The impact of Covid-19 on the new normal of Filipino living

April 22, 2020 | By: Arch. Felicisimo A. Tejuco Jr. (as published in The Manila Times last April 21, 2020)

TESTS are supposed to gauge one’s capabilities. Examinees are subjected to different types of questions as a means of evaluating their knowledge, analytic skills, or physical prowess. Experts say that the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) is an evolved type of airborne, Severe Acute Respiratory System. The impact of the Covid-19 has subjected most nations to an extreme trial of resiliency, resourcefulness, and compassion.

Last month, the Philippines has witnessed the swift and merciless impact of Covid-19. This pandemic has made it clear that it knows no social class, race, gender, or even age. Each day, the country mourns the loss of medical workers and patients from this health threat.

The 30th of April 2020 is a much-awaited date in Luzon. It not only signals the possible lifting of the enhanced community quarantine, but also the chance to return to a normal life. However, given the challenges of the Covid-19, Filipinos will have to rethink what is normal living.

Responsive and resilient

To cope with the Covid-19 pandemic, international and national leaders had to immediately respond with out-of-the-box ideas. Aside from the development of a vaccine, which should be available next year, there has been positive news in the planning and design of research, testing, and treatment facilities for people who are suspected or confirmed to have the virus.

Collaborations between government and the private sector has resulted positively in the development and conversion of large places of assembly, sports facilities and schools to be quarantine areas and treatment facilities. In Metro Manila, these include the Philippine International Convention Center, World Trade Center, and Rizal Sports Stadium. Presently, the City of Marikina, in partnership with the country’s first biotechnology firm, is also working double time for its Covid-19 testing facility. Eventually, it is hoped that Marikina’s efforts can be considered a model for future testing centers.

For existing healthcare and hospital facilities, its management had to construct or convert available spaces almost instantly as treatment areas for Covid-19 patients. These include modifying patient wards or treatment wings as private rooms with negative air pressure.

Room for humane spaces

Given its complexities and challenges, this pandemic has also opened an opportunity for government leaders and urban planners to review, reflect and maybe even replan their respective cities and communities. Familiar standards and norms that we have been used to — not necessarily based on what’s proper and ideal — are also now open for reevaluation.

In space planning, minimum standards are prescribed by the National Building Code (NBC). Presently, the NBC requires that habitable space for one person should be a minimum of 6 square meters (sqm). Thus, for a family of five, there should be at least 30 sqm of habitable space.

In the 2008 Annual Poverty Index survey, almost half of poor families are living in housing units with a floor area between 10 and 29 sqm. For a family with more than five members, achieving physical distancing in a dwelling place less than 30 square meters of space will be a challenge.

The country’s penal institutions are also overcrowded. Their inmates, who have special needs, include pregnant women, the elderly, and those with illnesses and other health complications.

Under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology guidelines, the ideal habitable floor area for each inmate is 4.70 square meters. The ideal maximum number of inmates per cell should only be 10. In 2019, the BJMP reported that there are 134,549 persons deprived of liberty who are detained in 476 jails nationwide. The congestion rate is an overwhelming 394 percent.

Population management and congestion has already been recognized as an urban concern. The threats of the Covid-19 further aggravate the country’s resource limitations in housing and penal institutions. To achieve the “ideal” physical distance of one meter, the new normal space standards for human habitation will have to be reviewed.

Inclusiveness and accessibility

Cities have concerns that local government units need to address. Its land-use plan should allow its leaders and planners to project demands and design programs to ensure the sustainable management and development of its resources. One of the ideal and humane planning approaches is inclusive zoning. By properly allocating areas for all sectors of society, this type of zoning allows everyone, especially the poor and working families, to have immediate access to basic services, employment, and transportation. Ideally, a good neighborhood (from one’s place of residence to the farthest shop) should be walkable within five to ten minutes.

Back to reality, the general Filipino workforce is unable to rent near the place of employment and has no private vehicle; thus, relying completely on public transportation. At the onset of the lockdown, news reports have documented the challenges of the working frontliners: the medical workers, essential providers, and public servants. It was reported that some walked kilometers from work to home in the name of public service.

As such, it is also imperative that basic services include accessible and well-managed public transportation. “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transport,” stated Enrique Peñalosa, former Mayor of Bogota, Colombia.

By not considering inclusionary zoning in the city’s physical layout, the blue-collared workers are deprived of the opportunity of more savings and more time for rest or leisure with the family.

It should be noted that the transportation sector has been a priority project of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. Under the “Build, Build, Build” program, numerous improvements of airport and seaport terminals; road, railway and skyway construction; and other infrastructure are ongoing nationwide. Hopefully, the possible shift of government to health priorities will not significantly derail the progress of these relevant projects.

Balancing act

Indeed, no global event, since the Second World War, has thrown nations in such trying times. In areas affected by the community quarantine, it has become necessary to work hard and smart. These include getting home safely, securing essentials for the home, and protecting one’s family from possible infection.

After the lockdown, experts say that a new normal of living will have to be considered by Filipino society. These include access to basic services, social interaction, and healthcare facilities. With our limited resources, it will be a balancing act of prioritizing social needs, infrastructure investments, and good governance.

It is imperative that the government and the private sector work together, learn from the lessons from this pandemic, and consider innovative solutions in laying out the new normal of living against the challenges of urbanization.

The writer is a licensed architect and tourism / urban planner. He has been serving the United Architects of the Philippines and the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners as an active member and officer. He holds a Master’s degree in Architecture and is a university researcher and a thesis adviser of the University of Santo Tomas College of Architecture.




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