Water Supply in the PhilippinesReliable water resources are an important issue within the Philippines. Currently, five million Filipino citizens do not have access to safe sources of water. This is especially concerning considering the rate the country is growing economically. Urbanization in the country is expected to increase exponentially in the future. Cities will become strained with the increasing population, which will make it more difficult for the citizens in those cities to have access to reliable water resources. Despite the dire circumstances, efforts are being made to improve the water supply in the Philippines. Many of these efforts are being led by organizations that specialize in helping communities access water resources.

Water.org’s Contributions

Water.org is an organization that is working to improve the water supply in the Philippines. The organization devotes its efforts to providing reliable access to water resources to populations around the world. Water.org carries out this goal through the use of financing solutions for households that require a reliable water supply. By providing, small affordable loans, Water.org has been able to provide 4.3 million people in the Philippines with reliable water resources since 2014. Water.org will continue to work with utility providers in the Philippines so that it can continue to provide water resources to people that need them.

The Efforts of Water Governance Facility

Water Governance Facility (WFG) is another organization that is trying to improve the water supply in the Philippines. The WFG has similar goals to that of Water.org. It seeks to ensure that people around the world have affordable and reliable access to water supplies.

The WGF has been able to help the people of the Philippines using the GoAL WaSH program. The purpose of this program is to provide clean drinking water and proper sanitation. WGF achieves this goal by not only drilling wells and building toilets but also by engaging the local governance of the area it operates in for sustainable and impactful change. In the Philippines, the WFG has been able to provide 7,169 households with reliable sources of water. The WFG is also able to monitor the quality of drinking water. The WFG can then promptly stop the use of any contaminated water sources detected.

The Manila Water Foundation

Another organization that is trying to help provide citizens of the Philippines with reliable water resources is the Manila Water Foundation. The organization runs a multitude of programs that help achieve this goal. The Lingap program focuses on providing schools and other locations like health institutions and city centers with a reliable water supply. The program started in 2010. In 2019, Lingap helped a total of 46 schools, city halls and health centers. This equates to more than 149,000 beneficiaries across these 46 different locations. The water supply that Lingap provides for these students and staff can be used for drinking, handwashing and toothbrushing. Through its many programs, the Manila Water Foundation is working to improve the water supply in the Philippines.

The Philippines has made notable efforts to improve water resources for its people. With more efforts, even greater strides can be made in the water and sanitation sector.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

 

The Philippines' Improved Economy
The Philippines is a developing nation located in the East Asian Pacific region. Although the nation is still developing, the Philippines economy is improving exponentially. According to the World Bank Group, the country is experiencing increased urbanization and the middle class of the country is growing. Businesses have experienced notably positive performance in the past few years. Real estate, finance and the insurance industry are all areas where the economy is having exceptional growth. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the economic growth of the Philippines. If the Philippines contains the virus on both a domestic and global level then the economy of the Philippines will rebound in late 2021 or 2022. The Philippines’ improved economy occurred in several ways.

Investing in Agriculture

Agriculture accounted for about 25% of the Philippines’ GDP in the 1980s. However, only 9.3% of the agriculture industry contributed to the economy in 2018. Yet, the agriculture sector employs about 25% of the Philippines’s workforce. Some important agricultural goods from the Philippines include coconuts, rice, corn and pineapples. In recent years, the agricultural sector’s low rate of growth has contributed to poverty and unemployment.

As a result, the government has begun supporting the Philippine Department of Agriculture’s programs. Some of its programs include improving food security within the nation. The World Bank’s Philippine Rural Development Project is providing external support to the agricultural sector. This project aims to improve infrastructure that is vital to agricultural production. Furthermore, improving agriculture is vital to the economy.

Improving Industry

The industry sector has been another contributing piece to the Philippines’s improved economy. Currently, this sector has currently been able to employ 18.4% of Philippine workers. Additionally, the Filipino government is attempting to increase the amount of foreign direct investment. It also plans on achieving this goal by working to improve the infrastructure of the nation. This will then attract the attention of possible investors. Manufacturing is another important industry in the Philippines. The Philippines is home to a variety of metallic resources. The mining industry itself has already brought different mining companies to the Philippines to conduct business. Mining businesses working in the Philippines include BHP and Sutimo Metal Mining Co LTD.

