‘I wish we could live life as before’

by | Feb 6, 2021 | Articles, Prospects 2021

Stranded individuals along a street in the capital Manila eat a packed food prepared by missionaries and private organizations. Veejay Villafranca/Der Spiegel


Deaths, meltdowns, valor

Ever since the coronavirus spread to the Philippines early last year, sparking prolonged and painful lockdowns, FOCAP journalists have scoured the treacherous front lines of the pandemic to chronicle its cataclysmic impact in the country—from the menacing rise in infections and deaths to the crippling economic downturn.

Wearing their N95 masks, face shields and, at times, hazmat suits, they filed grim dispatches and harrowing images from hospitals, quarantine centers, morgues and other COVID-19 hotspots.

They also told stories of valor and hope.

‘I wish we could live life as before’

By Ron Lopez, Agence France-Presse

The pandemic shatters dreams, deepens poverty and worsens hunger in the Philippines

After years of living on the streets, Daniel Auminto’s fortunes changed in 2019: he found a stable job, rented a room for his family, and was saving money to open a small store. 

Then the pandemic hit. As the Philippines went into lockdown, Auminto lost his job and then his home.  

Now the family is back where they started, sheltering under a tree in a park on clear days and beneath a road overpass when it rains. 

As Agence France-Presse’s video journalist, I spent hours with Auminto and his wife and child to document their daily struggle. 

The family has few belongings and sleeps on a flattened cardboard box at night. They depend on food handouts from charities to survive. 

They mainly rely on two food pantries run by church groups that provide meals of steamed rice, meat and vegetables. 

One of them distributes food at a school where hundreds of street dwellers line up for hours in a narrow hallway to receive a meal — sometimes the only one they will have that day.

The lack of physical distancing raises the risk of contracting the virus, but no one seems to care.

This food pantry is a lifeline for people like Auminto who are more worried about dying from hunger than from Covid-19. 

“I feel like I lost a limb, that I can’t walk properly due to the pandemic,” Auminto told me as he sat with wife Angel, who nursed their two-year-old daughter. 

“I can’t even buy my daughter milk or diapers because I have no work.” 

They are not alone. As virus restrictions crippled the economy and threw many of out of work last year, millions of families reported going hungry. 

Around 16 percent of households, or four million families, experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the previous three months, a survey conducted by Social Weather Stations in November showed.

That is twice the pre-pandemic level of 2.1 million families recorded in December, 2019.    

Even the food charities are struggling to keep up with demand and are wondering how much longer they can keep going. 

“The hunger has affected us severely to the point that even those with homes but are living already in desperate mode would come and ask food from us,” Father Flavie Villanueva of the Roman Catholic order Society of the Divine Word told AFP in December. 

His team of volunteers began making 250 meals a day in April after the lockdown was imposed and that has since risen to 1,100 meals a day — and demand keeps increasing, Villanueva said. 

The outlook for families like Auminto’s is bleak. 

With meager government support, an economy in the red and a mass vaccination drive unlikely to start before the second half of the year, many people will be relying on food handouts for months to come. 

It will be even harder for Auminto to get back on his feet — he is illiterate and lacks the necessary documents to get work.

“I wish our life would go back to how it used to be when we were happy, when we have a proper shelter, when we can eat decently, when we can take a bath and sleep well,” he said. 

“I wish we could live life as before.”

Volunteers in Caloocan City, Philippines distribute food packs to feed communities displaced by the pandemic. Veejay Villafranca/Der Spiegel
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