Artwork for podcast Kumusta, Kumare!
Philippines + COVID-19 Lockdown: Impact on Women and Girls
Episode 124th April 2020 • Kumusta, Kumare! • NAPIESV
00:00:00 00:34:49

Share Episode


Kumusta, Kumare?

Episode 01

In this pilot episode of Kamusta Kumare, Mira introduces NAPIESV, the work that they do with the API communities in the continental US and the Asia Pacific region. Rochelle Aguilar and Emma Rubio, members of NAPIESV Philippines staff, share their thoughts and experiences on the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on women in the country. 

Kumusta is, of course, "How are you?” while Kumare (pronounced koo-mah-re) is a borrowed term from the Spanish comadre literally translated as co-mother. Technically, Filipinos use kumare or its shortened form mare in addressing their children’s godmothers but more commonly as a term of endearment, more like how one would use the term “sister/sistah”. 

Segment 1: Greetings And Intros


Rochelle: Hello, everyone! Welcome to the first episode of Kumusta, Kumare!

Emma: This podcast is hosted by the National Organization of Asian Pacific Islander Ending Sexual Violence - Bersama-sama Philippines Team

All: Hello, everyone! My name is Mira Yusef and I'm with NAPIESV and I am the US-based staff. And I'm Rochelle, I'm from the Philippine-based staff. My name is Emma, I'm from the Philippine-based staff. 

Mira: Kumusta, Kumare will focus on issues affecting women and girls in the Philippines and connecting this to the Filipina diaspora in the United States.

NAPIESV’s herstory and what it means for the API communities in the US.

01:03 - 02:50

Mira: Kumusta, Kumare is the podcast program of NAPIESV's Bersama-sama Project in the Philippines. NAPIESV or the National Asian and Pacific Islander Ending Sexual Violence is a US-based organization. Our mission is to end sexual violence in the Asian and Pacific islander or API communities and to build healthy communities through transformative justice and social change. 

So we are housed under Monsoon Asians and Pacific Islanders in Solidarity, an organization formerly called Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa. Monsoon is a culturally-specific community-based organization serving the API communities in Iowa. 

A quick history or herstory about NAPIESV. NAPIESV was established by five API women -- Imelda Bungcab, Emma Catague, Nina Jusuf, Sopheak Tek, and me, Mira Yusef -- in 2011 as a result of the lack of resources available for advocates serving the API victims-survivors of sexual assault or sexual violence. 

Prior to the establishment of NAPIESV, there was no organization led by API individuals that focuses on sexual assault in the API communities. So we have been, since 2011, we have helped and established an enhanced sexual assault victim intervention services to various program models specifically dual domestic violence and sexual assault culturally-specific programs, and also multi-service organizations nationally and in the US territories in the Pacific. And last year, NAPIESV's Bersama-sama Project was funded. 

The Bersama-sama Project - So Much Stronger Together

02:50 - 06:53

Mira: So, Bersama-sama is Indonesian - Malaysian word for together. The goal of this project is to build a movement to end sexual violence in the Asian and Pacific Islander communities in the continental United States, the US territories in the Pacific, and the global south, specifically South East Asia. So we are thinking that the project will basically span three locations in order for immigrant refugees, settler communities from Asia and the Pacific to connect to our home countries. 

And by building this relationship, communities will be able to both reconnect with traditional cultural practices and share movement building strategies. It will allow for the movement of ideas, tactics and strategies between the API communities living the US continent, the US territories in the Pacific and SouthEast Asia, or Asia, but we're really focusing in South East Asia, and specifically Indonesia and the Philippines, and then in the Pacific, we are focusing in Guam and also Micronesia. 

I think the most important thing is that we also would like to shift the paradigm where organizations, specifically international-based organizations, will come as an expert, and will tell our communities what to do globally. So, it's not just communities of color in the United States but it's also when experts from the West will come to our home countries, they are thinking that they are the experts in what to do, they think that they are the experts. 

But instead, NAPIESV will not come as an expert but we would like to learn from local organizations and practitioners highlighting the indigenous knowledge and expertise instead of seeing the US or Western-based practices as better. So, we would like to learn good practices that will basically inform NAPIESV's work in the API communities back in the United States. So, it's really shifting it. 

Because usually what happens in the West, even Asian Americans or Filipino Americans will come to our home countries or even Western-educated will come and then just replicate Western ways instead of using traditional and indigenous practices that are already being practiced in the different communities in our home countries. So we would like to shift that where we would go to our home countries to learn and then bring it back to the US to really inform our work. 