The Growing Service Sector

The growth of the service sector is another contributor to the Philippines’ improved economy. Around 60% of the Philippines’ GDP comes from this sector. In addition, the service sector also employs about 56.7% of people in the Philippines’ workforce. One vital part of the service sector includes business process outsourcing (BPO). The Philippines has an extremely large BPO market due to the United States aid.

The Philippines’ improved economy is noticeable in several ways. First, the income-per-capita saw an increase of 17% from 2016-2018. Additionally, the unemployment rate has decreased as a result of foreign direct investment into the country. The Philippines has become the 13th largest economy in Asia. Despite the challenges, organizations like EY and the World Bank note that the Philippines has the potential to have a flourishing economy.

– Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Aid to the Philippines
In November 2020, the Philippines faced several moderate-strength typhoons: typhoons Vamco, Goni and Molave. After the disastrous effects of these storms, organizations based in the Philippines and the U.S., as well as ambassadors from European countries, pulled together to provide resources to aid the Philippines in its time of need. In particular, the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF) and National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) both stepped in to assist those who lost their homes and who were in great need of supplies like food, shelter, water and soap.

The Philippines’ 2020 Typhoon Season

Each typhoon occurred within weeks of one another during the Philippines’ 2020 typhoon season. Typhoon Molave was the first to hit the Philippines and Vietnam. The Category Two natural disaster began on Oct. 25, 2020, in Batangas. Eight days later, Typhoon Goni hit Bicol on Nov. 2, 2020, destroying cities as a Category Five typhoon. Typhoon Goni was the strongest to hit the Philippines since Typhoon Meranti in 2016.

Typhoon Vamco

The situation worsened beginning on Nov. 11, 2020, as Typhoon Vamco reached the islands. According to the Saffir-Simpson Scale, which generally moves from 210-249 kilometers per hour, Vamco was a Category Four typhoon. Typhoon Vamco affected areas across the Philippines such as Bicol, Calabarzon, Central Luzon and Manila. Moreover, around 350,000 people lost their homes due to this most recent tragedy. Additionally, the storm affected 4 million people due to the destruction of farmland and businesses.

What is the PDRF?

In November 2020, the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation teamed up with Dutch, German and United Nations ambassadors to help the Philippines and Cagayan Valley. The Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation, or PDRF, is a private organization the provides aid during emergencies and disasters within the Philippines. The PDRF managed to deliver food and non-food items to Cagayan Valley in an event called “Aksyon Para Sa Cagayan.” People secured hygiene kits and food, while other organizations like AirAsia provided labor by helping move supplies and managing transportation and temporary housing. The PDRF, along with Netherlands Ambassador Saskia de Lang, German Ambassador Anker Reiffenstuel and U.N. Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez cooperated to distribute food and organize hygiene kits and other supplies to those in need.

What is NAFCON?

One other group that is working to provide aid and resources to those the typhoon has affected is NAFCON, or the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns. NAFCON is a U.S.-based Filipino advocacy alliance intended to focus on Filipino and Filipino-American wellness. Various organizations involved with NAFCON include Kabataan Alliance, Filipino Community Center, Filipino Migrant Center and Malaya Movement. NAFCON uses connections with the U.S. to gain exposure to provide aid to the Philippines following Typhoon Vamco.

A super typhoon has hit the Philippines that has robbed many people of their homes and livelihoods. Still, Filipinos are lucky to have organizations like PDRF and NAFCON mobilizing to provide aid to the Philippines following Typhoon Vamco. With continued efforts both at a national and international level, Filipinos can hopefully recover and prosper in spite of the effects of this natural disaster.

