Cotabato City – The recently released Socioeconomic Impact Assessment of COVID-19 in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) undertaken by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Philippines indicated that despite logging relatively lower COVID-19 cases in the last year, BARMM—a region which registered a 5.9 percent gross regional domestic product growth in 2019 and was enjoying steady economic gains before 2020—was still disproportionately impacted by the pandemic in terms of its socioeconomic development and in aggravating existing and emerging vulnerabilities in the region.
The assessment, which was commissioned by the Bangsamoro Planning and Development Authority (BPDA) and supported by the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines, was launched through a forum in Cotabato City in the presence of the BARMM Interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim, BARMM Ministers, United Nations Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez, members of the diplomatic corps, and representatives of LGUs and CSOs.
The Bangsamoro Region is among the regions in the country that was able to manage and contain the spread of COVID-19 virus. But while government measures deterred the virus from spreading, the indirect impacts associated with the restrictions in mobility have affected the lives and livelihoods of many, including the most vulnerable groups.
According to the report, around 53.5 percent of respondents interviewed indicated that their livelihoods or business were affected by the restrictions. The assessment further noted that the informal sector—many of whom are women—were among the hardest hit by the pandemic because of work stoppages. The findings also highlighted the impact of the pandemic in BARMM beyond income, such as on health, education, and food security.
“The crisis brought to fore the need for data and information that captures the real-life situations and underlying conditions of the people on the ground. In support of this goal of understanding the real-life situation in the Bangsamoro, the BPDA engaged the UNDP to conduct a region-wide Socioeconomic Impact Assessment (SEIA) to help the Bangsamoro government in producing accurate and necessary projections that can be translated into strategic action plans that will respond accordingly to the needs of the constituents and eventually help them recover from the challenges brought by the pandemic,” said Engr. Mohajirin T. Ali, Director General of BPDA, highlighting the purpose of the report during the public dissemination forum.
UNDP Philippines Resident Representative Dr. Selva Ramachandran also noted that “it is important to identify and document the impact of the pandemic to those who are facing high levels of vulnerabilities. Likewise, it is important to understand how the pandemic is affecting regions that has already elevated risks of conflict, instability, insecurity, violence and population displacement. It is within this framework that UNDP in collaboration with BPDA conducted the assessment to generate insights that could inform the regional recovery planning.”
The BARMM Government’s response during the COVID-19 crisis focused on improving social welfare and development, essential health services, economic recovery, infrastructure support and governance.
“The assessment is extremely helpful to make sure that we will truly surpass this phase and restore our public health and economy to normal. The government of the Bangsamoro is working tirelessly to make sure that no Bangsamoro is left behind. The launch is symbolic towards our joint efforts in revitalizing our economy and allowing its growth to trickle down to every Bangsamoro household,” said Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim in his keynote message.
Aside from identifying hardest hit sectors in BARMM, the assessment also examined the policy and program responses of the BARMM Government to the crisis and provided policy recommendations to support the government's transition and push towards achieving an inclusive, resilient, and sustainable development.
Japanese Ambassador Koshikawa Kazuhiko, a staunch supporter of the peacebuilding and development efforts in BARMM, stated that “the assessment would be a big push to BARMM’s recovery efforts. Clearly, there is a need to recalibrate our strategies to rise over and above our current challenges. The fast way to go is to carefully identify the socioeconomic fallouts of COVID-19 and match them with policy recommendations, which are evidence-based and pragmatic. This report sheds light on the real plight of the locals, which might have been otherwise overlooked by our existing efforts.”
During the public dissemination forum, the presentation of the findings was followed by a panel discussion among key stakeholders, which was moderated by Atty. Ishak Mastura, Chairman of the BARMM Regional Board of Investments.
The panelists included Atty. Laisa Alamia, Member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority; Atty. Raissa Jajurie, Minister of Social Services and Development and Member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority; Dr. Bashary Latiph, Minister of Health; Dr. Marjanie Mimbantas Macasalong, Chairperson of the Bangsamoro Youth Commission and Member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority; Ms. Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, Representative of UNICEF Philippines; Mr. Andrew Morris, Head of UNICEF Field Office in Cotabato; and Mr. Guiamel Alim, Chair of the Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS).
Among key insights for BARMM recovery, which were highlighted in the discussions, were the strengthening of health systems and the deployment of a comprehensive and coordinated regional vaccination program; establishment of inclusive social protection systems; integration of green recovery approaches in COVID-19 economic recovery packages; scaling up of the regional capacity for digital transformation; and broadening and diversifying sources of economic growth.