We began the project last year in the Philippines by reconnecting with the land and the people. Nina Jusuf who is the other NAPIESV staff and who is Indonesian is heading our work in Indonesia and then I am heading our work, I'm Filipina, heading our work in the Philippines. So both Nina and I last year visited the Philippines twice to build our networks in the Philippines. 

With this, we decided to partner with Moro People's Core or MP Core, an organization based in North Cotobato to work with the Muslim community in the Philippines, and then Rochelle and Emma who are co-hosts of Kumusta, Kumare, joined our Philippines team to help us in building our knowledge about the laws about the sexual violence in the Philippines, the services offered to victim / survivors, what are the good practices in community organizing and community healing. 

So our plan for this year is to complete community listening sessions about sexual violence and how it is manifested in the different communities in the Philippines, and to document this process and the outcomes via blogs, podcast, videos and photos. This is one of the ways that we will be basically sharing information on what is going on with the project. 

But due to the COVID-19, we added more to our work plan. 

Segment 2: Impact Of COVID-19 Lockdown On Women In API Communities In The US And In The Philippines

06:54 - 09:03

Segment 2.1 Impact of COVID-19 to API Communities in the US

Mira: For this first episode, we will focus on COVID-19 and how it's been affecting women and girls in the Philippines. 

Since I am based in the US, maybe I can briefly discuss how COVID-19 is affecting the API communities in the US and in Iowa since I am based in Iowa. 

So, there has been anti-Asian and Asian-American racism and xenophobia, which is not a new phenomenon, it has been part of American history for a long time and we have seen it manifested against different Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in many ways over the years, but as the Corona Virus pandemic escalates, we have seen more harassment, discrimination, and even violence directed at our communities.

Also, medical workers who are from the API and specifically the Filipino community being infected due to the lack of PPE or the personal protective equipment. Immigrant and refugee communities working in meatpacking businesses in the Midwest specifically South Dakota and Iowa, so therefore there's a rise of the number of COVID-19 among the immigrant and refugee communities because we are usually the workers in those meatpacking businesses. 

In addition to that, there is a lot of concern about their jobs because some of the restaurants are closing down or closed due to stay-at-home policies, and then if the meat packing business is also closing down, so therefore there really are concerns about jobs.

And there's also misinformation about COVID-19 due to the language barriers.  

And then for victims and survivors of domestic violence, we have heard about ex-partners using COVID-19 as a reason to gain full custody of their children. And then also there's a concern for victims of child sexual abuse who might not feel safe at home due to the harm doer who is also home. 

But on the good note, organizations serving victims-survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence, stalking, human trafficking, dating violence are still providing services online and really have been flexible to continue the work to ensure that victim-survivors are safe. 

So, with this, kumusta kayo d'yan sa Pilipinas, how are you, what is going on in the Philippines, Kumareng Rochelle? 

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte places the entire island of Luzon under community quarantine09:05 09:30

Despite the lockdown order, this woman from a slum area in Quezon City joins the street protest lamenting that while the rich are panic buying and hoarding on food, they also panic because they have no food. She also said that the month-long quarantine is almost over and yet they have not received even a kilogram of rice. 09:31 09:51

A day after the protest, President Duterte reminds protesters that he will not tolerate chaos and violators of the quarantine order and if necessary, the police, military, and even barangay officers can "shoot them dead."  09:51 10:12

Segment 2.2 Impact of COVID-19 lockdown to the Women-headed Households in Angeles City.

10:12 - 16:39

Rochelle: Kumusta, Kumareng Mira, Kumareng Emma. 

Well, the audio clips we all just heard just pretty much sums up our current situation here in the Philippines.

We are a country where most are, by international standard, either poor or very, very poor. A simple Google search would show you just how we have the world’s largest slum where four million people live in shanties and huts. The City of Manila is so densely populated that there are over 70,000 people living there per square kilometre.

Here, 6 out of 10 patients die without ever seeing a doctor just because they can’t afford it. People here still suffer and die from preventable and treatable diseases like tuberculosis, measles, and diphtheria.

We are a country where if one complains about the dismal performance, corruption, or the scandalous behavior of our national leadership are forced to silence by being branded as either Red or Yellow, harassed, sent to jail, or even killed.

We are a country that CANNOT and MUST NOT be in a pandemic. And yet, here we are.

There is a recent analysis that the Philippines is the riskiest and most unsafe place to be in the Asian Pacific region during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic based on infection spread risk, government management, health care efficiency, and regional specific risks. For us who are living here, this is not hard to believe. 

We have a government that has for a month now placed almost 60 million people in lockdown, most of whom are without any savings, who are daily income earners. If they don’t go out to work, they don’t eat, even for just a day. 