Alyssa Ranola
Photo: Flickr

Internet Access in the Philippines
The Philippines officially connected to the internet in 1994. Since then, its internet usage has seen incredible growth. From 2010 to 2020, the number of internet users nearly doubled, from 27% to 52%. Now, more than 73 million Filipinos use the internet and others have dubbed the Philippines the “social media capital of the world.” The internet has done a lot to improve education and the job market for the Filipino people. Though the internet is still improving, Filipinos have taken great strides in increasing internet access in the Philippines for those living in poverty.

In 2010, the Philippine Digital Strategy (PDS) was released to increase the Philippines’ digital infrastructure. This strategy includes a plan to provide “Internet for All,” declaring it a human right. It states that the internet gives people the freedom to communicate, work and learn. Since this statement, several projects have launched to make the Philippines’ internet as accessible as possible. These initiatives especially target those living in poverty or with lower incomes.

Free Internet Access in Public Places Act

One of these projects is the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act. This project aims to provide free wi-fi in all public places such as schools, parks, transportation ports and health facilities. This is incredibly important for those living in poverty, as wi-fi in the Philippines is among the most expensive in the world. By having free wi-fi in easily-accessible locations, people in the Philippines have more chances to work, communicate and learn online.

After government funding doubled in 2015, the project expanded its scope and brought the internet to more communities. For example, it establishes internet access to facilitate relief operations in areas that disasters hit. One such instance was in Burdeos, Quezon after Typhoon Ulysses affected it in November 2020. It has also created more than 20,000 hotspot locations around the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, it focuses its outreach on the Philippines’ rural areas, which still do not have nearly as much access as larger cities do.

TV White Space Deployment

Another project that helped to make the Philippines’ internet more accessible was the TV White Space Deployment (TVWS). White space comprises radio frequencies broadcasting stations use. However, many countries have been trying to convert white space into the internet to provide access to people living in rural areas. In the Philippines, this project addresses a strong need as 52% of the population lives in rural areas, yet only 37% had access to the internet in 2018.

TVWS focuses on getting the internet to as many rural schools, hospitals and businesses as possible. An example of this project’s impact is the large but remote fishing community. In 2014 alone, TVWS, along with FishR Program, was able to increase the number of fisherfolk with internet access from 250,000 to 1 million people, and have since set up online banking and an online platform to help them continue business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Internet and Education

Education is one of the most important factors to escaping and ending poverty. As such, the Philippines has been using the internet to make education more accessible. The Alternative Learning System (ALS), also called a “second chance education” program, is a system that mirrors the formal education system but allows students of all ages to learn online or at odd hours.

Nearly half of Filipinos are unable to complete formal, basic education for various reasons. The ALS program allows students to learn on their own schedule without needing to be there in person or give up work to do so. Currently, 5.5 million students are using ALS. The ALS program also offers a certificate that allows students to apply to higher education and vocational schools. It is also currently adding classes for adults who never finished school so that they can get higher pay and more training in their respective fields.

Looking Forward

While internet access in the Philippines has grown throughout the last decade, it can improve in many ways. Currently, the Philippines has one of the slowest internet systems in the world. There is also a need to make the internet cheaper; some suggest that more internet companies should enter the country to make a competitive market and lower consumer prices. There is also still a great need for more internet access in rural areas.

The Philippines is in an important transitional period; now, more than ever, the internet has a great chance of improving. Doing so will help Filipinos get through the aftermath of the pandemic, thrive economically, increase the middle class and even eradicate poverty.

– Mikayla Burton
Photo: Flickr

Overseas Filipino Workers
Travel enthusiasts and visitors often cite Dubai as the most dazzling city in the Middle East. Yet amidst all the glamor and luxury in the United Arab Emirates, migrant workers face immense wage inequality and abuse. One of the largest populations of migrant workers hails from the Philippines. Filipino laborers undertake a variety of service jobs in domestic work and hospitality, both of which are vital sectors of the Emirates economy. Yet despite their integral role in the financial stability of the Emirates, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) struggle with a lack of job security and often have no choice but to return home. The economic hardships of COVID-19 have only exacerbated their struggle.

