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 Filipino neighbourhoods can respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Centre for Neighbourhood Studies (CeNS) envisions a sustainable neighborhood where individuals have access to affordable health services, decent housing, reliable transportation, and quality education.

They conducted their September Talakalayaan session anchoring the discourse with the subject: “Filipino Neighborhoods in Quarantine: A Forum on Neighborhood Governance during the COVID-19 Pandemic”, together with their partners: UP UNITAR CIFAL Philippines, University of the Philippines Resilience Institute (UPRI), and Geoscience Foundation Incorporated (GFI).  This forum positioned the discussion mainly on the experiences, best practices, challenges, difficulties, and undertakings of selected barangays and neighborhoods, or kapitbahayan, in the City of Manila in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic situation on the ground.

Dr. Mario R. Delos Reyes, President and Chief Executive Officer of CeNS, opened the forum with an overview of the neighborhood governance and community response to the COVID-19 Pandemic by laying out comprehensive neighborhood planning including strengthening capacities, institutions, and networks to empower barangays.

Three barangays in Manila, namely: Barangay 521 of Sampaloc headed by Chairperson Santiago R. Calizo, Barangay 289 of Binondo headed by Chairperson Nelson C. Ty, and Barangay 836 of Pandacan headed by Chairperson Paulino V. Soberano, shared and presented their varying experiences in serving their respective constituents in this pandemic.  These include: (1) the primary actions, initiatives, and immediate responses of their barangay during the pandemic in accordance with the directives of the Local Government Unit of Manila, (2) the diverse, creative ways the barangay developed and initiated in order to ease and help the constituents, and (3) the comparison and contrast of the barangay situations, including the constituents’ character and behavior, from the time the pandemic occurred vis-a-vis the situation at present.

Location of the partner barangays in Manila City. Credit: Centre for Neighbourhood Studies.
Safety protocols and primary actions

The three barangays shared common protocols implemented throughout their respective areas in accordance to each of the barangay’s primary actions.  During the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), the barangays issued quarantine passes to assigned representatives for each family to allow mobility to the households.  The barangay administered and assisted in validating household members, giving out of ayuda (in the form of City Amelioration Crisis Assistance Fund, goods, and other assistance) to the constituents, disinfected barangay surroundings, and monitored possible cases of COVID-19.  They likewise allocated supplies of alcohol, facemasks, and hand soaps.  In addition, the barangay formed groups and teams to patrol in the barangay premises in shifting schedules.  Upon the announcement of the General Community Quarantine (GCQ), they strictly imposed the mandatory wearing of facemasks and social distancing in public places.

This is an image from the presentation of Barangay 289 illustrating the barangay’s curfew patrol hours (Centre for Neighbourhood Studies, 2020).
Initiatives of the barangay

All the three barangays shared their utilization of the coding schedule approach for public market visits to ensure the social distancing policy.  Each barangay came up with unique ways of assisting the senior citizens and youth, who are prohibited from leaving their homes. One barangay allocated milk to their senior citizens, while another volunteered to assist in buying goods, medicines, and other needs.  A Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) of one barangay gave out gifts to their fellow youth, and launched online games such as TikTok challenge and “What’s in the box game” to entertain and encourage the people to stay indoors.  With the new normal, the barangays adapted to the changes and initiated the use of social media as a platform in spreading important announcements, reminders, and other information.

Barangay 521’s presentation distributing prizes to the winners of the TikTok online challenge (Centre for Neighbourhood Studies, 2020).
Barangay situations – then and now

Each of the barangay representatives shared how the constituents felt anxious, frightened, and worried when the Enhanced Community Quarantine was first announced.  A significant number of people lost their livelihoods and primary sources of income as business establishments were force to shut down.  The worry of providing for the educational needs of children arose as difficulties were experienced in adjusting to the new normal arose.  It was, however, notable how the barangays observed that constituents became disciplined and more health conscious, and how individuals became concerned about their surroundings and how people became resourceful as one of the effects brought about by the pandemic.

Open forum and in-depth discussion of experiences

The Chief Communication and Engagement Officer of the Centre for Neighbourhood Studies, EnP. Annlouise Genevieve M. Castro moderated the open forum with questions from the participants.  Numerous questions were raised to the barangay representatives such as the specific challenges they experienced and encountered; the importance of bayanihan as a Filipino character; the manner of how they carry out their daily duties, and many others.  EnP. Castro further stated how these barangays are uniquely diverse in various aspects.  Each barangay learned on how to assess different situations, how to adapt to the new normal, how to innovate actions, and how to strategize countermeasures.  She also reiterated the importance of the barangays’ pro-activeness in assessing conflicts, engaging with the constituents, and empowering the barangay – being the response team to the people. The barangay representatives left the participants with an earnest determination to continue understanding and to continue being patient towards their constituents especially in the developing situation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Atty. Gamboa of the Centre for Neighbourhood Studies gave the closing remarks as he thanked the participating attendees of the series, the partners, and the barangay representatives who shared their experiences.  He commended the barangays for primarily and immediately responding to the barangay needs of their constituents.  The sharing of these lived experiences of barangay representatives served as inspiration to the attendees, partners, and Centre for Neighbourhood Studies (CeNS).  We are reminded that there is a call of society and call of nation to help one another to the course of sustainable development.

The Centre for Neighbourhood Studies shall hold Part II of forum featuring selected barangays and the local government of Batangas City who will partake their ways and experiences with Neighborhood Good Governance during the COVID-19 pandemic.