Emergent Agency Field Note Number 1 and 2 for CURE COVID-19 Network
By Arnold Alamon & Joel Jan Alvarez
Field Note 1: CURE COVID Network as Emergent Agent
This field notes will provide a preliminary analysis of an internet-based political network and two organized communities who are members of the same alliance from a rural and an urban community established during the time of the pandemic. It is imagined that the pandemic drew innovative responses that were sourced from existing social capital or social solidarity that fueled the featured emergent forms of social action from these actors.
Background of the project
The Citizen’s Urgent Response to End COVID-19 or CURE COVID is a loose network of organizations and individuals that was created as a response to a perceived inadequacy of government efforts in relation COVID 19 and the pandemic.
Formed through the collective efforts of organizations such as Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Pinoy Weekly, Council of Health and Development (CHD), Coalition of People’s Right to Health (CPRH), Movement Against Tyranny and IBON Foundation, the network created a facebook on March 16, 2020 and initially covered the relief efforts of organizations during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) lockdown. On April 24 2020, due to the still inadequate response of the government to what was emerging as a prolonged pandemic, a virtual meeting and orientation of organizations and individuals was conducted to further push for the new identified goals of CURE COVID: to pressure government in undertaking a comprehensive, effective, humane, and participatory response to COVID-19 and the pandemic.
Brief description of initiative
Old social capital, doing new things
The linkages, network, and social capital that make up the CURE COVID network were already pre-existing prior to the pandemic. In fact, the core group of individuals and organizations were just involved in the Taal volcanic eruption relief drive a few months prior.
Majority of the formations and individuals that make up the CURE COVID network belong to the broad political formation of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan or BAYAN. However, in the course of their public briefings, CURE COVID Network has attracted personalities, experts and a broad audience that is beyond their usual reach.
Alliance building in the time of the pandemic – no design, navigating new situation
Networking and alliance building is a crucial concept for the CURE COVID network to effectively operate but this can be challenging in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic where organizational building and mobilization are physically restricted. They had to navigate new terrain and had to be innovative. While there is still a need for face-to-face physical mobilization to press the government to act, social media was a platform that could be harnessed for these same goals. For the CURE COVID network, Facebook became the primary platform for the network to undertake its alliance building and propagate its specific political goals.
CURE COVID and Public Briefing
The evolution from press briefings to public briefings, flexibility in the time of pandemic
The network emphasized the importance of conducting regular internal meetings to assess, discuss, and adjust future plans. With the absence of face-to-face meetings, rallies, and physical gathering, the network only conducted their meetings online. During one meeting, a network member suggested conducting press briefings online. Later on these press briefings evolved to become public briefings or participatory online gathering conducted every Wednesday of the week on the CURE COVID Facebook Page wherein organizations and certain key individuals would be invited to speak about their experiences or expertise about a certain topic related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During these public briefings, a situationer would be provided by a CURE COVID point-person followed by a few resource persons who are knowledgeable with the topic. The selection of topics was described as “highly flexible.” They were chosen through the suggestions of CURE COVID network members or others and can easily change if another issue suddenly becomes relevant on that particular week.
(Photo taken from first CURE COVID Public Briefing titled “‘Are we really flattening the curve?’: Critical Issues on Mass Testing and Flattening the Curve” held on May 8, 2020 via Zoom and Facebook Live.)
New Form of reaching out to the public
The CURE COVID briefings are designed to spread information, not just to the network members but also the general public. As an online platform that openly discusses relevant topics on COVID-19, the public briefings provide a new form of connecting to the public in a time where access to relevant information is really necessary. According to Prof. Judy Taguiwalo:
“Given the situation ngayon, while patuloy pa rin naman ang face-to-face mobilizations, talagang you need to develop new forms of reaching out to the public. Lalo na sa panahon ng pandemic. The need to educate, the need to inform, the need to organize and the need to mobilize. Kahit na online, may mga social media campaigns. Hindi lang continuous kundi it’s really needed.” (Given the present situation, while face-to-face mobilizations are still being staged, you also need to develop new forms of reaching out to the public. Especially in the time of a pandemic. The need to educate, the need to inform, the need to organize, and the need to mobilize [still remains]. Social media campaigns need to be undertaken even if online. [These should be] continuous because they are really needed.)
CURE COVID highlights the importance of the diversity within the network, ranging from healthcare professionals, experts in the academe, to grassroots organizations or even people belonging in the higher level of the government. Even if other organizations have their own online initiatives, CURE COVID provides a hub for all these activities, people, resources to come together as a response to the challenges of the pandemic :
“So we’re one among the many except ang difference sa amin, I think, is nacocombine namin ang expertise ng health professionals who are with our networks at grassroots namin na network members o mga links tapos mga individuals sa academe, yung iba statistician yung iba microbiologist. At ang mga experts mo, whether sa higher level of government na makausap. So may ganyan siya na diversity.” (We are one among the many except that what makes us different is we are able to combine the expertise of health professionals and our grassroots who are also [within] our networks and links and there are individuals from the academe, others are statisticians while others are microbiologists. Then you have experts, whether from the higher levels of government that you are able to talk to. There is this diversity.)