UAE Migrant Demographics

As of 2019, immigrants comprise nearly 90% of the United Arab Emirates’ total population. This is largely because Dubai offers a variety of policies to attract global businesses and international professionals. For example, Dubai established 30 tax-free regions of the city for companies to operate free from restrictions. The Kafala Sponsorship System allows workers from around the world to more easily access job opportunities in the Emirates, but this program has also created conditions in which migrant workers face increased vulnerability and potential risks.

The United Arab Emirates operates as a mixed free economy. Although oil sales comprise the majority of its income, the UAE has branched out into the vacation industry as well as the automation and telecommunications sectors. The expansion of economic sectors such as hospitality, development and trade in the United Arab Emirates have made employment more accessible for blue-collar migrants. The Filipino government in particular has supported labor migration for its citizens, with the Labor Code of the Philippines promoting protections for OFWs. Currently, over 2 million Filipino migrant workers are in the Middle East.

Wealth Disparity

In recent years, the severe maltreatment of Filipino workers in the United Arab Emirates has forced the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines to repatriate thousands of its citizens. Several of these individuals suffered abuse from their Dubai employers or were victims of human trafficking.

Household workers, who are usually female, make up 10% of Filipino migrant workers. Among female Filipino domestic workers, sexual abuse and mistreatment are unfortunately quite common. Due to the vulnerable financial and legal status of female Filipino domestic workers, this particular segment of migrant workers often experiences abuse. The Filipino government responded to this by repatriating such female workers from the United Arab Emirates.

Solutions for Overseas Filipino Workers

The Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) advocates for OFWs’ rights and addresses the concerns of the transnational community. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) provides programs for migrant workers and aims to prevent potential abuse.

Filipino migrants in economically valuable positions can effectively produce a change for their community. Educated Filipino migrants make up over half of the Filipino migrant population in the United Arab Emirates. As such, they are economically essential to the country’s labor force. Approximately 47% of Filipinos have climbed the ladder to higher positions. These individuals are paving the way for a new rank of Filipino professionals to represent the OFW community.

Generous Filipino residents within the UAE work tirelessly to assist their fellow community members throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to the service of caring individuals such as Dela Peña, unemployed Filipino workers still have resources to survive through the coronavirus pandemic and access to food through Dela Peña’s program, Ayuda.

Points of Resolution

Leaders of the United Arab Emirates often overlook the impact that OFWs have upon its economy. However, migrant workers have been pivotal to the growth and industry of Dubai and the nation as a whole. With this in mind, the UAE will hopefully recognize the importance of the OFWs and establish laws to uphold their rights. Supporting and encouraging the Overseas Filipino Workers in their endeavors will not only erase the need for their repatriation back to the Philippines but will further strengthen the economy of the migrants’ new home.

– Luna Khalil
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in the Philippines
Mental health in the Philippines is worsening during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of calls for mental health assistance has increased along with higher reports of depression and suicidal thoughts. UNICEF, the Philippine Red Cross and the World Health Organization (WHO) have come together to contribute invaluable resources, such as infographics and a hotline. These two key implementations have been instrumental in reducing the negative mental health effects of these trying times and in unifying isolated Filipinos.

Infographics for Frontline Workers and Filipino Citizens

The WHO updated its Philippines website in September 2020 to include mental health infographics. The graphics portray encouraging messages and quick facts and are all available for download. It tailored the various infographics to specific audiences — among the selections are the elderly, family of COVID-infected patients and frontline workers.

Some images directed toward Filipino citizens include reminders to nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals to self-care. With the high amount of Filipinos in the healthcare field, a high volume of nurses and doctors are bound to have very particular needs relating to the emotional exhaustion of caring for extremely sick people.

A Mental Health Hotline

The Philippine Red Cross has instituted a special hotline to provide psychological first aid related to the effects of COVID-19. UNICEF is pairing with Red Cross to provide resources and mobilize support systems to improve mental health in the Philippines.

