The regional office of the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM VII) in Central Visayas led by Regional Director Atty. Bruce N. Ragas and Asst. Regional Director Darlynn S. Remolino held its 2nd Regional Population Conference (RPMC) with over twenty (20) Population Officers attending online last May 28, 2020 (Thursday) from 2 to 4:30 in the afternoon.  This is the first online RPMC in the context of the pandemic, the pre-vaccine period (PVP) and ongoing quarantine in the region.

 The Agenda included sharing the Demographic Vulnerability Tool (DVT) tables of POPCOM endorsed by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) by virtue of Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) 2020-001 which was presented to the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) in Region VII and other government agencies last May 5, 2020 in Cebu City.  These key DVT indicators in the barangay-level determine whether or not a local government unit (LGU) has risks -high, medium or low – depending on three (3) main factors: 1. The size of household spaces less than 20 square meters and number of people living therein that should not be more than four (4) to ensure physical distancing; 2. The number of senior citizens or people with ages 60 years old and above that should not be over twenty (20) living with others in spaces less than 20 square meters; and 3.) The number of senior citizens or people 60 years old and above that should not be over ten (10) living alone in a house as they need to go out for their needs.  

Demographic Vulnerability Tool (DVT) Database Tables

            The DVT database tables available at the POPCOM website has a total of seven (7) tables for barangays to refer in view of land area, population, presence of COVID 19 cases (confirmed, suspect and probable) and the three (3) other demographic vulnerabilities explained earlier. POPCOM believes that the DVT tables are important demographic references for planning and implementing pandemic response; identifying and implementing location in quarantine and physical distancing; prioritizing and quantifying support; and seeing vulnerability trends in the barangay level.  Initial and unofficial analysis of the DVTs of the tri-cities in Metro Cebu (Cebu City, Lapulapu City and Mandaue City) were presented based on the data gathered from POPCOM Central Office with assumptions and data reference from the Philippine Statistics Office by the POPCOM statistician.  These data and analyses however, need to be validated by the LGUs, the DILG and the PSA.

For example, Cebu City (with 80 barangays) registers that 88.8% barangays have less than 20 square meters with more than 4 people living therein; 92.5% barangays have over 20 senior citizens living with others in houses with spaces less than 20 square meters; and 75% barangays have more than 10 senior citizens living alone.  Cebu City’s vulnerability is 67.5%.  Lapulapu City (which has 30 barangays) registers that 100% or all barangays have less than 20 square meters with over 4 people residing therein; 96.7% barangays have more than 20 senior citizens living with others in spaces less than 20 square meters; and 90% barangays have more than 10 senior citizens living alone.  Lapulapu City’s level of vulnerability is 90%. Mandaue City (which has 27 barangays) registers that 92.6% barangays have less than 20 square meters with over 4 people residing therein; 92.6% barangays have more than 20 senior citizens living with others in spaces less than 20 square meters; and 70.4% barangays have more than 10 senior citizens living alone.  The level of vulnerability is 70.4%.  These data per se, need further validation from the LGUs, DILG and PSA.

          For the DVT tables, all Population Officers representing the LGUs were encouraged to provide actual data of population, land area, and other demographic vulnerability data as discussed to provide better analysis and probable coordination with UP for GIS mapping.

Interim Guidelines on the Provision of Pre-Marriage Orientation and Counselling Program

         Other items discussed were the Interim Guidelines on the Provision of Pre-Marriage Orientation and Counselling services contained in Joint Advisory 2020-01 issued by POPCOM, DILG, DOH, DSWD, and PSA on existing protocols in the time of pandemic considering the content of sessions and methodologies with the help of audio-visual presentations to a maximum of four (4) couples while strictly observing physical distancing of at least three feet or one meter apart. In the entire duration of the session, strict use of face mask or other protective equipment must also be followed.  Facilitators are constrained to refrain from having physical interaction between and among the couples. The PMOC Team from the LGUs are required to conduct the PMO session at a minimum of two hours while the PMC session at a minimum of one and half hours, and with both sessions conducted within the same calendar day, while complying with all other public health standards, such as temperature check and other health examination, personal protection and hygiene, cleanliness of facilities, and safety use of equipment.

