Community-led COVID-19 Response: Philippine’s Homeless People’s Federation

Screenshot 2020-06-09 at 11.07.20

By Rolando A. Tuazon and Theresa Carampatana

Originally featured on the IIED blog:

Based on member interviews and accounts, the Philippines Homeless People’s Federation describes how community organizations have rallied to support vulnerable groups, hit hardest by the pandemic.

This blog describes how the Philippines Homeless People’s Federation (HPFPI) has responded to the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. The Federation has over 9,000 members in 106 communities in 14 cities and towns throughout the Philippines. It brings together low-income community organizations to find solutions to problems relating to land, housing, income, infrastructure, health and welfare. Its work is supported by The Philippine Action for Community-led Shelter Initiatives, Inc (PACSII).

The blog draws on responses to a questionnaire conducted by federation community leaders, and a teleconference where experiences from the ground — Batasan, Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Muntinlupa, NCR,  Rodriguez-Rizal and Valenzuela — were shared.

Planning the response

[caption id="attachment_13143" align="alignleft" width="225"]Surveying needs in Manila. Surveying needs in Manila.[/caption]

Initial plans from HPFPI leaders (local, regional and national) included:

  • Identifying the communities’ most vulnerable people and updating community databases with member information. With this data, leaders could prioritize getting help for the homeless and others in greatest need including the elderly, children and people with disabilities
  • Deploying immediate interventions to help prevent the spread of the virus and minimize impacts of the lockdown
  • Coordinating and partnering with government and non-government institutions
  • Setting up a communications network to support member coordination across regions and cities
  • Since many banks were closed, supporting the transfer of funds to regions. At the start of the lockdown, each region used their savings to finance their community operations but these soon ran low.

Preventing the virus spread

[caption id="attachment_13137" align="alignleft" width="300"]Community quarantine in Mindanao. Community quarantine in Mindanao.[/caption]

Information on TV and radio made people aware of how to contain the virus. Federation leaders worked to get this information out to everyone, while also trying to prevent ‘fake news’ circulating. Information sharing must observe social distancing rules; meetings are not allowed.


People complied with the information as follows:

  • Blocking off whole areas to prevent movement
  • Applying social distancing and wearing face masks
  • Observing national curfew (8pm – 5 am)
  • Using quarantine passes to buy food – one per family member and for those working on the frontline
  • All observing home-stay, senior citizens most strictly
  • Promoting good hygiene such as hand washing
  • Medical check-ups when virus symptoms develop
[caption id="attachment_13140" align="alignnone" width="750"]Handwashing station in Iloilo. Handwashing station in Iloilo.[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_13142" align="alignleft" width="300"]Making masks and food packs in Mindanao. Making masks and food packs in Mindanao.[/caption]

Community leaders have helped keep community members disinfected, distributing soap and alcohol cleanser. Some have built communal washing facilities or purchased thermal scanners that can detect the virus. Some are making washable masks because it is now more difficult to get these from the stores.


Local government has also been disinfecting public markets and other commonly used areas.

Practical help

[caption id="attachment_13141" align="alignleft" width="300"]Making food packs in Manila. Making food packs in Manila.[/caption]

External aid agencies were slow to respond and initially, funding to support the homeless came mainly from community savings and the HPFPI’s disaster fund.

Federation leaders bought food in bulk and packaged it up for distribution to each family.

The packs include 3-5 kg of rice, canned sardines, instant noodles, biscuits and coffee. In some cases, packages included baby milk, medicines and vitamins. 

Families often share their food with neighbours, especially those in greater need. Some have set up community kitchens and communal gardens with backyard and vertical gardening.

Community leaders have been coordinating with local government to get those infected to hospital or community health centres. Preventive measures implemented in the communities have paid off: there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in most areas with community associations.

Working with government

The government’s strict quarantine policy makes it hard for HPFPI to mobilise the community response. So, the federation has been working with government agencies to identify the most vulnerable members, distribute relief goods and cash, repackage goods for the poorest, and carry out health monitoring. Local government units often find it easier to implement their programs when working with organizations such as HPFPI.

Mobilising funds and resources

As the lockdown was enforced, people lost their income almost overnight. They needed money to buy food but the government response was slow and when help did arrive, provisions were inadequate. 1kg of rice, 1 can of sardines and 1 pack of instant noodles was meant to provide for a family for a week. Some families would receive a second package, often with more items.

National government announced payments of 5,000 – 8,000 pesos for each family, but more than half did not receive it.

