While socio-economic disparities have always run deep across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated these inequities. Marginalized groups were disproportionately affected by the pandemic widening inequities and compromising access to basic human necessities and social cohesion. The pandemic is thought to be a “great equalizer”, but emerging studies show otherwise. Vulnerable population groups, such as women, the elderly, displaced migrants, informal sector workers, and cultural minorities bore the brunt of the pandemic (Goldin and Muggah 2020, Perry, Aronson and Pescosolido 2021, Decerf et al. 2021).
The negative effects of the pandemic cut across sectors. During the earlier stages of the pandemic, businesses suffered and unemployment precipitous decline with informal sector workers tormented by no-work and no-pay arrangements. The country’s health system was tested to its limit, especially in relatively poor areas with scarce supply-side capacity. The quality of education declined because of the prolonged closure of face-to-face classes. This reinforced the significant learning loss of children, especially from those low-income households. Cultural minorities were further isolated and socioeconomically disadvantaged.
We argue that these extreme and disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic reflect deep seated structural inequities. There are different facets of these inequities such as social, political, economic, and environmental. Social inequity means differences of social status, such as gender. Political inequity means structural differences as a result political decisions and power dynamics. Economic inequity means variation of economic standing as measured by income and wealth. Lastly, environmental inequity means the expression of an environmental burden that would be borne primarily by the disadvantaged and/or minority populations. These structural inequities perpetuate imbalances and biases in work and labor conditions, living conditions, and in education and learning conditions. Hence, in the context of shocks such as COVID-19, the impact and recovery will be unequal as well.
Globally, there is a renewed call to break through these inequities and to make social justice the front and center of the post-COVID- recovery plan. Social justice is about assuring the protection of equal access to liberties, rights, and opportunities, as well as taking care of the least advantaged members of society.
In the Philippines, the concept of social justice is not new. The 1987 Constitution frames the promotion of social justice as a commitment to create equitable opportunities, reduce social-economic and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities. Social justice is adapted in the country’s development blueprints – the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022, and the Ambisyon Natin 2040. The latter envisions a more equitable income distribution from broad-based economic growth, and resilience of the poor against shocks. Also, the country is signatory to several international declarations such as Charter of United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights, the Copenhagen Declaration, and the UN Millennium Declaration among others.
The resulting welfare concerns unfolded by the pandemic prompt the need for comprehensive discourses on how the Philippines can institute genuine reforms centered on social justice. While social injustice broadly affects the entire facts of society, we have identified three broad themes, whereby the glaring structural inequities were largely manifested in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. These themes are: (1) human capital development and social protection; (2) public health services and infrastructure; and (3) environment resilience and climate change.
The conference will be conducted through a four-part webinar series. For each session, the following themes will be discussed:
Part 1: The concept of social justice in the 21st century
Part 2: Human capital development and social protection
Part 3: Public health services and infrastructure
Part 4: Environment resilience and climate change
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