The study of UP Manila Associate Professor Laufred I. Hernandez (inset), member of the NRCP Division of Social Sciences, presented during an NRCP Webinar via Zoom.

A recent policy study by the DOST-National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) that assessed government orders and issuances to combat the COVID-19 pandemic found that the country’s policy response has been focusing more on reducing the viral spread but fell short of addressing the pandemic’s negative impacts on the overall well-being of the Filipino people.

“This requires not only interventions to reduce virus transmission, but also policies aimed at beefing up the capacity of the public health system… and looking at the negative consequences of the pandemic on a range of psycho-social determinants of health,” said UP Manila Associate Professor Laufred I. Hernandez, the study’s lead researcher and a member of NRCP Social Sciences Division, in a Zoom webinar last 21 July 2020. This webinar is the third of NRCP’s Kapakanan ng Tao sa Oras ng Pandemya (NRCP-KTOP) webinar series.

Hernandez explained that the administration’s policy pronouncement is concerned widely on virus containment through imposing various community quarantines and public mobility restrictions which effectively forced the economy to a halt and rendered at least 7.3 million Filipinos jobless.

“So the IATF believed that to buffer the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, the government has and continued to deploy important fiscal stimulus packages as an integral part of the response to the epidemic,” added Hernandez.

Under the government’s Social Amelioration Program, a budget amounting to about USD 4 billion for two months was set aside to subsidize the basic expenses of 18 million poor households and affected workers.

The Interagency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infection Diseases (EID) was created through Executive Order 168 in 2014 and is the government’s instrument to assess, monitor, contain, control and prevent the spread of any potential epidemic in the country.

Hernandez stressed that the “human face or dimension” seemed to be left out in the development of policy initiatives and people were viewed “just as recipients of the aid packages”. He further explained that the imposition of social distancing measures to curb the spread of the virus is “more on the surface” enforcement which was not based on social investigation and social preparation. With the country having several millions of people of lower-income bracket living in crowded urban poor areas (3-4 households in a small space) and without access to clean water and basic sanitation, social distancing and isolation of COVID 19 affected people remain a daunting task.

With this scenario, Hernandez recommended the use of science to guide the government in policy directions and alternatives based on empirical data and case studies, the recent of these are mathematical modelling techniques. Hernandez said that the government needs to “calibrate” its policy directions using modelling that will analyze not only economic but more importantly social and demographics data.

“But this effort should be done together with aggressive testing so as to locate and identify COVID-19 carriers so that they can be isolated and properly managed,” he added.

The researcher also recommended that examining policy responses for COVID-19 should largely consider the different levels of decision-making specifically the subnational levels, such as regions, municipalities, cities and districts to avoid potential “misalignment” between national and subnational-level policies and conflicting advice to the population.

The study of Prof. Hernandez is one of NRCP's KTOP-COVID (Kapakanan ng Tao sa Oras ng Pandemya - COVID) special projects in support to the Bayanihan to Heal as One which tackle the social dimensions of COVID-19 and whose results are intended for evidence-based policymaking.