30 March 2020, Marawi – In response to the enhanced community quarantine  issued by both the city and province to deter COVID-19 transmission, cooperatives, set up under a UN-Habitat project, are working to ensure that food supply isn’t disrupted by continuing operations under these extraordinary times.  Most shops had closed, travel was restricted, a curfew was strictly enforced, and people were ordered to stay home until the quarantine was lifted (originally planned for 14 April 2020). Travel exemptions were granted only to essential service providers such as medical workers, police and military, and government officials as well as  selected establishments delivering  basic goods and services. 

While the impact of COVID-19 can be felt all over the Philippines, it is especially amplified in areas recovering from conflict, such as Marawi. For many of the Maranao, the people of Marawi, full rehabilitation from the 2017 siege in their city had yet to be achieved—and has now been stalled by the pandemic.  Marawi was a provincial hub for trade and business before the 2017 siege; now many of its citizens are struggling simply to make ends meet.

The Siege of Marawi refers to the five-month armed conflict in the area that started in May 2017 between Philippine government forces and pro-ISIS militants.

Now amid what seem to be odds further stacked against them, members of the Maranao community, particularly cooperatives, are taking action to buffer economic and social fallout from the current health crisis.

Three cooperatives, composed of families displaced by the Siege and organized under the livelihood component of the Rebuilding Marawi through Community-Driven Shelter and Livelihood Recovery Support project, a project funded by the Government of Japan and implemented by UN-Habitat, kept their businesses open for the many families who rely on them for basic commodities like rice, eggs, canned goods, and other groceries. While helping ensure that food and essential items continue to be available for the communities, they faced the challenges of working with a skeleton staff and refilling and moving stocks from one place to another as needed while taking necessary precautionary measures—like the obligatory use of face masks, physical barriers between cashier and customer, posting reminders on social distancing on walls, thermal screening, foot baths, and sanitizing areas.

“We fear that we might also get infected with the virus, so we make sure that we observe proper precautionary measures,” says Nor-ainih M. Alawiya, cashier and member of the Boulevard Peoples’ Organization cooperative.

Saduc Riverside IDPs Consumers Cooperative, Boulevard Peoples’ Organization, and Da’wah Homeowner Marketing Cooperative run grocery and rice businesses in different barangays (districts) and in the city proper. Though not necessarily strategically located, they are able to cater to the community within their areas, especially in one barangay where hundreds of families have been resettled temporarily for almost two years now.

All three have opened credit lines for store items, not cash, to community members with urgent needs, given that a significant effect of the quarantine had been the loss of income and jobs especially of daily wage earners and informal workers. The cooperative managers and owners have agreed that any default on these “loans” would be taken from their dividend.

“We know that people will be coming here to buy food and some  cannot afford to buy food that would last them for weeks…. I cannot put much of a mark-up. For now, it’s not about the profit, it is just about making sure that the goods people need are available.”

— Hadji Mohaimen, member and storekeeper of the Boulevard Peoples’ Organization.

These are only three of the 11 cooperatives being supported by the Rebuilding Marawi project being implemented by UN-Habitat with national government and local government as well as private sector partners. 

Comprised of people displaced by the siege and who are among the 1,500 families to receive permanent shelter from the project, these cooperatives received grants from Japan six months ago and have since been implementing community-managed livelihoods in transport, hardware, electronic services, printing, and hollow block making, and essential food items.

As of this writing, the UN-Habitat project office in Lanao del Sur has taken steps for certification to be issued to its partner cooperatives to help them secure travel clearances from the local government of Marawi that enable them to purchase stocks from bigger cities and ensure the availability of food supply in their communities.

For International Women’s Month, a Muslim woman is taking up a masonry course to break the mold and help build shelters for Marawi City’s displaced population.

Marawi City, 23 March 2020 – For a long time, serving the household right after marriage was the future of many Maranao women.

In more recent years, however, the hijab-wearing women of Marawi are breaking the mold for themselves.

Such is the case of Alaminah Romuros, 40, who prefers measuring right angles during shelter construction for the city’s displaced population.

“In our culture, men have a different attitude when it comes to sharing labor with women. We are traditionally expected to carry babies instead of shovels and wheelbarrows,” Alaminah says.

For over a week, one could see Alaminah and three other women in reflective vests and hard hats with shovels on hand at a construction site in Barangay Kilala. This is part of their practical training for the second batch of the 26-day Galing Mason Program.

