[OPINION] That Thing Called Ayuda

Ayuda is a Filipino loanword derived from the Spanish “ayudar”, which means “to help”. Generally, “Ayuda” is not as commonly used as “tulong” in the Filipino context. But it has seen a resurgence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Recently, the term “ayuda” was again brought up when the so-called “NCR Plus”- composed of Metro Manila and its adjacent provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal- was reverted back to Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) due to the recent wave of cases. When ECQ was first imposed in Luzon last year, the government lobbied for the passage of a law- the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (R.A. No. 11469)- so that funds could be realigned to buttress our pandemic response and support system. One of the components of the Bayanihan law was the roll out of the so-called “Social Amelioration Program” to poor families.

Thus, when ECQ was re-imposed on NCR Plus, there was an expectation that another round of ayuda would be distributed. But it seems that the government has been less than willing to shell out cash for those who would be affected by the lockdown. The first batch of ayuda is still being rolled out as of the time of writing- during the second week of our two-week lockdown.  

Why is ayuda important? In paper in the journal BMC Public Health, Doctors Savi Maharaj and Adam Kleczkowski built an epidemiological model which emphasized individual behavior. Specifically, they focused on “risk attitude” which is strongly individuals respond to the awareness of a threat. 

Maharaj and Kleczkowski wrote: “In order for social distancing to be a cost-effective strategy, it must be applied with a highly cautious attitude to risk.” That is, if individuals see the economic gain going out less than the economic loss of staying at home, then they will probably bite the bullet and go out- thereby putting themselves at risk of being infected or spreading the virus. In these cases, “doing nothing will be a more cost-effective strategy than using social distancing, because the worst-case outcome arises if the control is applied, but the level of caution used is too weak”. In other words, the strength of a lockdown does not matter, as people would rather take risk to find income. 

Maharaj and Kleczkowski do not consider socio-economic factors in their report. But it is fairly obvious that poor families will be more willing to risk going out than families who are middle class and above. This is especially true in the Philippines, where poor families have no little to no savings to rely on during the lean months, income is generally on a day-to-day basis, and social protection mechanisms are primitive. Thus, in our Extremely Crappy Quarantine-centered mode of pandemic management, ayuda is crucial to keep people at home. Either we do it well, or don’t do it at all. 

Words by: Melchor Aquino
Editing by: Christina Salazar

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