Just like how the protesting San Roque woman was saying earlier, while some were panic buying, all they could do was to panic but not buy because they just couldn’t. There were promises of food and financial aid to supposedly help tide the poor families over during the lockdown but in reality, if and when they have received any food aid, these were barely enough to last for a day, two days, or three at most for most families. Millions are very hungry.

The government of course knows this and that sooner or later, if no sufficient food aid will be given to the people, they will soon begin to disobey the stay-at-home order to look for food by whatever means in order in order to survive. Knowing the punitive and militaristic character of the current administration, the consequences for those who would dare defy the lockdown order is just too scary to imagine.

Specific to the impact of the lockdown on Filipino women, 24 percent of the 20 + million households in the country are women-headed and they act as the sole breadwinners for the family. Even just half of this figure to represent the number of women-headed households impacted in Luzon, that would mean that over two million doubly burdened women are living under extreme pressure on how to feed their children. 

And while there are specific benefits for solo parents here including financial support during the lockdown, only 80,000 of them are registered and it is not automatic that you will qualify to receive this aid.

It is much reported that in times of crises like wars, disasters, and outbreaks, instances of domestic and sexual violence escalates. And while the stay-at-home order may somewhat provide one the protection from virus infection, for women living with their abusers, it is like being locked up in a small cage with a wild animal who at any moment can attack them.

And with the government overwhelmed with the management of this pandemic, we can expect even less of whatever little protection and services the state was able to provide for women victims or survivors of domestic and sexual abuse pre-pandemic.  

This is why I am also very hopeful that we will be able to provide online chat or SMS counselling and referral service to these women even here at the city level.

Speaking of the city, Angeles City is , of course, as we all know, a top sex tourism destination in the world and was even reported as “the supermarket of sex.” 

As of December last year, the city government reported that there are 12,000 pink card holders in the city. They are the registered “entertainers”, a euphemism for workers in the sex trade. They work in Go-Go bars, massage parlors, spas, KTV houses, etc. 

Pink cards are proof that they are clear of sexually transmitted diseases as they are checked by the City Health Office weekly. Many of these women are either victims of sex or human trafficking coming from poor and remote barrios in the Visayan provinces or they just ended up working in the trade also because of poverty.

On March 16, the city government ordered all establishments in the red light district to cease its operations to comply with the Luzon lockdown order. This meant that the 12,000 pink card holders, and double that number as the freelance, unregistered workers in the trade, are without any source of income for their families until further notice. 

These women and girls who have been living through the toughest of times in extreme circumstances daily pre-pandemic are now facing greater risks by finding customers online in order to survive. They risk of COVID-19 infection, they risk of apprehension for violating the quarantine order, and they risk of unprotected sex and violence from their customers.

Similarly, with the country as the epicenter of child cybersex, it is not hard to imagine the unconstrained and increased in the operations of child cybersex dens in the city especially so since the lockdown creates higher demand from paying clients from all over the world for such shows, the greater desperation of families resorting to extreme measures, and the lack of police attention or operations specifically to combat cybersex dens during this pandemic.

Kumareng Emma, do you want to add something to that? I'm sure you have more information specifically about the women workers that you're working with at the moment? 

 Segment 2.2 Impact of the Lockdown on Women Workers 

16:51 - 20:24

Emma: Yes, of course. But I think before we go there, we should also include or do not forget that it is not only the government subsidy during the time of lockdown that is missing. What's missing as well is the mass testing for possible infected people of the corona virus disease.

As of now, there's only 55,465 Filipinos who have been tested while individuals arrested are also 108,000. So, you only tested 55,000 but you managed to arrest 108,000 people for violating the regulations on the lockdown.Without knowing or without proper tracing who's infected, who's not, then the lockdown is not working, it's not effective. 

With regards to the workers, most of the Filipinos working here are under the no-work, no-pay scheme. So, some workers are calling for the partial lifting of the lockdown so that they can go to work because if they don't report to work, of course, they won't have money to buy food.

And at the rate this government is doing its job to flatten the curve, we're thinking of three, four months before the pandemic in the country is managed.

The government promised that for the first week of the lockdown, it's going to be the barangay, the barangay are going to take care of their food. In the second week, it's going to be the municipal government, and in the third week, it's going to be the national government who will take care of their food. 

But based on my experience, more than a month now, we received three waves of relief goods with two kilos of rice each wave. Two kilos of rice, two sardines, and two packs of noodles. And that's not enough for a family to survive for a week. So most of the workers here are calling the government to partially lift the lockdown so that they can earn money and buy food. 

