By Tracy Cabrera
DUE to the lockdowns and slowing down of economic activities that has forced several businesses to close down their operations, the prevailing ‘no work, no pay’ policy in most companies have triggered hunger among unemployed or underemployed Pinoys across the country.
A certain worker who goes by the name of Perlita hasn’t contracted Covid-19 but is suffering badly from the adverse effects of the deadly disease on Philippine economy.
“I can’t work and so now I can’t support myself and my family. “I don’t know what’s going to happen if I can’t get back to work soon,” she enthused.
Perlita works at a traditional Thai massage parlor in Makati catering to foreign tourists. For the past few weeks, she has been out of a job, if only temporarily.
Mid-March, all massage parlors, bars, cinemas and other entertainment venues were ordered by government closed as a measure to prevent the further spread of Covid-19.
Four days later, all shopping malls, restaurants, cafes and night markets were also closed and through the following months locals were also asked to stay home go out only on essentials or to buy food.
The lockdown, which is aimed at stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, has brought Metropolitan Manila to a near-standstill.
It has also left millions of poor people like Perlita without an income. The personal costs of the economic disruption during the ongoing outbreak are expected to fall primarily on low-income earners who live from day to day and have few or no savings.
Millions of Pinoys work in the country’s large informal economy without any social security or safety nets, so they can ill afford to be out of a job for long.
“If I don’t work, I don’t get paid,” says Perlita, who is in her early thirties.
A single mother of two, she earns around PhP15,000 (US$300) a month including tips. She does so by providing foot massage and full-body massage to foreign customers at a parlor near a high-end shopping mall in the commercial heart of Makati.
“I don’t have much education, so I don’t have many options,” she says.
Perlita sends much of her income back to her aging parents who look after her two children in her hometown in a rural part of Bulacan province where many locals eke out a meager living by growing rice and other crops.
The money she sends helps pay for medication for her ailing father and for the schooling of her son and daughter. This month, however, she won’t be able to send money home.
“My parents are older and they can’t work so hard (on the farm) anymore,” Perlita says. “They need money from me to support themselves and my children.”
Several other women at the massage parlor are in a similar bind while also facing the dilemma of whether to stay in the metropolis or return home for a while.
Government has discouraged people in the provinces not to travel back to Manila in case they should carry the virus back with them. The known number of infections in the country has nearly quadrupled in the last few weeks since the outbreak started in March and the fear is that the pandemic could spiral out of control, especially now that quarantine measures and safety protocols have been eased to revitalize business activity.
Yet many newly jobless locals have been ignoring such advice, flocking to bus terminals in swarming crowds in the hope of catching a ride to the city from the countryside.
“Living in Manila is not easy if you don’t have money,” says one of Perlita’s colleagues, a middle-aged woman. “I want to go back home to my village until things become normal again. At least I can spend time with my family.”
Even before the lockdown, many businesses like massage parlors, bars and restaurants were beginning to hurt. The outbreak of the deadly new coronavirus has caused an economic downturn in the whole archipelago.
Much of the informal economy revolves around the lucrative tourism sector, which brought the country millions of dollars in revenue from foreign visitors last year, accounting for almost a fifth of national revenue.
Without tourists, millions of locals are facing the prospect of losing their incomes.
“I haven’t had a passenger for two days,” says a taxi driver who is parked by a five-star hotel in Ermita, Manila. “There are very few tourists around right now.”
Yet it isn’t just people in the tourism industry who are feeling the brunt of the global coronavirus crisis.
Diego is one of the thousands of motorbike taxi drivers who take commuters to and from work by navigating the congested roads and streets of the metropolis. He, too, hails from a family of farmers in the northeastern boondocks of Nueva Ecija. He’s been earning a living in Manila as a motorbike taxi driver for years.
His days are usually busy but right now he spends most of his time sitting on a foldable chair by his stand underneath a concrete overpass. With most locals working from home or not at all, his services are rarely required.
He remains stoical about the situation. “We’ve been through tough times before. The big flood was very bad for us, but we’ve recovered from it,” he explains, referring to the deluge that inundated much of the city for weeks on end in past typhoons like Yolanda.
“This won’t last forever,” he expressed with typical Pinoy optimism. (ia)