by Francis Joseph Dela Cruz

Early this year, I was approached to be part of a project in Bulacan province with Cordaid and the Partners for Resilience (PfR), to advocate for local climate action planning in the city of Malolos and the town of Paombong. Immediately, I said yes.

I was born and raised in the coastal parts of Malolos. Back then, I usually got sunburnt for spending hours hiking with friends and meandering through the fishponds and riverbanks. Flooding was part of my childhood memories, especially when fishponds broke open and one could pick up milkfish and tilapia from the pavement. As the water recedes, we looked for waterholes where they would be ready to be scooped up and enjoyed in barbecues with friends.

The People Power Revolution changed some things for me and I moved away from Malolos in 1987. But I get reconnected to the place each time I visit. I often bump into former classmates, org-mates, and comrades in the political mass movement. I still cast my vote there despite living away. I still have a family there. Aunts and uncles, my sister’s family and my 96-year-old grandmother Anastacia is still in our barangay in Sto. Cristo. My daughter-in-law lives in the next village with my six-month-old granddaughter. Malolos is now a city, but to me it still is a provincial town, where my roots run. Deep.

So, I got really excited and felt fortunate for the opportunity to bring in my work as ICSC Partnerships and Advocacy Advisor to contribute to the efforts in making my hometown more resilient to climate change impacts. We partnered with the Diocese of Malolos – Commission on Social Action (CSA) for this project. All preparations were afoot and we were ready to begin by April 2020.

But then, COVID-19 happened…

Our project team, composed of representatives from PfR,Cordaid, ICSC, and CSA, immediately assessed the impact of the COVID-19 crisis in Bulacan. The situation was unprecedented, where humanitarian actors cannot rush in to provide relief, because they are affected as well. For everyone’s safety, we decided that we cannot proceed with the project activities as planned, and we proposed steps forward to support our local government partners. The thinking was, the more we can help our partners adjust to the COVID-19 crisis, the higher the likelihood that we could carry on with the original project.

As our recourse, we started designing an intervention for infection prevention and control in community settings, which aims to increase awareness on the risks of COVID and enable communities to prevent the spread of infections. In turn, this may ease the pressure on the medical system.

Contents of the hygiene kits to be distributed in Sitio Dupax, Barangay San Vicente in Malolos, Bulacan on June 20, 2020, as part of the Partners for Resilience and Cordaid COVID-19 Response in Bulacan with the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Malolos’ Commission on Social Action. (c) Aldwin Dela Cruz/ICSC

Banking on the expertise of Cordaid in providing Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) interventions in disaster response, we began designing hygiene kits. Although both Malolos and Paombong LGUs were working on implementing measures placed by the COVID-19 inter-agency task force, coordination lines were maintained by the CSA.

We procured hygiene kits which contained alcohol, soap, and reusable cloth face masks, all packed in a pail. It took about 8 weeks to finalize our orders. The hardest part for me was sitting out the ECQ period, thinking what difference these kits could make to prevent infection in both LGUs.

The National Task Force on COVID-19 then issued the Interim Protocols for Humanitarian Assistance during Community Quarantine (Memorandum Circular No. 1) in May, in which climate change action and resilience work are considered as part of humanitarian assistance. I thought to myself, could this be an opportunity to craft local plans for climate resilience with public health crisis as an overlay? It was really exciting.

As Metro Manila and Bulacan slid down to general community quarantine (GCQ) and cloaked with the memorandum circular, we turned over hygiene kits to over 1,400 households in Malolos and Paombong between June 20 to 29.

I’d like to think that our intervention provides significant contributions to the country’s COVID-19 efforts. Preventing the spread of the virus in densely-populated areas may ease the burden to the medical frontlines.

Now, we are in discussions on how to support Malolos and Paombong in early recovery, such as by conducting studies on the impact of COVID-19 and the community quarantine classifications to their respective local economies.

Hopefully, this leads us back to planning for local resilience to climate change impacts, but with a broader view that includes COVID-19, two phenomena that are in the now and are part of our “new normal.”

Francis Dela Cruz, ICSC coordinator for the Partners for Resilience and Cordaid COVID-19 Response in Bulacan, helps distribute hygiene kits in Brgy. San Vicente in Malolos City. The kits were distributed to 350 families in Sitio Dupax, a riverside informal settlement that is densely populated. (c) Aldwin Dela Cruz/ICSC