The hotline’s Red Cross workers consist of 14 trained volunteers hailing from mainly social work and mental health backgrounds. They receive training for three days in helping skills and mock calls. The trainees also attend four-hour sessions on self-care for the volunteers’ own mental health benefit. This vital self-care helps fend off emotional exhaustion.

Filipino citizens are able to use this national COVID-19 hotline to tackle their mental health situations. The hotline provides emotional care, such as talking about callers’ problems. Additionally, it functions as a source of information about COVID-19 to prevent misunderstandings surrounding the pandemic’s uncertainty and hysteria.

The Philippine Red Cross has also extended its services during the pandemic. It has utilized social media as a way to provide a more convenient avenue for people to talk about their hardships. On Facebook, a feature exists that allows Red Cross volunteers to chat through an avatar. The chat even allows avatar customizations, such as male, female, LGBTQ and young child settings according to the callers’ preferences. The Philippines’ hotline has helped over 9,000 callers since its creation and continues to support mental health in the Philippines.

Where Mental Health Currently Stands

The pandemic, social isolation and general fear and uncertainty have affected mental health in the Philippines. Both peoples’ stress and rates of depression continue to increase. The pandemic has resulted in distancing and isolation, which has deeply impacted the Philippines — a country where tight-knit families and community-mindedness abound. However, aid from nonprofit organizations has lessened the devastating effects of the pandemic. Support from UNICEF and the WHO has benefited mental health throughout the nation and fostered a much-needed sense of connection.

Alyssa Ranola
Photo: Flickr

Food Waste During Pandemic
The Philippines’ state of emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on farmers. While the new coronavirus guidelines halted city life, they were particularly damaging for individuals living in the lower-income rural parts of the island nation. Farmers primarily inhabited these regions of the Philippines and the new guidelines resulted in their isolation along with their farming businesses’ isolation from the major cities they feed. Luckily, a farmer rose to the challenge to tackle food waste during the pandemic.

COVID-19 Measures

When the first case of COVID-19 broke out in the Philippines in December 2019, the Filipino government had a severely delayed response over the course of four months which led to high and widespread transmission rates throughout major cities such as Quezon City and Manila. The spread quickly reached rural areas and had infiltrated much of the country before the Filipino government took action. Because the response was so late, it had to be immense. In turn, the Philippines declared a state of emergency and granted Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers by mid-March; Duterte treated the pandemic as war and took warlike measures to fight the virus by using ex-military leaders to spearhead the pandemic efforts. Under this new state, Filipinos had to enter strict curfew and lockdown, and the country mandated the use of masks and shut down commercial roads, transportation and businesses.

Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Farmers

Just as the Philippines entered a state of emergency and lockdown took place, many of the Filipino farmers were harvesting the products of the dry season. Without the pandemic, these farmers would typically gather their crops and utilize commercial routes to bring them into the bigger cities. In these urban areas, the farmers would be able to sell their products to larger markets where the farmers could make a larger profit while simultaneously feeding the cities. However, the coronavirus lockdown in the Philippines shut down the major commercial traveling routes, effectively cutting farmers off from their major source of income. Moreover, lockdown prevented farmers from selling off their crops which resulted in a major food waste during the pandemic.

From March 2020 to May 2020, farmers amassed their Spring crops and eventually had to dispose of them due to a lack of consumers. Consequently, massive amounts of edible food underwent destruction while people in the urban areas did not have access to fresh produce. Moreover, Filipino farmers lost tremendous amounts of money by not being able to sell their fruits and vegetables.

Unfortunately, the government leaders did little to assist the movement of produce from rural areas to big cities and largely left Filipino farmers at a loss of money for months. This was particularly detrimental for the farmers because they were losing income while already living in a low-income area; in turn, the farmers’ access to additional job and income opportunities did not exist and made the farmers more vulnerable to falling into deep poverty. Moreover, these farmers became extremely susceptible to the coronavirus as they did not have access to medical resources or personal protective equipment or the money to obtain any medical resources. The pandemic created an extremely unique predicament for the farmers as they were left to fend for themselves against income loss and the spread of the virus.