Building reach and audience through public briefings
The network, through public briefings, became a platform for different organizations and individuals to discuss their efforts on the ground and the challenges they faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The briefings promoted 1) the dissemination of vital information and also 2) highlighted the intervention of civil society organizations and people’s organizations despite the inadequacy of government response.
(Collage of previously conducted CURE COVID Public Briefings with a diverse list of topics and panelists. Photos taken from CURE COVID FB Page.)
There have been 43 public briefings from the period of March 2020 to June 2021 that are posted on the platform of facebook live covering a range of topics that are usually discussions on the burning COVID-related issues of the day. With total viewership totaling in the close to two hundred thousand (the total 193,427 the highest viewership for a single episode was 13000 for a public briefing on possible school opening on October 2020), and combined engagements (likes plus comments plus shares) 6298, the CURE COVID Network’s public briefings has become a source of relevant and alternative information online for an audience who are eager to know and learn outside of official government-sanctioned sources.
(Public Briefing held last August 20, 2021 titled “Preparing for Oct. 5 School Opening: Realities, Requisites, Responses” with 13000 views – the highest viewership in a single episode)
Of the total 43 public briefings staged by the CURE COVID network, a big percentage of these (37.2%) covered practical issues on health and safety such as how sectors such as the youth, senior citizens, and the education sector should protect themselves from the virus. This was followed by discussions on economic issues brought about by the pandemic (18.6%) such as the dismal economic stimulus package by the government. While it can be argued that because of the very political nature of the network’s basis of unity, all the public briefings can be considered political in nature, the topics that directly tackled the government’s inadequate response to the pandemic only comprised a fraction of the whole (9.3%).
Chart 1. Distribution of CURE COVID network’s types of public briefings
Description of respondents and their back stories
The main respondent for this study on the CURE COVID network was former Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary and spokesperson of the CURE COVID Network. She is a veteran activist and former political prisoner during the martial law era. She retired as Professor from the College of Social Work and Community Development and was appointed as the Social Welfare Secretary in the first few years of the Duterte administration.
When the core group of individuals and organizations was setting up the network, they needed health experts and someone who has experience in social protection and welfare. They tapped Dr. Julie Caguiat, a medical doctor and Prof. Judy Taguiwalo given her background in social work to be part of the spokespersons of the network.
(Photo of online interview with Judy Taguiwalo held via Zoom last April 20, 2021)
Discussion of their motivations
Reaction to Government’s Response
The substance of the six political calls issued on March 20, 2020 provided the basis of initial unity of the network. This includes the following demands for government to provide: a. medical solution, not militarization; b. a budget to respond to public health needs; c. community-based approaches to the pandemic; d. protection of worker’s health, safety, and economic well-being during the pandemic; e. low prices of basic commodities and goods including foods and hygiene products; f. a steady water supply in metropolis.
However, this was modified on April 24, 2020 at the end of the first lockdown in Metro Manila. The enduring call since and carries over until the present has been to demand from the government to implement a comprehensive, effective, humane, and participatory COVID 19 response. These calls represent the sustained political demands of the network more than a year after the start of the pandemic.
Every now and then, the CURE COVID network releases a political statement on the burning issues of the day related to the pandemic. Since March 2021, the study counts 21 released political statements on various topics that always address policy gaps and problematic pronouncements coming from the government. Seen through CURE COVID network’s basis of unity in pressing for a “comprehensive, effective, humane, and participatory COVID 19 response” from the government, the following chart shows the distribution of political statements according to topic. The topics are grouped accordingly: Comprehensive Pandemic Response, Effective Pandemic Response, Humane Pandemic Response, and Participatory Pandemic Response.
It is not surprising that the CURE COVID network struck a chord not just with their usual publics but also the general public as well given that their messaging from the public briefings to the political statements always emphasize the need for a “humane pandemic response” from the government. 42.9% of the political statements released concentrated on this with topics that ranged from an urgent call for the release of a social amelioration package after the second lockdown of April 2021 to a call to protect the viral community pantries that were the subject of government’s red-tagging vilification campaign.
Chart 2. Distribution of CURE COVID network’s political statements according to topic
(Political Statements previously posted by CURE COVID on their Facebook Page)
Preliminary Analysis: the pandemic and the creation of online hubs of democratic action
The Philippines enjoys a long tradition of social movement building involving organized communities in both rural and urban areas. It is notable that old actors acquired new repertoires of collective action which emerged during the Covid 19 pandemic. It is the assertion of this study that many of these emergent agencies mined old sources of social capital or social solidarities for their.
The main platform of the CURE COVID 19 Network are their weekly online public briefings that bring in experts, civil society organizations, and people’s organizations. The public briefings of the CURE COVID Network functioned as an online “hub” where various experts and organizations came together to clarify burning issues and share experiences all in keeping with the call for a comprehensive, effective, humane, and participatory COVID 19 response.
The pandemic may have posed a challenge to old street parliamentarians who discovered that usual platforms such as face-to-face mobilizations provide limitations. Through online public briefings, the symposia and fora of old can now be transposed to a digital community and audience that can also be animated and mobilized to respond to the challenges of the pandemic within their respective sectors and communities.
CURE COVID facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/curecovidph/ accessed May 31, 2021 to June 2, 2021
Online interview with Judy Taguiwalo conducted April 20, 2021
Turn to Page 2 for Field Note Number 2