Funding from Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) has been supporting HPFPI’s work in each region but it has proved difficult to get the bank to actually transfer the funds. Some members benefitted from support from development organisation Caritas.

Because of the enormity of the needs of our sizeable membership, PACSII is seeking funds from local sources. 1.5 million pesos (30,000 USD) have been donated by individuals and local companies.

Challenges brought by COVID-19…

The lockdown prevents people moving, working, planning, organizing and travelling to access resources. But community leaders found ways round this and managed to coordinate with government, often through the internet and digital meetings.

The government’s home-stay policy is particularly challenging with the harsh living conditions many face. Young people find the confinement tough, and some have violated quarantine rules.

Overall, the government was ill-prepared: resources and the mechanisms to distribute them were insufficient. In adequate health systems has led to a health crisis that will, almost certainly, give way to an economic crisis.

…but some good things too

The massive drop in transport emissions has reduced air pollution significantly. The lockdown has offered more opportunities for family bonding, community solidarity and nurtured a general feeling of unity. People have also found their faith is stronger, with a deeper appreciation of God and His providence. Some communities have organized common time for prayers.


An effective crisis response draws on the efforts of many. The government quickly found it could not prevent the spread of the virus, or adequately address its impacts, without cooperation from everyone.

Similarly, community organizations found they could work at scale and with greater impact when their work was supported by government. Updated baseline community data for community mapping was fundamental for getting help to the most vulnerable areas.

Finally, the challenge of accessing funds, particularly in the early stages of lockdown, made clear the need for an emergency fast-response fund to help manage future disasters and crises.

Theresa Carampatana is president of the Homeless People’s Federation of the Philippines; Rolando A. Tuazon is Executive Director of PACSII 

[caption id="attachment_13144" align="alignleft" width="212"]Theresa Carmpatana, HPFPI Theresa Carmpatana, HPFPI[/caption] [caption id="attachment_13139" align="alignleft" width="275"]Fr. Rolando A. Tuazon, PACSII Fr. Rolando A. Tuazon, PACSII[/caption]

Inclusive Investment Guided by Community-led Profiling in Manila


In the coming weeks, SDI will share the case studies from our 2017 Annual Report titled ‘The Road to Resilience’ here on our blog.  Emerging from the field of ecology,  ‘resilience’  describes the capacity of a system to maintain or recover from disruption or disturbance. Cities are also complex systems and a resilience framework addresses the inter- connectedness of formal and informal city futures. Moreover, it enables a nuanced reflection on the nature of shocks and chronic stressors – recognizing that the latter are particularly acute in slum dweller communities and that this critically undermines the entire city’s economic, social, political, and environmental resilience.

As with personal resilience, city resilience demands awareness, acknowledgment of reality, and a capacity to move beyond reactivity to responses that are proactive, thoughtful, and beneficial to the whole. The most enlightened individuals and cities will be those that understand their responsibility to the most vulnerable and to the planet. Our 2017 Annual Report showcases some of SDI’s achievements over the past year on the road to resilience. Click here for the full report. 



As of 2017, the Homeless People’s Federation of the Philippines Inc. (HPFPI) has organized 360 groups in 20 cities and towns. In partnership with SDI and the Human Cities Coalition (HCC), the federation is currently exploring strategies for influencing private sector urban infrastructure investments. In the capital city of Manila, a major port-linked investment plan was commissioned to guide trillion-dollar investments. This scale of investment is essential for reducing risk in this extraordinarily dense city. However, far greater attention needs to be given to the impact of such investment during the tendering process – both by the issuing government offices and the companies awarded the tender. Unless this is enshrined in procurement and tendering protocols guiding investment we will continue to see the forced eviction and thoughtless relocation of thousands of slum dweller families and overall city resilience will be undermined. So how can the urban poor become part of the dialogue and protocols for planning such investments? As is often said in SDI, unless you’re organized you won’t count. The federation has commenced profiling and mapping of selected settlements in Malabon City, Manila Metro. Community members were trained to map and profile their communities and analyze the data on settlement demographics, land status, basic service vulnerabilities, location hazards, challenges, and priorities.



In 2017, the community presented their information to the Mayor of Malabon City and other city officials to initiate a dialogue on priority issues. The administration acknowledged that they did not have comparably detailed data on informal settlements and requested the federation expand their efforts to profile all informal settlements in the City of Malabon. This is a critical first step in efforts to convince government that investment protocols should be developed that take impact on the poor into account. The SDI affiliates in Philippines and India are working closely on this engagement with HCC, understanding that working only at the local level is insufficient for achieving inclusive megacities. Powerful global forces shape development in the megacities of these countries and the federations are being forced to rapidly expand the scope of their partner engagement.