However, a youth-led initiative fought food waste during the pandemic by providing an avenue of opportunity for these farmers to produce, harvest and sell their products in a manner where they would not experience exposure to the coronavirus while simultaneously maintaining their main source of income.

AGREA: The Road Ahead

Filipino farming organization AGREA saw the struggle that Filipino farmers were facing at the hands of the pandemic and decided to take action. Spearheaded by AGREA CEO Cherrie D. Atilano, AGREA sought to minimize food waste during the pandemic by creating alternative methods for farmers to transport and sell their produce.

Atilano and AGREA organized the #MoveFoodInitiative for many rural villages which sought to engage local communities in the efforts to fight food waste during the pandemic. The initiative mobilized youth food producer groups and local trucker groups which helped ship food from the local farmers to markets in the larger cities. Consumers of these products can easily access a list of fruits and vegetables with their respective prices on an order form, a method of contactless shopping that protects both the producers and the consumers.

AGREA’s #MoveFoodInitiative has become wildly successful as it has helped over 7,000 Filipino farmers reach and sell over 160,000 kilograms of fruit and vegetables to over 50,000 families across the Philippines. Additionally, AGREA has been able to utilize the surplus produce by donating the food to local kitchens that feed frontline medical workers who are fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

While the pandemic temporarily brought a stop to the businesses and livelihoods of many lower-income farmers and created massive food waste, AGREA’s quick work provided relief for farmers, food for consumers, and initiatives for youth groups to strengthen Filipino communities during these trying times. Due to her immense and important work in decreasing food waste during the pandemic, Cherrie d. Atilano has received the title of the Filipina U.N. Summit Food Systems Champion.

– Caroline Largoza
Photo: Flickr

Youth Development in the PhilippinesThe Philippines has an opportunity for rapid economic growth and the potential to greatly innovate industry across the country. This opportunity comes from the number of young people in the country. Young people account for 50% of the entire population of the nation, leaving it with immense potential for economic growth as these young people begin to enter the workforce. Youth development in the Philippines is crucial for the country’s transformation into a resilient nation.

The Education Problem

Unfortunately for the Philippines, an alarming portion of these young people are currently not in any form of education or employment. One-fifth of all youth in the Philippines are either jobless or not attending school or employment training.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines was facing an education crisis. The country placed last in reading comprehension and second to last in both science and mathematics in an international student assessment.

USAID: Youth Development in the Philippines

USAID has committed to help improve and promote public education and other forms of education in the Philippines. Starting in 2018, USAID began a five-year effort to create a series of programs aimed at uplifting economically disenfranchised Filipino youth who are at the most risk of poverty.

One program, in particular, YouthWorks PH is a five-year partnership between USAID and the Philippine Business for Education that engages the private sector to address the education needs of youth as well as the skill requirements of employers. This partnership will improve access to training and employment opportunities for at least 40,000 youth through an innovative work-based training approach. Young people are able to earn a competency certificate from a university or training institute while working in partner companies.

More than 5,000 young Filipinos will have access to free technical and vocational training as a result of this initiative partnering with Aboitiz Construction and D.M. Consunji, Inc. (DMCI), two of the biggest construction companies in the country.

This type of on-site vocational training will help prepare youth for well-paid employment opportunities and will create more skilled workers in the Philippines.

There are also other programs created by USAID specifically to increase the quality and accessibility of education in the Philippines. All Children Reading (ACR), is a program to increase the reading skills of Filipino children. ABC+ aims to address the interconnected factors that contribute to low education outcomes in the poorest performing areas of the Philippines.

Youth Development Potential

Young Filipino people could potentially bring about massive economic growth in the country. In order to fully capitalize on this opportunity, resources and development opportunities must be provided to the youth so that they can fully integrate into the workforce as skilled workers. For this reason, the youth development work of USAID is integral. Not only will it lift thousands of poor Filipino youth out of poverty but it will help create a stronger economy for the Philippines.

