The Duterte regime’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was too little, too late. While the epidemic was rampaging in China and nearby countries, government officials led by Duterte himself belittled the threat. A travel ban from China’s affected areas should have immediately been put in place. Government should also have made provisions for massive testing and extensive contract-tracing in preparation for the eventual arrival of the disease in the country. Measures should have been taken for the public health system, down to the community level, to prepare for the crisis. But these were not done.
By March 18, 2020, only 1,030 have been tested for COVID-19, a miniscule number compared to the 75,000 possible infections in the last three months, according to the DOH. Currently, more there are more than 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines and the number is expected to grow dramatically in the coming days.
The current lockdown, euphemistically called “enhanced community quarantine” in Luzon is a result of the widescale neglect and late response to the crisis that was already foreseen in early February. Worse, government planners failed to take into consideration the conditions and needs of the sectors most vulnerable to the negative consequences of the lockdown.
There is an urgent need to halt or significantly delay the spread of COVID-19 considering it is incurable and will most likely cause many deaths of vulnerable sections of the population. This is the most immediate task that government has to address even as it needs to provide socio-economic support to those most affected by the lockdown.
The following are our demands in the light of the lockdown and other measures to address the COVID-19:
1. Provide adequate funds for free testing, treatment and containment of COVID-19, as well as the rehabilitation of our health services. Immediately tap the P13 billion Contingency Fund, P16 billion Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund, and the President’s more than P4.5 billion Confidential and Intelligence Fund, aside from funds alloted for counter-insurgency, tourism, debt servicing and others. Congress should immediately act on the P1.6 billion supplemental budget for COVID-19 measures.
2. Provide free and systematic mass testing. Test all those suspected of COVID-19 infection (Persons Under Investigation or PUI and Persons Under Monitoring or PUM) especially in high priority areas (surveillance or sentinel testing) to identify who are infected, where and how it is spreading in order to come up with concrete plans and measures against its spread. Priority should be given to those with symptoms like sore throat, colds, cough, fever, pneumonia – whether severe or not – and those exposed to confirmed COVID-19 victims. In relation to this, increase the number of available testing kits, build more testing centers and laboratories with trained personnel.
3. Provide hospitals with additional equipment, supplies and personnel. Assign COVID-19-specific hospitals (public and private) in Metro Manila, Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao with adequate equipment, supplies and trained personnel to provide free treatment to suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients. Add isolation rooms and ensure no less than 3,000 ventilators to be distributed to various hospitals. Subsidize private hospitals if necessary. Implement mass hiring of nurses and other health workersto fill the 17,000 vacant plantilla positions in public hospitals and the 42,000 nurses needed to complement current health staffing in our community health centers. Tap those taking the March 2020 Physician Licensure Examination to complement the number of doctors.
4. Build community-based sanitation facilities and quarantine centers. Establish handwashing facilities, sanitation tents, disinfection facilities, and quarantine centers at various levels – baranggay, municipality, city and region – to halt the spread of the disease and provide ca
re to patients. Home quarantine is not realistic nor practical in our many small and crowded communities, aside from there being a lack of proper care and monitoring of PUMs and PUIs sent home.
5. Ensure support and protection to our frontliners. Provide adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to health workers, doctors, nurses, medical and ex-ray technicians, and others directly involved in anti-COVID19 efforts. Provide them adequate transport services to and from work. Ensure safe and healthy working conditions – nutritious food, rest, hazard pay, free and regular COVID-19 testing, and other forms of support. This includes both hospital-based personnel, those in triage areas outside hospitals tasked to screen patients, and those deployed to collect specimens for testing. Community health workers that help in public information, education and sanitation drives should be provided PPEs like masks, alcohol, gloves, etc.
6. Improve systems and protocols to address COVID-19 down to the community level. Ensure correct, timely and understandable public information about COVID-19 and how to avoid infection. Provide clear instructions on the nearest and facility for suspected COVID-19 patients. Provide transportation to patients needing hospital care. Train Barangay Health Workers (BHW), relief and disaster management personnel, and volunteers for their effective participation in anti-COVID-19 efforts. Fix the loopholes and deficiencies in the unified and comprehensive health system and management of the crisis. Issue clear guidelines and support mechanisms from the national to the local governments, recognizing each LGU’s capabilities and limitations. Use persuasive and participatory mechanisms instead of repressive measures and intimidation for people to follow quarantine protocols.
7. Prohibit layoffs and provide assistance to affected workers. Require mandatory paid leaves (on top of regular leave credits) to workers who cannot report to work due to sickness or the lockdown or financial assistance of no less than P10,000 for affected contractual and informal workers who are not qualified for paid leaves. Provide assistance to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that cannot afford paid leaves. Immediately implement DOLE’s order for a P5,000 COVID Adjustment Measures Program for affected private employees and P5,000 Tulong Pangkabuhayan sa Displaced/Underprivileged Workers (TUPAD), to include street vendors and public transport drivers.
8. Distribute emergency relief packs to the poor. Include food, face masks, vitamins, medicines, soap, alcohol, and sanitizers like bleach. Packs should be distributed house to house in accordance with social distancing protocols. Reduce conditions and expand the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program and use the more than P56.4B available funds for unconditional cash transfers (UCT) to help the poor. Increase the capability and funds of DSWD’s crisis intervention units (CIU) run by social workers.
9. Implement a moratorium on payments and penalties of basic utilities and services. This covers payments for water, electricity, telecommunications, rent, interest and principal payments, and taxes. Extend the April 15 deadline for annual income tax returns.
10. Control the prices and ensure adequate supply of basic goods and services. In particular, impose a moratorium and price ceilings on basic utilities, medicines, rice and other staples. Ensure the continuous entry of food and agricultural products from the countryside to high population urban centers.
11. Ensure transportation to those who need it. Aside from frontliners and essential workers, patients, people buying food, and stranded folk on their way home must be provided limited but adequate transportasyon services in accordance with social distancing protocols.
12. Prohibit the demolition of informal settlers and provide shelter to the homeless. Efforts should be taken to provide those stranded by the lockdown to go home. Ensure that the homeless are provided decent shelters
where their needs can be addressed.
Act against COVID-19 and government neglect
The foregoing demands are addressed mainly to the government that has the greatest capacity to act on them but has failed so far. However, these are also measures that everyone, especially the organized sectors, can and should try to achieve through various means and in different levels.
Thus, we are all called upon to act as citizens to push government to fulfill its task of protecting our people and do what we can to cope. Let us help our frontline personnel and agencies and coordinate with the baranggays, hospitals, LGUs and other agencies to address our demands. Let us take the initiative of organizing volunteer brigades that can be involved in information, sanitation and disinfection drives, and relief operations in our communities. Let us use social media to help in efforts against COVID-19 and to help achieve our demands.
It is likewise important to intensify efforts to expose and hold accountable those responsible for the government’s neglect of the crisis, led by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte. Even as we do our part in fighting COVID-19, let us engage in widespread and appropriate protests in order to push government into pressure government officials into doing their jobs. Let us demand support and protection for the poor and those most vulnerable to the lockdown.
Serbisyong medikal, hindi aksyong militar!
Check-up, hindi checkpoint! Ayudang sosyo-ekonomiko, ngayon na!
Iligtas ang bayan! Alisin ang virus sa Malacañang!