Capital Region.

33 out of the 49 were initiated by private individuals or families while 16 were initiated by organizations such as private enterprises, civic organizations, and youth groups.’

Some interesting analysis zeroes in on the adaptation of the Marx quote:

‘The quote lifted from the first community pantry seemed to have provided the “viral” element as seen in the adaptation of this quote by all community pantries covered by this quick research from April 14 to 18, 2021.

As the economic crisis brought by the pandemic stretches on, communities are realizing that the protracted crises puts everyone—the urban poor, rural poor and the middle classes in the same state of precarity. The quote: “From each according to her/his ability, to each according to her/his needs,” is the new slogan of the lower classes in the time of the pandemic.

It connotes a contagion of mutual aid for the similarly situated and is an oblique critique of the greed and callousness that for some are clearly named and for others remain unnamed and are silent about. This outpouring of solidarity initiated by the middle class and complemented by the patronage and support from the lower classes could be a manifestation of this emergent solidarity.’

On Biking Initiatives: There are two key groups behind the initiatives. ‘Expert Agents’, usually cycling activists with established expertise and networks and ‘Volunteer Altruists’ such as the triathletes behind the delightfully named ‘BeSeekLeta for EveryJuan’ (say it out loud). Their motivations combine a desire to help people like frontline workers suddenly unable to get to work, and the desire not to use crisis as an advocacy opportunity to shift public policies and perceptions of cycling.

On Veggies for Good: as a social enterprise the project evolved rapidly in response to consumer demand:

‘It started as a food stall in a basketball court, where residents in a neighborhood in a city in Metro Manila could buy food essentials without having to go to the grocery store or traditional markets.

To expand their reach and to make the initiative more sustainable, they ventured into the online selling of vegetables. This also gave jobs to delivery riders whose livelihood has been displaced by quarantine restrictions.

Eventually other food items—seafoods, fruits, rice—were added to their list of goods; the additions felt necessary after the business set up shop in different communities across the city, and consumers requested variety in the items sold.’

Great stuff. For more detail, please read the originals linked to at the top of this post

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