– Christopher McLean
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in the Philippines
The Philippines, located in Southeast Asia, is an archipelagic state that holds the third-largest Catholic population in the world. General statistics on period poverty in the Philippines are limited, but the religious influence has been blocking a broader question of whether the country should implement sex education or not. Reproductive health legislation poses a risk to bilateral relations between the government and Church, holding lawmakers at an impasse.

The Situation

In the Philippines, many young women endure menstruation as a major economic and social determinant of success. Students, in particular, are ill-equipped to navigate their menarches, and the period stigma impacts the quality of their education and future. Policies to address this issue have been mostly ungenerous, with some advancements happening under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have been advocating to push period awareness campaigns to the forefront of the public health agenda.

According to a survey that G.M.A. News conducted, most voters support the idea of government-regulated sex education efforts. However, political progress has been slow at best; the Church holds enough public sway to delay any legislative initiatives. The Philippines did not enforce the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Act of 2012 until 2019, when Duterte signed an executive order to mandate free reproductive health services, albeit against the will of the Church.

Sex Education in the Philippines

Though the 2012 law includes mandating sex education in school curricula, people have mostly overlooked its application. Determining lessons on periods falls to the jurisdiction of the teachers, most of whom are male, and it is in this setting where many girls start to fall behind because of their menstrual cycles. Currently, the way most young people learn about menstruation is from their mothers who tell the girls to sit on a coconut shell to alleviate their cramps. They receive little help from their teachers and face standard forms of subtle embarrassment common to girls who get their menses for the first time.

The school setting also represents the larger-scale issues for people who menstruate in the Philippines. Toilets are limited in number and privacy, and windows are in poor positions allowing boys to peep at girls who are doing their business. Likewise, 14% of workplaces have inadequate toilets for women, and women must habitually carry their own toilet paper because restrooms have limited water for flushing and hand-washing.

Improving sex education could be a largely successful target to combatting period poverty in the Philippines. A U.N. WASH study identified four key recommendations to improving girls’ menstrual health in the Philippines including better education, improved facilities and greater access to menstrual products and support systems for girls who take an absence. Though period poverty remains largely unchecked, further observation would promote the general betterment necessary to combat women’s health inequities.

Initiatives to Help Fight the Period Stigma

At the social level, humanitarian organizations use community initiatives to provide support for people who menstruate. Save the Children Philippines assigns resident volunteers and teen advocates to dismantle menstrual health stigmas by reaching out to their peers with advice, support and educational tools. However, COVID-19 has intensified the crisis. Save the Children Philippines CEO Alberto Muyot told Business Mirror that now would be the key time to put menstrual health at the forefront of public health solutions. Currently, Save the Children Philippines is providing resources like hygienic kits and food offerings to combat the pandemic.

Addressing the period stigma is another initiative that comes in the form of an innovative strategy. Menstrual cups have had a profound impact on period poverty around the world; as a more economical and comfortable option than their disposable counterparts, they provide a solution that generally improves the standard of living. Sinaya Cup, a small business, retails menstrual cups catered to the specific needs and challenges girls face in the Philippines. For instance, besides promoting menstrual cups solely as an eco-friendly and comfortable solution, Sinaya Cup also promises a waterproof quality important to girls who wish to participate in recreational activities like biking, trekking and climbing.

The attitudes surrounding menstrual health is a global issue that chronically impacts the economic wellbeing of women. Addressing the stigma requires a multifaceted solution. The emergence of COVID-19 has amplified concerns regarding where women fit into the public health conversation, making now the opportune time to address the issue of period poverty. Dismantling period poverty in the Philippines might begin with government and community initiatives, but the state must consider adapting its sectarian views to accommodate the needs of women’s health.

– Danielle Han
Photo: Unsplash

hiv epidemic in the philippinesThe HIV epidemic in the Philippines is the fastest-growing in the Asia and Pacific region. According to UNAIDS data, HIV prevalence in the Philippines increased by 207% from 2010 to 2019. AIDS-related deaths rose by 338% in the same period. In 2019, an estimated 97,000 people were living with HIV in the Philippines. Of those, 73% knew their status and 44% were receiving antiretroviral treatment.

