Rare Voices: Philippines – Rocky Sanchez Tirona

April 28, 2020
In a new series called Rare Voices, we will hear from leaders of Rare’s country programs about our work with communities on the frontlines of conservation and sustainable development. In this episode of Rare Voices, Rare Philippines’ Rocky Sanchez Tirona talks about the impact of the COVID pandemic on the coastal communities, how they are rising to the challenge, and why she remains hopeful. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Rare: Generally, how has COVID affected your country relative to the rest of the world?

Rocky Sanchez Tirona: The Philippines is taking the Corona pandemic very seriously. We’ve imposed enhanced community quarantine in many places. Most large cities and provinces have restricted movement. People are staying home. You’re only allowed to go out for essential goods. Most villages issue passes for people to carry in order to be out and about. This has really changed life in the communities that we’re working in.


Rare: How has COVID changed daily life in the communities in which we work?

RST: These quarantines have really changed how life goes on, even in the communities we’re working in because movement is restricted. Our fishers, while they’re allowed to fish because they’re considered providers of essential services, have trouble selling their goods or getting them to market, or at least getting the same kinds of prices they used to get pre-quarantine. So a lot of them are feeling the pinch. Because they’re usually from families that are daily-wage earners, the restrictions have limited the amount of resources that are available to them. The government has started issuing some support in terms of relief goods. Some places have cash payouts. But the release of these are still very inconsistent, so not everyone is able to access these [goods and services].


Rare: How has COVID made Rare’s work with these communities challenging?

RST: Our work has also been severely restricted, aside from the fact that our staff cannot travel. Even our partners cannot continue as much of their work, mainly because of the restrictions on gatherings. They can’t hold meetings. A lot of the consultations or workshops have been canceled. Even savings clubs meetings are not allowed. So far what we’ve been able to do is capture what’s going on in the communities and bring it to the attention of the national government. For example, the news around the difficulties in (the fishers) getting to market and being stopped at check points along the way, these are reports that we’ve collated and submitted, and the government has pledged to take action on these kinds of restrictions.


Rare: How are you seeing communities and Rare partners adapt in response to these obstacles?

RST: We’re also seeing how some of our partners are so committed to what they’re doing that they’ve found ways to keep going. One of the things we’ve been working on has been setting up fisher registration systems at the local government unit. Many of them were not yet operational by the time the pandemic struck, but we’ve heard reports from some of our partners that have actually taken the databases home with them and they’ve been fixing them and they’re now operational. They’re also seeing that this is good because having a working fisher registration system and database is actually helping them identify who the beneficiaries of the relief operations need to be.


Rare: How is Rare helping these communities? Has Rare’s work in anyway contributed to the resiliency of these communities?

RST: This crisis has really brought home the importance of the work that we do with local governments and with communities. I think we see really good examples in big ways and in little ways. The staff that we train from the local government offices are leaders and many of them have been pulled to the forefront of organizing efforts and are taking action in their communities. At the same time, we see great stories of how savings clubs have decided to release some of their funds from what they call their social protection fund and using that money to buy rice, for example, for their members or for others in need in their communities. I think these are the examples of resilience that we’re seeing at work.


Rare: What gives you hope?

RST: I think one good thing that’s come out of this is how communities are seeing how important fishers are in their food security and in keeping people’s basic needs met. We heard from one of the mayors who put out a message on her social media page to say thank you to the fishers for helping their fellow citizens stay safe at home by still making sure they have food on the table.


Learn more about our work in the Philippines

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