Because Laguna...Laguna is a province in Southern Luzon and it is home to seven manufacturing enclaves and several industrial ecozones. Most of the manufacturing companies here are export-oriented businesses engaged in semiconductor manufacturing and garment factories so they employ mostly women because women, they have nimble hands, so these semiconductor companies employ women and these women, they don't have work anymore since the lockdown.

The minimum wage here in the province is P373 so that is how much in dollars?

Rochelle: That would be less than...

Emma: $7.

Rochelle: Yeah.

Emma: Less than $8 for eight hours of work. 

So, even before the lockdown, even before the pandemic, life for women here is very hard. Most of them are contractual workers, they are minimum wage earners, and because of the lockdown, they don't have any means to support their families. 

About the mostly women health care services workforce in the Philippines and the lack of specific disaster response services to women

20:26 - 23:36

Emma: As of today, there's already 766 health workers infected and 22 of them are already dead. The most recent are from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, 40 health workers are already infected. So, because of this, the testing capacity of the Department of Health is gravely affected because the RITM is the main testing facility of the Department of Health. 

I watched the news a while ago, the Department of Health spokesperson said that before they're able to process 200 tests but because of this, they can only accommodate less than a hundred tests a day. 

Mira: The numbers that you are providing, is that in the capital region or outside NCR? 

Emma: This is for the whole of the country, 766. 

Rochelle: Yeah, and considering that we have 5,000 cases and then about 700 or 800 of them are front liners or health workers, that is a huge number. And so, there is a specific gender concern on the issue of health workers because I believe in the Philippines, about 60 percent of all the health workers are women. So, we don't have information on these data (of those infected) how many of them are women, but I can bet at least a majority of them are women. 

Emma: According to the Center for Women's Resources, 7 out of 10 health workers are women. 

Rochelle: See? So we have 70 percent in our country. And out of the 6,599 cases that we have as of April 21st, 3,001 of these positive COVID cases are women. So, they have at least that much information about women in the time of coronavirus. 

We cannot see any specific order from the government to make sure that there is gendered information on the data. These are all just a mix of male or of female statistics that we have. 

In relation to that, I noticed also that with the disaster response that is already being conducted, we do not have any specific response that is serviced to the women. So, I don't know, I think aside from GABRIELA, it was only us during our sharing of sanitation kits who were able to provide them sanitary napkins in the care packs that were distributed. 

And there was, actually...I think we will be discussing this later in the next segment, but there was a comment from some of the people who received the care packs from us that they're very grateful because they really have no money to buy food and much more sanitation kits. So, it really touched their hearts when they received it and I always made me cry as well when I heard them say that. 

Segment 3: Fundraising Campaign For Women-Headed Households In The Philippines

23:40 - 26:42

Mira: Last March 25th, our Bersama-sama Philippine Team, we decided to start a fundraising effort via Facebook and as of today, we have raised $2,425. That's just via Facebook, but we also have another $1,000 that's outside of Facebook, and our goal is to raise $10,000. 

Kumare Rochelle and Kumare Emma, so, can you kind of provide information on how we used the money that we have raised and how many women-headed households that we assisted and what is the next step? 


Emma: Initially, we chose two workers communities and what we did is to set up a community kitchen for those two communities. By setting up community kitchen we mean involving the women in the community in cooking food for the whole community. This community kitchen served as like community preparation and assessment for the incoming distribution of relief food packs for the women-headed households. 

We were able to provide food for two communities. The women cooked pancit. What is pancit in English? 

Mira: Noodles. 

Rochelle: Noodles, yeah. 

Emma: Traditionally, in the Philippines, pancit signifies long life. That the is the reason why the women chose to cook pancit so that the people who will eat pancit will have long lives amid the pandemic. 

So we were able to feed around 500 families for two communities, each family consists of five individuals, so we were able to feed almost 500 families. 

In the actual preparation of the relief packs, we were able to contact a farmers group in a nearby province. They were complaining that they're having a hard time selling their produce because of the lockdown. So what we did is we had an arrangement with them, we will buy all their vegetables and we will use the vegetables in our relief packs. 

It is in some way holistic because you are providing income for the farmers in the nearby farming community and then you will be able to provide food for the workers community. 

The farmers were very thankful because we were able to purchase their produce much higher than the farm gate price, but considering that it's really higher than the farm gate price, we were able to purchase it very cheaply because we don't have to go through the middlemen who will add cost to the produce. So we were able to provide 400 packs, food packs, for 400 families. 

Mira: Oh my God. 

Rochelle: Yeah 

Mira: So inspiring. 

Overcoming Challenges

Rochelle: So, Emma, I know that you don't want to be reminded of the challenges that you guys went through in order to make all of that happen, but perhaps you might want to share briefly to our listeners some of the difficulties that you encountered considering that we are under lockdown?

