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42nd Annual Conference of the Ugnayang Pang-Aghamtao, Inc. (UGAT)


Online Conference hosted by the Ateneo Institute of Anthropology

Ateneo De Davao University, Davao City, Philippines

21 November 2020

Encountering the COVID-19 Virus in Mindanao:

Peoples’ Responses to the Pandemic

Conference Convener: Augusto B. Gatmaytan, Ph.D.

(Ateneo de Davao University)

This is a world that is now hyper-aware of the spread of COVID-19 virus across the globe, and across our country.  Even those who question the pandemic’s reality or existence have to acknowledge how it has captured the rest of the world’s resources, energy and imagination.  As of 14 September 2020, the World Health Organization reports a total of 28,637,952 cases of infection worldwide and 917,417 resulting deaths.  In the Philippines, there are 257,863 confirmed cases and 4,292 deaths. Beyond this massive loss of life and the wave of grief in its wake, there are the economic and political consequences of the lockdowns and other responses to the pandemic of states and peoples.  Given that ‘the way humanity exists in the world … is by being social through and through’ (Fuentes 2020: 24) we also note the cultural, health and psychological consequences of quarantines and social distancing.  Observers have noted that the virus does not operate as a ‘great leveler’, affecting rich and poor, powerful and powerless alike.  Instead, the pandemic seems to disproportionately afflict the poor and marginalized sectors of society.

It is this skewed impact that encourages us to draw on the Anthropology of Disasters in the analysis of the pandemic and its impact.  This literature emphasizes that a disaster is not just a natural event—such as the leap of a virus from an animal host into the human population—but also ‘the product of social, political and economic environments [that] structure the lives of different groups of people’ (Wisner, et al. 2004: 4, also Bankoff 2003: 154).  Our approach to the pandemic must thus address ‘the amount of “access” that people have to the capabilities, assets and livelihood opportunities that will enable them … to reduce their vulnerability’ to disasters, while keeping in mind that this ‘pattern of access … is subject to (and the result of) agency, decision making …, struggle over resources, and also cooperation’ (Wisner, et al. 2004: 79, 99).  This draws analytic attention from the state’s response to the pandemic, to the ‘everyday social inequalities … that determine who becomes infected in the first place’ (Keck, et al. 2019: 4).  It is this attention to the social that now serves as the starting point for explaining why it is the poor who bear the brunt of the pandemic’s impact.

This is not to reduce the poor and marginalized to ‘vulnerable and helpless victims’ of the pandemic (following Gaillard 2015: 13).  Rather, it calls for greater consideration of peoples’ capacities to ‘face threats’, which capacities are ‘often rooted in resources that are endogenous to the community and that rely on local knowledge, indigenous skills and technologies, and solidarity networks’ (id.).  Moreover, the reaction of a person—or of a family or neighborhood, organization or institution, local government unit or state—to a disaster is ‘not random, unordered and wholly immediate’, but follows from ‘what those events mean and represent to them within their interpretative schemes’ (Bankoff 2003: 159).  Thus, ‘attention to local explanations and experiences of epidemic events [provide] a critical space to interrogate the differing social impacts of outbreak response’ (Keck, et al. 2019: 3).


It is with the intention of exploring Mindanao peoples’ explanations and experiences of the pandemic that the Ugnayang Agham Tao (UGAT) invites scholars, practitioners, teachers and students of Anthropology, colleagues in the social sciences, and other stakeholders to submit proposals to present case studies at the Mindanao Regional Conference of the 42nd Annual Conference of the UGAT.  The organizers are interested in studies illustrating and illuminating peoples’ understandings of, and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including Lumad and Bangsamoro communities, whose experiences remain underreported.  This conference will be an online or virtual conference hosted by the Ateneo Institute of Anthropology, scheduled for 21 November 2020.  No registration fees will be charged for presenting in, or attending this regional conference.


The case studies documenting and explicating local responses to the pandemic may be presented or read live during the conference, or be in the form of pre-taped audio presentations, or of videos or slide-presentations with or without live commentary.  Those interested in making a presentation may email their proposal in the form of an abstract of not more than 250 words to  The deadline for submission will be on 01 October 2020.  Notice of acceptance of proposals will be issued by email by mid-October.

For further information, please visit the website of UGAT at or send a message at You may also check out UGAT’s Facebook Page at for updates.



Bankoff, Greg.  2003.  Cultures of Disaster:  Society and Natural Hazard in the Philippines.  London and New York:  RoutledgeCurzon.


Fuentes, Agustin. 2020. A (Bio) Anthropological View of the Covid-19 Era Midstream: Beyond the Infection, Anthropology Now. 12:1, 24-31, DOI: 10.1081/19428200.2020.1760635.  ISSN: 1942-8200 (Online) journal homepage: https://www.tandfoline.come/loi/uann20.


Gaillard, J.C.  2015.  People’s Response to Disasters in the Philippines:  Vulnerability, Capacities, and Resilence.  New York:  Palgrave Macmillan.


Keck, Frederic, Ann H. Kelly, and Christos Lynteris.  2019.  ‘Introduction:  The Anthropology of Epidemics’, in The Anthropology of Epidemics, ed. Ann H. Kelly, Frederic Keck, Christos Lynteris.  London and New York:  Routledge.  Pp. 1-24.


Wisner, Ben, Piers Blaikie, Terry Cannon and Ian Davis.  2004.  At Risk:  Natural Hazards, Peoples’ Vulnerability and Disasters, 2nd ed.  London and New York:  Routledge.


World Health Organization.  2020.  Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Weekly Epidemiological Update and Weekly Operational Update (as of 14 September 2020), at, accessed on 14 September 2020.

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