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Filipino priests issue stark lockdown poverty warnings

Move to shut down Visayas and Mindanao regions to fight pandemic 'could spark a poverty disaster'

Filipino priests issue stark lockdown poverty warnings

Millions of families in the Philippines are living below the poverty line. (Photo: AFP)

Two clergymen have warned of increased hardship and a potential poverty disaster after the Philippine government announced it would implement strict Covid-19 lockdowns in the country’s poorest regions.

President Rodrigo Duterte has placed Iloilo province in the Visayas region, together with two other cities in Mindanao, under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from Aug. 1-7 to contain the fast-spreading Delta variant. An ECQ is the strictest form of quarantine and is effectively a total lockdown.

Clergymen feared the lockdowns would exacerbate people’s suffering due to the loss of jobs, potentially creating another disaster.

Father Rodel Enverga of Jaro Archdiocese in Iloilo province and Father Christian Fargueras of Cagayan de Oro Archdiocese in Mindanao said the lockdowns would bring more poverty to communities already hit hard by the pandemic.

“Once we begin the ECQ on Aug. 1, more people will be retrenched from work. Here in this province, many of our families earn their living in small-scale businesses,” Father Enverga told UCA news.

He said many of his parishioners are service providers such as waiters and shopkeepers. “They are highly dependent on their jobs. If these establishments close, where will they get money to buy food and spend on educating their children?”

They need an income to live … With the lockdowns, more families will be living below the poverty line

He said lockdowns are “Band-Aid” solutions in a country where people are going hungry.

Father Fargueras referred to a recent survey conducted by private research firm Social Weather Stations that revealed more Filipinos were going to bed hungry since the pandemic began.

“More households were reported not having enough food to eat. The food inflation rate was at 6.2 percent in March and more than one out of five Filipinos didn’t have enough food at some point in 2020, a record high that was double before the pandemic began,” Father Fargueras told UCA News.

He said Mindanao is still the poorest region in the Philippines with millions of families with a quarterly income of less than 5,000 pesos (US$100).

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“They need an income to live … With the lockdowns, more families will be living below the poverty line,” Father Fargueras added.

In 2019, the government said a family of five needed at least 9,649 pesos ($193) per quarter to live above the poverty line.

Archbishop Cardinal Jose Advincula of Manila said last month that poverty in the Philippines is being driven by the Covid-19 crisis.

“Many have lost their jobs and livelihoods. Many also get sick. Many die and many families grieve over the loss of loved ones. With all this, we no longer know what to do. We no longer know where we are going and we do not know where to turn for help,” he told reporters during a visit to a poor community in Manila on June 27.

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