A Year into COVID-19 Lockdowns, Rural Filipinos Eke Out Living

Jojo Riñoza
Balungao and Bani, Philippines

Many people in rural areas of the Philippines are scratching out a living after a year of coronavirus lockdowns.

Baby Jane Velicaria, 23, joined an exodus from Manila and other cities when the government imposed the first of its COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines in March 2020.

She works today at her father’s tobacco farm in Balungao, a municipality in northern Pangasinan province. She used to work at a bag factory in the big city.

“I lost my job in the factory because of the lockdown,” Velicaria told BenarNews. “I went back here in March last year, and I haven’t had a job since.”

This week, authorities announced an expanded coronavirus lockdown and nightly curfews in the Philippine capital, amid reports of surging COVID-19 cases in recent days. The Philippines has the second highest number of infections and deaths from the virus in East Asia.

In the second half of last year, the government gradually re-opened some economic sectors. Still, the pandemic has battered the economy, leaving millions of Filipinos without jobs.

“Here in the barrio, if you have crops, you would eat,” Velicaria said. “Our lives here have remained the same. We just can’t go to the cities or towns because many things are prohibited there.”

However for Nestor Hilario, a 53-year-old tobacco farmer in Balungao, the lockdowns have been a minor inconvenience. He has farmed tobacco all his life. He says he would die tilling the soil, as part of a business passed on from father to son.

Hilario has done relatively well during the pandemic. The health scare around the outbreak hasn’t stopped buyers from out of town from purchasing his dried tobacco leaves.

“A farmers’ life is hard, but the lockdown has affected us little because we hardly go to the cities,” he said. “Our lives have always been difficult, as before.”

In the coastal community of Bani, another town in Pangasinan, the lockdowns have affected the barter trade locally known as “kompra.”

The local fishermen trade in their catch for other goods in other towns. But the practice stopped as markets closed and communities shut down.

“We are not in favor of the total lockdown because the virus has not affected us,” Aying Vitto, a local seafood trader, told BenarNews, while expressing hope that the government would end the health quarantines once and for all.

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