The lessons from this initiative in the Philippines are being watched closely by the SDI network. If HCC and SDI can influence procurement and tendering protocols to demand high quality, community-driven data on informality, and the involvement of urban poor communities in the planning and execution of infrastructure projects, it will radically advance the influence of local knowledge and the impact of SDI’s Know Your City campaign. These measures can ensure that infrastructure is designed to enhance city resilience rather than undermine it. An added benefit of this engagement with private sector investors is a better understanding of how to de-risk private sector infrastructure investments in informal settlements. Given that the lion’s share of the urban built environment is financed by the private sector, SDI understands that shaping the investment decisions of this sector and ensuring they do not abdicate their responsibility will be critical to inclusive and transformative development.

The Philippines slum dweller federation efforts are improving city resilience as a result of proactive multi-stakeholder collaboration, organizing actively engaged citizens, and creating protocols for consultative urban planning and investment.


Shifting Investment Decisions Toward Inclusion in Manila and Jakarta


By Smruti Jukur, Fleur Henderson, Sheela Patel, and Anne-Marie Rakhorst

City development is increasingly financed through global, national, and local private sector investments. Local and national governments welcome these investments. The public sector rarely has the resources or expertise to undertake large-scale investments to meet urgent needs. Increased private sector funding may be both the cause and the result of declining influence of state institutions, but this has not led to greater inclusion of the urban poor. Slum dwellers find themselves and their neighborhoods just as invisible as before. What is more, the risks of forced eviction and the destruction of neighborhoods and livelihoods are on the rise.

Too many city and national governments either look the other way or are complicit in accepting the negative consequences that too often result from these investments. Though politically elected by the same constituencies that get the short end of the investment stick, they see no other way of bringing in the investments they need. The problem is compounded by the fact that in most cities, the existing legal policies and frameworks deem “squatting” by the urban poor as illegal.

While it is acknowledged that there has to be business in order for urban development to take place, it cannot be business as usual—not if we truly seek inclusive, equitable, and sustainable urban development. Politicians and administrators cannot hide behind nineteenth-century legal frameworks to address twenty-first-century problems. The private sector cannot abdicate responsibility but must make investments that ensure good governance, inclusion, and scalable solutions that work for all. An organized constituency of the urban poor is a critical precondition for remedying flaws in how development takes place. But how can urban poor social movements play this role when they are forced to concentrate all their time and resources on constantly fighting evictions? The new millennium needs new alliances and new partnerships to break these exclusive and exclusionary practices.

Testing Out New Alliances

This is the story of an emerging strategy that seeks to create the disruption that is needed. It shows how SDI federations have sought to engage large multinational private sector companies, universities, and communities of the urban poor to produce new institutional arrangements with the express intention of encouraging learning and action on the ground. By creating space for the urban poor around the negotiating table, SDI is creating conditions for the emergence of precedent-setting financial solutions that are inclusive and scalable. In order to ensure that communities do not enter these negotiations empty-handed, SDI is helping the affected communities organize themselves around the data they collect and manage.

SDI is working with a Dutch-based institution, the Human Cities Coalition (HCC), in two locations in Asia: Manila, in the Philippines, and Jakarta, in Indonesia. HCC is a public-private partnership of organizations from Dutch business, government, NGOs, and academia dedicated to making cities more inclusive and sustainable. The partnership chose to focus on Jakarta and Manila because they are both megacities in a river delta. Such cities face specific challenges for which HCC is well equipped, as some members of the coalition are worldwide leaders in water management and infrastructure. At the same time, Manila and Jakarta are two of the most populous cities in Asia. A significant percentage of the population lives in informal settlements, albeit on a small fraction of land, a considerable portion of which faces severe risks in terms of flooding and waterborne diseases caused by inadequate sanitation and potable water supply.

On the positive side, both cities have governments that have acknowledged the infrastructure deficits that characterize slum areas and are therefore encouraging private interventions to bridge these gaps within a policy and regulatory framework designed and overseen by the state. Both cities have decided to undertake major water infrastructure interventions through a bidding process that places international engineering companies in the frame. These developments will produce investment plans worth trillions of dollars. They are co-financed by private companies with links to the Netherlands as well as local companies and government. HCC and SDI recognize that the current, mainly private sector, financing strategy may further marginalize the poor. There is a strong likelihood that the risks will escalate and will accelerate evictions and forced relocations of coastal slums and those in flood-prone areas. There can be no disputing the fact that these investments are urgently needed, but the challenge is how the urban poor will fare as a result. The intended outcome of the HCC/SDI collaboration is to turn this situation around by designing inclusive bidding and procurement protocols to guide investments. These protocols will demand assessment of the investments’ impact on the poor.

