COTABATO CITY -- The year 2020 has been a very hard year for many of us. The current pandemic of the coronavirus disease 2019, more commonly referred to as Covid-19, has turned our lives upside down and inside out, especially for the common Filipino. Its effects on the general public are becoming subtlety catastrophic. While some Filipinos feel a strong pinch of the virus on their daily lives, others feel a choke-hold and are fighting to just survive.

Many business have had to either close down, necessarily down-size, or reduce employee working hours. As a result, many employees, especially daily wage earners, have been affected as well as their families. They had meager sources of income that were often insufficient to sustain themselves and their families. As a result, the effects on communities have been crippling.

Since the 1st quarter of the year, many businesses have also had to address the effects of the deadly virus by either closing down or cutting their operations down. The majority of privately employed workers have either lost their jobs or had their weekly work hours reduced by about half as health and safety measures have been implemented by the government and private companies. Without regular work, or any work at all, many of them do not know when their next meal is or even where to get it. The challenge of survival is even greater when they have families to provide for daily. Collectively, their communities are now in dire need of any assistance.

In response to Muslim communities suffering from the debilitating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Barmm) has implemented various programs and projects through their Members of Parliament. One of these program is Project Tulong Alay sa Bangsamoro Nangangailangan (Tabang), which is a flagship program of the Barmm government that aims to provide basic services to the Bangsmoro.

Under one implementation of the program through my office, a total of 450 sacks of 50 kilo grams of repacked rice was distributed to various depressed Muslim communities. In May of this year, the 1st batch of 200 sacks of repacked rice were distributed in Cotabato City and remote areas of Maguindanao especially in Camp Badr, Datu Odin Sinsuat municipality.

Seeing that there was a continuing need for assistance and in the spirit of Ammun Jadid (Islamic New Year), the BARMM government distributed a 2nd batch of an additional 250 sacks of repacked rice through the program to other communities in the same areas as well as Muslim communities is Davao City, in participation with the Duterte-Go (DU30GO) Davao Girls and the Circle of Movers and Innovators (CMI) Team.

The beneficiaries of the Project Tabang expressed their heartfelt gratitude for the much needed assistance. Many said that the rice distribution gave them some peace of mind as they did not have to worry about where they were going to get food for a few days. At the very least, the program has provided some hope.

However, the need for sustainability and food security were once again brought to light. While the program directly provided the struggling communities with a brief reprieve from the challenges of survival, it did not provide a solution.

Assistance from all avenues, especially the government, has become vital for the keeping these employees and their families alive. Any support is clearly needed and welcomed by the workers and their families. Even though Project Tabang had a small impact, the assistance it provided was a very big help according to many beneficiaries. It goes to show that during these trying and uncertain times, even a little assistance can go a long way.