NO ONE IS AN ISLAND Harnessing our People’s Energies to Meet the Threat of COVID-19

Statement of Laban ng Masa, March 17, 2020

Our country faces today a great challenge – the COVID-19 pandemic that afflicts more than 150 countries. Our public health personnel have been grappling 24/7 with containing COVID-19 since late January. They have rushed hospital facilities, undertaken contact tracing, conducted testing, and dispersed frontline fighters to educate people on measures to protect themselves. Despite their best efforts, cases of COVID-19 infection have risen to 187, with the death toll at 12.

In contrast to our public health personnel, our political authorities seem to fail in the tasks they are supposed to be doing in support of frontline efforts. They have issued decrees with few guidelines for implementation, creating confusion among LGUs and chaos in our communities. In the latest step to stem the advance of the virus, the government has pushed for an “enhanced community quarantine” of the whole of Luzon Island.

While containment is necessary to combat the spread of disease, our political leaders have approached it as a military operation, forcing people’s compliance with threats of arrest. The new order which imposes more stringent measures is blind to the grave consequences for the vulnerable and marginalized. Those who do not have the support system to tide them over this period will carry most of the social cost of these top-down measures.

While COVID-19 does not discriminate and can infect anybody, the risks for disease are not evenly distributed in our society. Who survives the epidemic is greatly determined by who has more in life – to afford care, to drive to the nearest hospital, to stave off hunger, to counter the cruel measures that deny survival options of marginalized people. The epidemic thus exposes and deepens the inequalities in Philippine society.

Any public health emergency decision must take into account the differential impacts of measures on various sectors of society.

With this in mind, we in Laban ng Masa feel the following principles should guide the national strategy to deal with COVID-19.

1/ Public health personnel should direct the effort at all levels, with politicians, police, and the military in a subordinate role.

2/ While a strong central direction of the strategy is important, it must not be conducted as a top-down police or military operation, but instill persuasion and education as the key approaches to getting community support for massive but necessary disruptions of their lives.

3/ Civil society organizations (CSO’s), labor unions, religious organizations, and other citizens’ organizations must participate as vital social actors.

4/ We must draw from the best practices of societies that have dealt most effectively so far with the virus, like Vietnam, Macao, South Korea and Singapore.

5/ Transparency and respect for freedom of expression, and the truth, are essential if we are to avoid the terrible disasters unfolding in some countries, like the United States.

6/ Government and the private sector must provide financial and other support mechanisms to working people whose jobs and livelihoods are disrupted by the containment measures. In this regard, Laban ng Masa supports the following urgent measures:

a) Congress should immediately pass supplemental measures or amendments tripling the health budget, with money taken from already allocated funds for national defense, other security-related funds, disaster funds, and presidential discretionary funds.

b) Congress should immediately pass supplemental measures or amendments tripling the budget for DOLE and DSWD, also with money taken from already allocated security, disaster, and presidential funds, with provisions specifying the use of these funds for making up for lost income of lower income families during the emergency.

c) All officials from the level of assistant secretary and above in government departments and their counterparts in specialized government bodies, in Congress, and in the judiciary must donate one months’ worth of their salaries to make up for the loss of income of low income families.

d) Private companies must be encouraged to set up funds to support workers and their families during the emergency, with such funds taken from company profits as well as voluntary cuts in the salaries of upper management. Moreover, companies must not use the crisis as an excuse to cut their work forces or roll back labor rights.

COVID -19 has brought to light the fragile health conditions of the majority of our people, owing to poverty, inequality, and sheer lack of concern of the wealthy minority. If there is one thing the pandemic teaches us, it is that one’s life is bound up with the conditions of existence of others, and the worse off these are, the greater the boomerang on those enjoying a better life when a threat like COVID-19 comes along. No one is an island. Capitalism, which places competition above cooperation, is the root of our country’s spectacular failure to deal with the current crisis.

A healthy society made possible by greater equality and compassion for one another is one of our best protections against the threat posed by pandemics. Hopefully, the need to establish our society on the pillars of equality and shared prosperity, instead of massive inequality, will be one of the lessons we will internalize from this crisis.

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