This article, which was originally published by the University of the Philippines Resilience Institute (UPRI), provides an overview of a recent neighbourhood governance forum to explore how neighbourhoods in Batangas city can respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second part of the online forum entitled “A Forum on Neighborhood Governance during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Part 2 – Batangas City” by the Centre for Neighbourhood Studies (CeNS) took place early October 2020.

The forum opened with the Welcome Remarks delivered by Atty. Mark Anthony M. Gamboa, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of CeNS. He began his message by deconstructing the term Talakalayaan into two root words: talakay and kalayaan, as a relationship that was formed within the kapitbahayan. The Talakalayaan series was created to be a venue for solution crafting and to facilitate discourse among stakeholders. This installment of the series further discussed the role of barangays in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, featuring lived experiences from two barangays from the City of Batangas. Atty. Gamboa mentioned during his opening remarks that the efforts and actions done by the different barangays were attestations of the progressing kapitbahayan.

To once more give the audience, particularly new attendees to the forum, a broader perspective on the topic and set the tone for the discussion, Dr. Mario R. Delos Reyes, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CeNS gave a brief presentation on neighborhood governance, which emphasized the emerging role of neighborhoods, or barangays as active players during the pandemic.

Two barangays from Batangas City: Barangay 7 (Poblacion) led by Chairperson Marlon M. Arguelles represented by Councilor Hazel A. Dueñas and Barangay Sta. Clara led by Chairperson Derick B. Arago presented their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic during the Talakalayaan Session. A representative from the Local Government Unit (LGU) of the City also took part in the discourse by discussing responses done on their level, together with the barangays, to execute their plan of action accordingly.

The location of Barangay 7 (Poblacion) and Barangay Sta. Clara. Credit: Centre for Neighbourhood Studies.

Barangay 7 is located within Batangas City’s Poblacion Area, with over 170 households. Before the quarantine, the Batangas City LGU guided them in creating the Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT). When the pandemic happened, Barangay 7 implemented strict checkpoints and 24-hour patrols throughout their boundaries. During the lockdown, Councilor Dueñas reported that constituents of Barangay 7 (Poblacion) experienced fear and anxiety. According to her, most residents are worried about how powerless they are against the situation. The new normal also saw residents coming up with alternative ways to celebrate occasions through only conducting festive gatherings with immediate household members and through connecting via video calls. Batangueños, as mentioned by Councilor Dueñas, are known to be magbabarik or social drinkers, but despite this, a citywide liquor ban was enforced. The barangay also provided welfare goods and house reliefs to their constituents. Also, vitamins were distributed to aid infants, senior citizens, and persons with disabilities. Vigilance, through the Barangay Monitoring Team (BMT) who constantly patrolled the barangay premises, was also enforced by constant patrolling. Aside from this, the barangay also encouraged people to support businesses within the barangay with the help of social media.

Barangay Sta. Clara is composed of 7 sitios with a population of 12,201(as of 2015), and it has the Batangas International Port as its key area. Chairperson Derick B. Arago reported that the pandemic that brought about the need for a new normal resulted in negative feelings among their constituents. Some of the primary actions done by the barangay included implementing curfew hours, strict social distancing, distribution of quarantine passes, and regular disinfection in the vicinity of the barangay. The barangay also headed the processing of travel passes for Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs), as well as the transportation of constituents to and from work, or in some cases, to hospitals. The duty hours of shifting barangay personnel were extended to 12 hours to cover 24 hours of patrolling in the barangay premises. During the community quarantine period, most forms of transportation were suspended. This halted pier activities, placing a toll on people’s livelihoods. In response, rice, fish, bread, and other goods were provided for the constituents of Barangay Sta Clara. The barangay also distributed safety supplies such as alcohol, face masks, face shields, and soaps.

Both Barangay 7 (Poblacion) and Barangay Sta. Clara utilized Facebook as a platform to disseminate necessary information among their constituents. This platform also served as an avenue for constituents to raise their concerns, clarifications, and other inquiries.

Arch. Cardelan B. Hernandez, EnP, from the City Planning and Development Office (CPDO), gave a presentation on the various efforts done by the City Government from the beginning of the pandemic to date. He introduced the Batangas City Incident Management Team (IMT) and spoke about the formation of a Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT) in all 105 barangays in the City of Batangas – who continue to lead information dissemination, monitoring, and community level control in their respective barangays. A graph of COVID-19 case incidents in the community quarantine from April 2020 up to the present was shown, together with the actions done by the IMT.

Arch. Hernandez further discussed the initiatives initiated by the IMT such as the disinfection operations, construction of handwashing stations, cook brigades, mobile palengke, gulay program, free public transportation, the “Magkatuwang Tayo Relief Operation Team”, local school board meetings, contact tracing meetings, barangay captain meetings, expanded and survival recovery program, Aggressive Mass Testing in partnership with Red Cross and other NGO initiatives. The team also launched the COVID-19 Batangas City hotlines for medical concerns and other inquiries. With the help of barangays, the implementation of LGU policies was enforced accordingly.

Arch. Hernandez closed his presentation with a quote from Batangas City Mayor Beverley Rose Dimacuha: “We should remember that basic human kindness and compassion can help each one of us to pull through this crisis.”

For the forum summary, EnP. Annlouise Genevieve M. Castro highlighted how the second installment of this series featured both the perspectives of barangays and the LGU. Open communication between the two was further highlighted as each of them cooperated in adapting to the new normal. The dynamism between the two levels of governance was truly visible with the innovative plans and actions were taken by Batangas City hand in hand with the resourcefulness of the barangays in the city. She brought the audience back to Dr. Delos Reyes’s presentation which recognized barangays as partners in ensuring the welfare of constituents enables them to take new roles as innovative game-changers in society.

Engr. Januario B. Godoy, EnP, the City Planning and Development Coordinator, represented Hon. Beverley Rose A. Dimacuha, the Batangas City Mayor, delivering the closing remarks on behalf of Mayor Dimacuha. The message highlighted how this pandemic brought discipline and cooperation throughout the city. Engr. Godoy mentioned one of the city’s initiatives included the updating of databases to utilize reliable information as a basis in community planning and development undertakings. On behalf of Mayor Dimacuha, Engr. Godoy extended Batangas City’s utmost appreciation to CeNS for inviting the City of Batangas, Barangay 7, and Barangay Sta. Clara to take part in this series. The message concluded with the expression of gratitude towards the representatives and heads of Barangay 7 and Barangay Sta. Clara for sharing their experiences in this pandemic. In collaboration with the volunteers and initiatives from the public and the private sectors, they were able to respond to the needs of their constituents.