Although these statistics indicate some progress, the Philippines still falls far below the 90-90-90 target set by UNAIDS. Aimed at ending the HIV epidemic by 2020, the program wanted to ensure that 90% of people living with HIV would know their HIV status. It also strove to give 90% of people with a diagnosed HIV antiretroviral therapy and induce viral suppression in 90% of those receiving treatment. Unfortunately, the world is not on track to meet these goals, and new targets are being developed for 2025.

Populations Most Affected

The prevalence rate of HIV in the Philippines among adults ages 15 to 49 was 0.2% in 2019. This national rate, however, masks alarmingly high prevalence rates among specific populations. The groups most affected by the HIV epidemic in the Philippines often face social stigma, isolation and legally sanctioned discrimination. These populations include people who inject drugs (PWID), men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers and transgender people. However, new technologies, programs and initiatives are working to lessen the burden of disease and stigma on these populations.

People Who Inject Drugs

According to UNAIDS, the HIV prevalence rate among people who inject drugs in the Philippines is 29%. Among PWID, only 26.9% have been tested and are aware of their status. Key factors fueling the HIV epidemic in the Philippines among PWID include hostile public opinion and brutal law enforcement. These constitute major barriers to HIV testing and awareness. While official statistics released in 2018 revealed that over 4,500 drug users were victims of extrajudicial killings, civil society estimated the true toll to be as high as 20,000.

Progress in HIV testing is crucial to reduce HIV prevalence among PWID, who struggle to access services due to their criminalized status. Various alternative testing methods, such as rapid finger-prick testing, can reduce barriers to testing for PWID. In particular, self-testing kits, which allow people to test in private, have attracted a large proportion of first-time testers in Thailand and have achieved impressive success in China.

Men Who Have Sex With Men

The HIV prevalence rate among men who have sex with men is 5%, the second-highest among key affected populations. MSM who fear social stigma and discrimination often do not participate in HIV prevention programs. As a result, the participation rate for these programs is 14.6%, and the majority of MSM lack awareness about HIV. Condom use in this population is also low at 40.1%. However, condom distribution and sex education programs would benefit MSM, many of whom reported not using condoms because they were “not available.” Fighting the HIV epidemic in the Philippines means tailoring help to MSM.

Sex Workers

Female sex workers in the Asia and Pacific region are 29 times more likely to be living with HIV than other adult women of reproductive age. The HIV prevalence rate among sex workers in the Philippines is now 0.6%. This group has the highest rates among affected populations for coverage in prevention programs and condom use, which are 71.8% and 85.3%, respectively. Many important national HIV prevention programs raise awareness about HIV and encourage condom use among sex workers. These programs include the 100% Condom Use Program, the HIV Counseling and Testing Service, and programs led by the Philippine National AIDS Council.

Transgender People

Transgender people are one of the populations most affected by the HIV epidemic in the Philippines, with a prevalence rate of 3.9%. However, there is little information or research about the effects of HIV on the transgender community in the Philippines. A key problem is the lack of transgender visibility due to social exclusion and widespread stigma. This challenges efforts to obtain health data and develop targeted programs to support transgender individuals. To raise awareness about gender identities and transgender acceptance, sexual health education and gender studies programs must be more inclusive. This would help reduce the stigma and barriers to healthcare for transgender people in the Philippines and engage them in HIV prevention and treatment programs.

The Effect of COVID-19

Lockdowns in the Philippines due to COVID-19 have blocked access to essential services for HIV patients, including treatment and testing. Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS regional director for Asia and the Pacific, stressed that the Philippines needs to do more to convince those in high-risk populations to seek out HIV-related services.

Continued attention to these key affected populations is necessary to reduce HIV prevalence rates and make progress toward HIV eradication. In this way, focused programs can work toward lessening the severity of the HIV epidemic in the Philippines.

– Alice Nguyen
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