Thousands flee as coronavirus pandemic empties Manila’s economy, Southeast Asia News and Top Stories

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MANILA – Last Friday at noon (June 5), when the air was over 36 ° C, a crowd of around 600 gathered in the shadow of a Catholic church in the Baclaran district, south of Manila.

They had come from all over Metro Manila and surrounding suburbs, desperate to escape a metropolis plagued by a deadly virus for months.

They are retreating to their sanctuaries in the provinces as jobs in metro Manila – home to some 13 million people – are wiped out by a relentless pandemic.

“We will be hungry there (in Metro Manila) because we have to pay for everything. There you don’t eat if you don’t work,” said Richard Salcedo, 33.

Mr Salcedo was working as a walkie-talkie repairman on a skyscraper under construction in Makati, the country’s richest business district, when President Rodrigo Duterte put the northern third of the Philippines, including Metro Manila, at a radical lockdown on March 16.

Work stopped at his site, and his boss told him to go home because he was no longer going to be paid.

But the house was 300 km away, in the town of Libon, in the province of Albay, and the borders were closed. A network of checkpoints and barricades manned by soldiers and police, some armed with assault rifles, sprouted overnight to ensure no one entered and exited Metro Manila.

All those who were not working in medical care, food processing, logistics, outsourcing and law enforcement were ordered to take refuge in their homes.

Mr. Salcedo was stuck, out of work, with a pregnant woman and two children with him.

The brutal lockdown has prevented hundreds of thousands of people from leaving Metro Manila, a city of over 12 million people. Many, like Mr. Salcedo, are from the provinces who found temporary work in the capital, but suddenly found themselves unemployed.

Others had lived there for a few years, but having lost their jobs, believed they would be safer and less desperate if they could move to safer shelters outside of Metro Manila, where they could. count on the good graces and charity of their clans there.

About a million workers lost their jobs in Metro Manila in April and the nationwide unemployment rate hit a record 17.7% that month due to the lockdown.

“In the province, even if you don’t have money, you can always find something to eat. You can go to the mountain and look for fruits and vegetables. You can hunt there, ”Mr. Salcedo said.

He told Metro Manila, “you can’t rush. You are at the mercy of the government.”

“If you don’t get help from the government, all you can do is sleep through the hunger,” he said.

Mr. Salcedo, his wife and children stayed with a brother who had a house in a slum near Makati.

He said he had not received any government assistance because he was not listed as a resident of his brother’s district.

Her brother received help. But that was only three bags of rice, fish, chicken and an abundance of canned goods.

“We had to make it last three months. I got paid my last month of work, but it only lasted one month,” said Mr Salcedo.

Passengers in Baclaran District, south of Manila, waiting for free bus rides to their hometown. PHOTO: CRISTINA MENINA FOR THE STRAIT TIMES

EXODUS

When he heard that men from Baclaran’s church were organizing free bus rides to his hometown, he gathered his wife and children and walked 10 km from their rented house in the town of Taguig to Baclaran.

Her brother and family also accompanied her, along with a sister, who worked as a maid. In total, there were 11. The whole family was fleeing.

“We had to leave. We could not pay the rent, nor our electricity and water bills. We had no more money,” said Mr Salcedo.

He was one of more than 2,000 that the church has so far helped transport out of metro Manila. Many walked for hours to get to the church where they lived.


Many walked for hours to get to the church where they lived. PHOTO: CRISTINA MENINA FOR THE STRAIT TIMES

Mr. Rico Balatinsayo, 45, a mason, said he and 12 fellow construction workers walked from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. in search of the church. “We got lost several times,” he said.

Mrs. Mary Joy Bermas, 26, an account manager at a credit company, is eight months pregnant.

She said she was going home to the town of Bacacay, Albay, because she wanted to give birth there, where her husband was waiting for her.

She had been living in a staff house since the lockdown, barely leaving. She was desperate to get home.

“I don’t want to give birth here. I’m all alone here, and hospitals are full of Covid patients,” she said.

The government eased the borders around Metro Manila on June 1. But provincial buses are still not allowed to enter and leave the capital.

Baclaran Church was a crossing point for those seeking to flee Metro Manila, providing shelter and food to those stranded.

He contacted politicians for buses, food and passes. Appeals were also made to volunteers. A local celebrity donated antibody test kits, so those who leave can be tested before they leave.

“They may also have nothing waiting for them in the provinces. But at least they will have one less problem to deal with,” said Mr. Ciriaco Santiago III, a Redemptorist brother helping to coordinate the project of returning to the province of his church.

“They can breathe better when they’re there, although I think they’ll be back after three months.”


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