Local Citizens and Non-Citizens in the Middle of the COVID 19 Pandemic

Everything stood still during the Pandemic Lockdown. Schools, restaurants, businesses and public transportation, among others, stopped or operated in a limited capacity. Most of the people waited for the government to provide support in terms of financial assistance and food packages. The situation revealed two types of inhabitants (Beneficiaries) living in local governments (communities): the local non-citizens and the citizens.

First let us define what are citizens. Citizens are those who are living or resides in the community that are registered voters and/or included in the masterlist (whether as senior citizen, person with disability, solo parent, etc.) of the local government. Non-citizens are those living in the community who are not registered voters and does not directly deal with the local government. Usually these are the transient workers, company workers, stranded people, and those who by choice doesn’t want to engage or be part of the community.

During the pandemic (or any other disasters), the local government procures and prepares supplies for distribution and formulate programs to support its people. The local government uses the masterlist in identifying the number of food packages or the budget to prepare for the relief operation. However, during the pandemic, many inhabitants took to social media their cries of being excluded from the support. Sometimes, they air their complaints even before the actual distribution of support to the point of accusing local leaders of politicking, corruption, and discrimination.

On the government side, they cannot just allocate resources not based on actual data while on the side of the non-citizens, they are also part of the community contributing to its economy and development. Both sides have strong points. I do not want to decide which is the right argument. I only hope that this incident brought learnings on both sides. This way we can prevent this from happening again when disasters occur (and disasters will definitely occur whether we like or not).

If a person is a non-citizen by choice, he/she should be ready if he/she is not included in the masterlist of beneficiaries. However, being a non-citizen does not exempt him/her from government services such as peace and order, health, environmental programs, etc. Other non-citizens can easily be included in the local government masterlist if they just register in the local Commission on Election (COMELEC) Offices available in all local governments. This is a strong document that you are part of the community. However, take note that if a person fails to vote two consecutive times, he/she will be written off from the COMELEC masterlist. Another way is to get identification card from the local government Social Welfare and Development Office if you are a senior citizen, person with disability, solo parent, etc. There are many ways to become a citizen of the community which requires very minimal effort.

Local Government is tasked to promote the general welfare of its inhabitants (whether citizens or non-citizens). Thus, local governments formulate plans, programs, and activities in promoting what is best to the community. Masterlists are outdated the very time it is submitted and adopted. Everyday a person is being born (die) or transfer to and from the community which is not captured real-time in the masterlist. Local government should be adept in developing projections or actually capturing the number of its inhabitants on a regular basis. The Philippines has a lower level of local government below the city/municipal level. This is the Barangay (Village) local government unit. The duties of its barangay secretary are to keep an updated record of all inhabitants of the barangay containing the following items of information: name, address, place and date of birth, sex, civil status, citizenship, occupation, and such other items of information as may be prescribed by law or ordinance; and to submit a report on the actual number of barangay residents as often as may be required by the sangguniang barangay. Hence, it is the duty of the local government to have an updated record or masterlist. They should also promote the COMELEC registration of the inhabitants by making it accessible and convenient to the (qualified) people.

The Pandemic revealed this simple issue that created a big impact during the incident. I feel that it is both the duty of the inhabitants and the government to reach out to each other. The inhabitants to fulfill its moral duty of registering and voting and the local government to carry out its mandate, improve planning tools, and reach out/encourage its inhabitants to participate in local activities and governance.

I hope we learned from this experience and I hope that as a community, we are all prepared and focused on our next/future challenges.