March 12, 2020
Duterte’s COVID-19 Response: Pandora’s box of hunger, insecurity
President Rodrigo Duterte during his live telecast address to the nation, placed the Philippines under Code Red Sub-level 2. The National Capital Region (NCR) is on lockdown. Travel in and out of the NCR has been suspended. Provinces with at least 2 confirmed COVID-19 cases shall be placed under mandatory quarantine. Work in Government offices is suspended with a proviso on maintaining a skeletal workforce. Flexible work arrangement is enjoined on the private sector. To enforce the President’s order, referred loosely by him as a Resolution, the police and military are being called in.
While quarantines are normally resorted to in the event of a pandemic, in the context of the Philippines, sans a programmatic approach, this may present more of a hazard rather than a solution.
Slashing P10 Billion from the health budget under the 2020 General Appropriations Act is symptomatic of the lack of priority to the health situation of the populace. This is potentially deadly in the context of a pandemic. The sudden surge of COVID-19 contamination is an immediate aftermath of this Executive misstep. For this, the Government plans to borrow funds to support its COVID interventions. In the end, the people are being double-billed for their own treatment.
That the Government intends to deploy police and military to carry out its Resolution is characteristic of Duterte who is fixated on military solutions. The same killing machine driving the President’s bloody drug war and anti-insurgency campaign is now being unleashed to herd millions of Metro Manila residents. A military solution to a health problem overlooks social realities that the masses have to endure on a daily basis – hunger, poverty, lack of basic social services. The approach is more punitive rather than preventive and remedial.
Sorely lacking in the address are more important questions to the everyday lives of millions of Filipinos: will the Government capacitate the people against continuous contamination? Will prices of basic goods and commodities be controlled against quarters who are capitalizing on COVID-19 to amass superprofits? What protection shall be put in place to protect millions of workers who in their hand to mouth existence will be deprived of their wages as a result of the lockdown? How will social distancing be translated in the slums, in the long queues at LRT, MRT and PNR stations? These and many more.
Instead of clarity, more questions arise. What is certain is that with all these left unaddressed, it opens up a Pandora’s box that is deadlier than COVID-19.
Signed: Atty. Aaron Pedrosa #