Emma: It was a challenge for us to bring the vegetables from Quezon province to Laguna since we have to pass through several checkpoints. One barangay has a different interpretation of lockdown guidelines and then another barangay would have another set of requirements, so it took us how many days to arrange for the vegetables to be transported to the community who will be benefiting from relief distribution.

On the D-Day itself, there were six checkpoints. The vegetables were so stressed and so was I because I was monitoring the transportation of the vegetables since 2:00 AM. 

Well, fortunately, the vegetables reached us on time. It took five hours, five hours for the vegetables to arrive. It was very stressful and now I don't know if you have monitored it, but a former partylist representative was arrested. I think he joined the relief distribution and the Philippine National Police in Bulacan province arrested the people who are doing the relief distribution because they said that they violated the lockdown guidelines. 

The militaristic approach of the government in addressing what is obviously a health concern is adding so much unnecessary problem and unnecessary stress to the people. 

I was watching the news a while ago, so many people in Cavite were arrested because the provincial government asked the military to help them in the implementation of the lockdown, so many people were arrested because the military said that they were not following social distancing. They were loaded in a military truck. A woman was crying. She was so scared, and what I noticed was there's no physical distancing in the military truck where they were in. 

I don't know what's going to happen but if the Philippine government will not change its course or its behavior in addressing the problem, then it's going to get worse. 

But, how was it Rochelle for you? What was your experience? 

Food Packs and Sanitation Kits

29:34 - 32:45 

Rochelle: First, I would like to say that we are very grateful because as soon as we asked NAPIESV to help us with the fundraising, they immediately went to work and did the Facebook fundraising. I think within a week they were able to send us the money so we can buy the goods so that we can start with the distribution. So, thank you so much, NAPIESV US. 

Overall, here in Angeles City, we were able to share both the food packs and the sanitation kits to over 170 women-headed households. That would be on average about 700 individuals. 

They are women who are sole breadwinners in their family and who before the lockdown were working at the red light district of Angeles, in the bars, massage parlors, spas, hotels, restaurants, either as waitresses, hostess, or what's known here as GRO, short for guest relations officers. 

There were also women or girls who were working as freelance workers in the trade. We were also able to share with them the care packs. 

There were also some who were families of women survivors of sexual violence, mostly from domestic or intimate partner abuse. 

We were able to do that in two batches. It was not as hard as it was with Emma. We did not encounter checkpoints, although there was some fear from going out, because I have been a very good citizen and have been staying at home and I think for two whole weeks I did not leave my house, but because I had to go out and buy the goods, and then bring them all home and then repack with my two boys and my husband. And then for the vegetables, we had to contact our friends who live near the market so we just asked them to arrange it for us, but he did buy from local farmers so he was able to get it for a good price as well.

For the food packs, we were able to distribute quite a lot of fresh vegetables, cans of sardines. The first batch, we gave them fresh eggs and then the second batch, salted eggs. For the sanitation kit, we did give them sanitary napkins, soap, chlorine powder, toothpaste, toothbrush, all of that stuff that they would not usually get from the aid that is provided by the government so they were very pleased with that. 

We are very thankful for the support of NAPIESV's friends and allies in responding to the call to support the women-headed household here in the city. We are very touched because we know that the situation there in the US is not any better, if not worse, but despite this, you guys have shared what you have with us in the spirit of solidarity, so thank you, thank you so much.

Continuing Appeal For Support 

32:48 - 32:58

Emma: We are asking folks to donate to our effort by visiting Monsoon's FB page. If money is tight, then please share it with your friends and network. 

What’s Next For Us

33:03 - 34:32

Mira: As we conclude the first episode of Kumusta Kumare, we hope that this transnational sisterhood or siblinghood continues. Immigrant refugee communities in the United States are still deeply connected with our home countries. Most importantly, United States foreign policies are affecting our home countries and the rest of the world hence it is important that we are in the know of what is happening outside of the United States. 

So, what is next with Bersama-sama Philippines Team? We are planning on providing training or workshop on sexual violence for the Philippine staff and volunteers, and then also creating an online chat, text services for victims and survivors, preparing for our community listening sessions after the quarantine -- I cannot wait for that -- and more podcast episodes. 

So, if you need more information about NAPIESV's Bersama-sama Project, please visit our website, 

Rochelle: Thank you so much for sharing your time with us, mga kumare, and maybe we also have some kumpare here as well listening, thank you so much for spending your time with us and listening about the impact of the COVID-19 to us women here in the Philippines. We're looking forward to hearing from you feedback and more questions for our future podcasts, and see you soon! 

Emma: Bye! 


Music: Hardfought Victory