         The PMOC team is also given an option to conduct non-interactive session where couples are participating outside of the PMOC session hall and in their respective homes with the standard fifteen (15) couples for the PMO and six (6) couples for the PMC that may be accommodated under this mode.

          Also provided for under the interim guidelines is that the PMOC Certificates are considered valid for a period of one year from its issuance. In the event that the issued marriage license to a would-be couple expires without being utilized due to the difficulty brought by the public health emergency prompting the couple to re-apply for the same, the previously issued PMOC certificates may still be used by the would-be couple without the need to attend the PMOC sessions.  The PMOC was designed by POPCOM with the Department of Health (DOH), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) as a crucial first step prior to getting married, to guide the couples that the decision to get married must be well thought out, and must be made only after careful consideration, thorough understanding, and ample preparation. In ordinary times, all marriage license applicants are required to attend a pre-marriage orientation to be conducted by a team of facilitators for at least four hours. For applicant couples, at least one member who is 18-25 years old must also attend the Pre-Marriage Counseling (PMC) to be conducted by an accredited pre-marriage counselor.  But with the onset of the pandemic, provisions to the conduct of the PMOC are also adjusted to the current situation.

POPCOM Helpline

          Another item discussed by Assistant Regional Director Darlynn S. Remolino was POPCOM Helpline on the flow of referral system with focus on RPFP during COVID 19 crisis from the central to the regional level for clients to have a contact center ensuring continued flow of services even during quarantine and stay-at-home order when people cannot easily go out, when there is need for ECQ passes and transportation is difficult.  Some of the regional staff assigned as responders act like call center agents to concerns on family planning (FP), adolescent sexual health, teenage pregnancy, STI, HIV and AIDS-prevention and incidents of Gender-Based Violence (GBV).  POPCOM and other sectors are hoping that there is no baby boom in December with unplanned pregnancy in this period of quarantine because the local health facilities and the health support system are already overburdened and childbirth and maternal health care would add to the concerns.  The POPCOM Helpline provides access to services and referral, strengthen barangay emergency response team, and clients are redirected to appropriate health facilities and service providers with the help of communication channels – landlines, cellphones, internet, emails and social media.

          The other purpose of the POPCOM Helpline is to provide basic and essential information to clients on RPFP, AHD, GBV, other sexual health concerns, make commodities available to clients with service provider, such as implant insertions, information- dissemination on the concerns of young people – physical and physiological information for adolescents, GBV- referral services to clients with a referral system in the barangay level following protocols to access services, such as  identifying the victim and informing the LGU – creating a two-way intervention; receiving clients’ reports and other population-related issues.  ARD Remolino clarified that POPCOM Helpline is only for basic information, and with GBV, for example, it is not intended for counselling; otherwise, clients are referred to MCWD/MSWD and local service providers. The POPCOM Helpline has an existing Manual and Guidelines/ Protocol to follow; it is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. All Population Officers in Central Visayas were requested to disseminate the POPCOM Helpline and to provide the regional office with directories of contact numbers of the barangays in the region. 

          The 2nd RPMC ended with some RPFP Updates from Carl Dave B. Ang, POPCOM Representative who shared that FP commodities were distributed: condoms, pills, PSIs in Metro Cebu; shipped in Bohol, Negros Oriental, Siquijor and Bantayan Island.   Free services on BTL in Camotes Island and Olango Island will continue with its outreach program in coordination with DKT Phils. Those interested with NS Vasectomy, may also be provided. Lastly, the participants were informed on the availability of POPCOM VII 2019 Annual Accomplishment Report in the website and the 1st Tri-Annual Newsletter, entitled “Banay’ng Bantugan” that will soon be uploaded in the POPCOM VII website.

Writer:

Maria Lourdes A. Garillos

Information Officer II – IMCU