An Emerging Strategy

When HCC chose to work in these two locations, its board and the SDI Secretariat developed an intervention strategy. SDI and the Shared Value Foundation (SVF) undertook slum profiles in the metro areas affected by the port plans. In the Philippines, this was facilitated by the Homeless People’s Federation of the Philippines Incorporated (HPFPI), an SDI affiliate. In Jakarta, where there is no local SDI affiliate, the profiling was done by an international SDI team comprised of Indian and Filipino federations and support professionals. Data was collected using Know Your City protocols, meaning that once settlements had been identified by SDI and HCC, they were mapped and profiled by community teams. In both cities, with the support of SDI and members of HPFPI, the information was fed back to the communities before being presented by community leaders to city officials.

A singular contribution made by the community-gathered information was not the content alone but the conclusive proof it provided that the government agencies commissioning the planning through their bidding processes had hardly any data about informal settlements. As a result, they did not consider it essential to provide information to the planners or agencies applying. Indeed, the effect of the development on tens of thousands of slum families went unmentioned. At the same time, the private sector companies themselves did not find it necessary to seek or examine the information that was lacking.

The raw data itself did not produce much that was new. Today, with Google Maps in the public domain, informal settlements are no longer hidden, and the maps clearly show informal structures and settlements to anyone who takes the time and makes the effort to examine them. While open source data portals make a lot of information readily available, they cannot help communities get organized or facilitate their participation in discussions of issues that will affect their lives. The new collaboration with HCC enabled the organized communities to access new data platforms, way beyond (but not excluding) their city government. This has produced new opportunities for communities seeking to advocate against negative change and for inclusive development. At the same time, it has enabled HCC to bring an important but hitherto neglected voice into city development debates.

Long-Term Outcomes

A probable outcome from the HCC/SDI collaboration in Jakarta and Manila may be an all-important mechanism to produce a procurement and bidding protocol for water infrastructure investments and general-area developments. This would ensure, first, that local communities are involved when planning for the execution of infrastructure projects is undertaken, and, second, that residents’ needs and concerns are incorporated so that sustainable solutions are achieved. SDI and HCC can contribute to a future reality in which basic rights such as tenure security and basic services are guaranteed when international companies make investments in water-related infrastructure projects in the Global South. This could produce self- induced industry-wide commitments, backed up with inspections, to ensure that this self-regulation works.

While the details of the agreements would vary from place to place, some important requirements could be universally applied. The clearest examples would be no forced removal; no relocation without prior approval, and only to well-located land; and priority interventions identified through intensive community consultation. Through HCC, these protocols could be applied to Dutch companies seeking work in the Global South. If successful, they would be replicated elsewhere. It is clear that such a process would benefit the HCC and SDI constituencies: potential investors who are looking for suitable projects; and the urban poor, who currently suffer the negative effects of such investments.

Short-Term Outcomes

These larger plans almost always span decades. In the short to medium term, the more immediate needs of the communities become the focus for local action, with a view both to develop solutions that serve residents’ basic needs and, more importantly, to undertake these in a way that helps city administrations and other tiers of government address some fundamental issues with regard to land security and access to basic amenities and services. The dialogue, triggered by and revolving around Know Your City–generated data, initially brings to attention the unmet needs of affected communities, leading to exploration of a range of possibilities and the taking up of demonstration projects to test impact, cost, and usefulness.

In the long run, the urban poor produce concepts for upgrading or relocation of settlements and participate in developing spatial designs, house plans, and the prioritization of the kinds of services needed. They also commit to making contributions in cash and in-kind, to the extent they can. At the same time, the city and other centers of government, where possible, allocate budgeted resources and effect the changes in policy that are needed to make participatory planning and development work. The private sector undertakes the production and execution of the project and helps train the communities in future maintenance. The three-way commitment of community, government, and private sector is affirmed in practice, building interdependence and trans-sector accountability.

Priorities will differ from one situation to the next. In Malabon City, in Metro Manila, the diagnostics based on the maps and profiles pointed urgently to lack of access to electricity. While this can be provided by private agencies, it is still largely linked with tenure status: no formal title, no legal connection. This is why SDI and HCC have responded jointly by developing business propositions around community-managed solar energy hubs.

