How COVID-19 impacted vulnerable communities in the Philippines

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Man and two girls walking in a neighborhood in the Philippines. ©Ezra Acayan/World Bank Man and two girls walking in a neighborhood in the Philippines. ©Ezra Acayan/World Bank

When people around the world started to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-2020, the World Bank launched COVID-19 surveys to monitor the social and economic impacts of the pandemic on communities.  In the Philippines, the community survey conducted in collaboration with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), provided important insights on how best to deliver pandemic response and recovery programs aimed at supporting the poorest and most vulnerable rural communities. Respondents included community volunteers and barangay (village) officials from some of the poorest communities identified through the country’s existing national community-driven development project

In August 2020, the first round of the community survey had 180 respondents representing 101 barangays. The second round in April 2021 had 200 respondents from 135 barangays across the three main group of islands—Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.  

Using a standard questionnaire developed to capture the community’s socio-economic conditions, respondents were asked to share their views on the situation in their communities. These results reflect the general observations of community leaders based on their perception and knowledge of their respective communities.  

Economic impact on communities 

COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on rural livelihoods. Loss of income and job opportunities were overarching challenges in poor communities in the Philippines.  
Disaster-prone communities experienced more difficulties in coping with COVID-19 restrictions and its severe economic impact. Results show the most pressing problems before and during COVID-19 were: 

  • Lack of income opportunities and reduction of pay were pre-existing challenges but had worsened significantly due to the pandemic.  
  • During the pandemic, communities reported continued insufficient food supply and health, sanitation, and nutrition issues.  

The economic impact of COVID-19 is particularly worrisome as the surveyed communities are already a subset of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the Philippines. Following significant job and income losses, communities are at risk of further increases in poverty. 

In August 2020, job losses were particularly severe in the construction sector (56%) and public transportation (52%) while cumulative job losses were seen among informal workers such as laundry women, hairdressers, and workers in small canteens; and in informal retail like sari-sari” stores, street vendors, and markets. The farming sector also saw significant job losses reportedly in 70% of communities in formal agriculture and 61% in small-scale farming.  

The situation had somewhat improved by the second round of the survey in April 2021. The sector that saw the biggest improvements was retail, where reported incidence of job losses decreased by 13%. However, construction workers and public transport drivers continued to be most affected by job cuts (56% and 52% respectively). 

Social cohesion 

Seventy-four percent (74%) of communities did not observe any peace and order problems such as theft, crime, arguments, and community-level conflict because of COVID-19.  However, there was an increase in peace and order problems when the second round of the survey was carried out. This seemed to be mainly caused by loss of employment. While cases of COVID-related discrimination similarly increased, there was no increase in sexual harassment, rape, and domestic violence according to respondents. However, findings from an independent conflict monitoring system (Conflict Alert) covering a smaller area of the Philippines, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao suggests there may be more vulnerable communities. The Conflict Alert data, based on police and media reports, reveals a significant increase in gender-based violence during the periods of strict COVID lockdown. 

Gender and women’s roles 

Half of the respondents found that women and men were equally affected by job and income losses, while 29% found that women were more affected. Women were also identified as one of the groups most in need of assistance because of COVID-19.  

Health and vaccine concerns 

In the Philippines, access to health care during the pandemic remained consistent, though a main challenge was the lack of medical supplies and PPEs, especially in the early phase. 

The survey finds that there was significant concern about vaccine safety (86%) and effectiveness (60%). Vaccine hesitancy was hampering the rollout of the vaccines in the country. Communities mainly trust doctors and health practitioners for information on vaccines. Though the respondents knew vaccines could prevent COVID-19, they were aware that health and risk mitigation protocols were still needed. While respondents generally found the government-issued rules and restrictions appropriate, they suggested that local governments should be more stringent and consistent in the enforcement of these health-related protocols. Vaccine hesitancy continues to be a challenge in the Philippines, and further analysis is being initiated to identify key incentives and constructive messaging. 

The results of the community survey, along with the firm and household surveys, were shared with the Philippine government and other stakeholders. Future rounds will strengthen the validity of results and will provide an opportunity for focusing on additional sub-themes, including gender and coping strategies, or new themes that emerge as relevant.  

The survey clearly highlights how poor and vulnerable rural communities are affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19. Going forward, we hope that the valuable insights into the situation and perceptions of the communities can help inform target policies as well as response and recovery programs.  

Learn more about the surveys monitoring COVID-19 impacts on families and firms in the Philippines:  

Through additional financing for the Kalahi-CIDSS National Community Driven Development Project, the World Bank is supporting early recovery of rural poor communities from the pandemic. The Philippine government will undertake community-driven development projects that promote inclusive service provision and support economic recovery, such as cash-for-work programs and local economic development activities using the project’s Disaster Risk Operations Modality.  


Ditte Fallesen

Senior Social Development Specialist

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