The program is a skills enhancement training administered by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) with funding coming from Holcim Philippines, World Food Programme (WFP), and the Japan Government through the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) to improve participants’ prospects of employability.

“We got the surprise of our lives. We were not prepared to see these Muslim women on the first day of our lecture,” says TESDA training officer Melbon Odal.

“I was even approached by two men by the end of the first day of training and asked if these women can tackle the physically demanding masonry work,” he adds.

Although women in other parts of the country enroll in short courses from TESDA, they usually take up courses on cookery, food and beverage service, bookkeeping, and housekeeping.

“I am fortunate that my husband has been very understanding and supportive of me,” Alaminah says. “At first, he was apprehensive and concerned that members of our clan would mock him – that I was doing a ‘man’s job.’ I had to talk him through it, told him that what others think should be the least of our concern. It is the intention that matters.”

Ever since learning of the multitudes of Maranaos who fled the Marawi conflict back in 2017, Alaminah has always wanted to help out in any way she could and has become a source of  support to some of her friends who witnessed the violent siege, giving advice and comfort to those who underwent depression.

She wants to gain new skills from Galing Mason so she could help build shelters; the national certification to be given once she completes the training program could also help her employability in the future.

Foreman Ron Mambuay was also taken by surprise upon seeing Alaminah and three other women in the construction site, given Maranaos’ traditions. He also observed that the female trainees were industrious and had more initiative than their male counterparts.

“Three decades ago, this would not have been possible,” Mambuay says. “Nowadays, most of these women have been educated and so they are more likely to take on any responsibility or occupy positions traditionally reserved for men. Times are changing in Marawi City.”

For Batch 2 of Galing Mason, around 77 unemployed adults and those who already have basic industrial and construction-related knowledge and skills from Marawi City have participated in the training. They are expected to graduate in early April and will likely find themselves working and getting paid as construction workers for UN-Habitat’s Japan-funded Rebuilding Marawi through Community-Driven Shelter and Livelihood project.

The UN-Habitat project aims to construct 1,500 core shelters and 10 community infrastructure projects, and provide livelihood support to vulnerable families and communities as part of the post-conflict recovery and rehabilitation of Marawi City.

“This program is not only meant for the trainees’ capacity development but aims to improve their future employability and more importantly, supports Marawi City’s peace-building as we are also rebuilding communities and building partnerships,” says Christopher Rollo, Country Program Manager of UN-Habitat Philippines.

“The ‘galing Mason is our flagship corporate citizenship initiative, under our Holcim Helps Program, to raise the skills and appreciation of workers who are helping build the essential structures of society,” says Holcim Philippines Vice President for Communications Cara Ramirez. “Our company is proud to be part of this effort in rebuilding Marawi through ‘galing Mason. It is a great privilege to be a partner of UN-Habitat and TESDA in this important project, which reflects our commitment to be a partner of progress beyond cement. We hope this empowers participants to have a more active role in rebuilding their community contributing to its continuing progress.”

More than the certificate at the end of the training, Alaminah looks forward to the legacy that she and other women builders will create for other Maranao women and girls in her community, a legacy she hopes can empower them to make #GenerationEquality a reality.

Philippines – 11 March 2020

“Safer, well-lit streets and wider sidewalks”

“More parks and open spaces where children could play”

“More spacious public toilets”

These are common sentiments among women who responded to the online campaign of UN-Habitat Philippines for International Women’s Day 2020, which invited them to fill in the blank: “If more women designed cities, there would be _________”.

Women of all ages and occupations from various Philippine cities participated in the conversation, including local government staff, professors, architects, urban and environmental planners, NGO workers, GIS specialists, and students. Their answers were posted on Facebook and Instagram in the lead-up to International Women’s Day on March 8, with the theme “Generation Equality”.

The aim of the campaign is to celebrate women urban practitioners and professionals who help create our cities while initiating the important conversation that could guide cities to be more inclusive and responsive to women’s unique needs and experiences.

(Click on an image to view)

View the rest of the responses here.

The Conversation Continues

While launched in time for International Women’s Day 2020, with a special focus on women urban practitioners, UN-Habitat Philippines continues to gather insights and wants to hear from everyone for the rest of March.
It’s not too late to join the conversation. Join us through this link.