In Penjaringan, in North Jakarta, the diagnostics based on the maps and profiles pointed to lack of access to affordable, safe water and sanitation. Water in Jakarta is largely supplied by private concessions but is generally inaccessible to the poor. Whatever they buy for drinking water purposes costs three to four times what those who live in formal neighborhoods pay and represents 20 percent of their income. A possible solution may be found in business models that look at more effective provision of safe water using existing networks.

SDI’s primary role is to ensure that communities are organized and equipped with the knowledge and capacity not only to produce data but to use it in the cut and thrust of negotiations. Interdependence does not necessarily mean shared vision and shared interest. From SDI’s perspective, it means a recognition by all stakeholders that the urban poor are sufficiently capitalized socially, politically, and economically to have skin in the game. Partnerships with private sector initiatives like HCC strengthen their position.

SDI encourages all organizations of the urban poor to count in order to be counted. Without information about themselves and without being organized, the poor will remain on the outside looking in. There are many examples in the other papers in this document that demonstrate that community-gathered, owned, and managed data can link the disparate worlds of the slum dweller in a shack and the government official behind a desk. It is also the instrument that triangulates this arrangement, drawing in the private sector player and making sure he does not enter the game with eyes wide shut.

In February, SDI launched a landmark publication titled “Know Your City: Slum Dwellers Count,” showcasing the extraordinary contribution of the Know Your City (KYC) campaign to creating understanding and taking action to reduce urban poverty and exclusion. We are posting a new chapter from the book every week. Enjoy! 

Download the full publication here:

From Purok to Barangay: Mapping Informality in Philippine Cities



By the Homeless People’s Federation of the Philippines, Inc.

The  Homeless People’s Federation of the Philippines, Inc. (HPFPI), commenced their settlement profiling and mapping in January 2015 during a learning exchange supported by the Indian Alliance. The exchange brought together participants from different regions of the country like the NCR, Cebu, Davao and Kidapawanin San Isidro, Jaro, and Iloilo City.  Since then, the Federation and their support staff have been actively mapping and profiling in three cities: Valenzuela, Davao and Iloilo City.

Erlinda Mosqueda, Valenzuela Peoples Organization Network (VALPONET), President/Community Worker, reflects:

“I had a good experience in doing settlement profiling and mapping. I learned how to use the GPS (Global Positioning System) device. Once I saw our settlement in the computer through the GPS device, I felt it was a success.

We also experienced many hardships. Our first step was to have a courtesy call to the head of the Barangay (the smallest government unit of the city) before going to the community. Some communities refused to be interviewed because they were afraid the data that will be gathered might be used against them. In spite of these struggles, we were able to interview 21 communities.

I saw the importance of doing settlement profiling and mapping, the use of new technology, and how to encode. At least we learned something. I felt happy.

Before I do not know also how to do the settlement profiling. Being president of our network, VALPONET, I want other leaders to know also how to interview using the settlement profiling form and now I am happy that there are already other community leaders who know how to interview using the settlement profiling form.

One of our challenges is that only one knows from our network how to upload the settlement profiling form in the computer. It is a challenge for us to learn how to use the computer because this is the trend now.

The important thing about doing the settlement profiling and mapping is when one community asks for their own data, the VALPONET is ready to give them.”  

Valenzuela City is part of the Metropolitan Manila, Philippines. Together with 16 other cities and a municipality it forms part of the most populous region in the Philippines. A total of 8 settlements have thus far been profiled by the federation. Six of these settlements are undeclared settlements with insecure land tenure with an estimated population of 17,121 persons. The Federation estimates that there are approximately 3,369 structures in total, of which about 376 are residential-cum-business structures and a further 129 full business structures. Businesses in settlements offer access to goods and services within the settlement and serve as a livelihood stream for many families.




Davao City is a highly urbanised city and said to be the fourth most populous city in the Philippines. The federation has profiled a total of 6 slums thus far with an estimated population of 17,033 persons and an estimated 2657 structures in total of which 2,309 are residential. Securing land tenure is a priority in 5 of these settlements. Access to adequate sanitation and sewerage was named by the 6th settlement as their most important development priority.


In Iloilo City the federation has profiled two communities thus far. The estimated total population in these communities is 2,261. Both of these settlements are undeclared, with insecure land tenure, security of tenure, and housing identified as the most important community development priorities.


Of the 23 settlements the Philippine federations has profiled and documented thus far, 13 of these are currently facing eviction threats. Floods and strong winds have been listed as the most often occurring natural disasters.





Interview using the informal settlement profile form


Interview with barangay officials regarding barangay profile and boundary at Ungka Jaro, Iloilo