March 13, 2020
Reference: Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, BAYAN Chairperson
Last night’s announcement by the President of a “community quarantine” in Metro Manila does not assure the public that government is taking the necessary steps to address the public health, safety and economic impacts of the COVID19 pandemic.
The order that amounts to a temporary lockdown of Metro Manila in the wake of increased and local COVID19 infections appears to focus mainly on limiting the movement of people rather than addressing the more urgent health requirements and economic needs of Metro Manila’s residents, especially its poor and vulnerable communities.
Left out of the order is the need for government to initiate massive clean up and sanitation drives in schools, workplaces and high density communities, including ensuring 24-hour water services to ensure that hand washing and other hygiene procedures can be realistically followed.
The order is also silent on the clamor for government to provide face masks, vitamins, and free testing and treatment for COVID19 on top of the limited package offered by Philhealth. It did not provide mechanisms for the deployment of doctors, nurses and other health workers in the communities to provide relevant and timely information and instruction, as well as directly address the people’s legitimate health concerns as well as fears.
It was silent on how government plans to set up more isolation rooms, produce more testing kits and other facilities to accommodate the increasing number of those afflicted by the disease. It did not address the growing reality that even our health workers especially those in the frontlines are themselves being downed with the disease or, because they are inadequately protected with standard equipment, have had to be quarantined as well thus cutting down the number of personnel needed in these critical times to screen, monitor and care for patients.
As to the impact of COVID19 on people’s livelihoods, the order was silent on government assistance for those already dislocated and still to be dislocated by COVID19 and the lockdown itself, especially for contractual and informal workers with no access to SSS unemployment benefits.
Notable was the confusing policy on the quarantine itself, with the order stating that land, air and sea travel in and out of Metro Manila would be suspended but officials later qualifying that workers and goods will be exempted, which appears to defeat the purpose of the quarantine.
Also worrisome was the President’s emphasis on the police and military’s role in enforcing the lockdown, his specific mention of protests as a prohibited form of mass gathering, and his veiled threat of mass arrests and “things getting messy” if people don’t heed his order. If not for COVID19, it sounded as if he was declaring martial law, which was perhaps the reason why he had to stress that he was not.
Finally, the President’s ad-lib about running to China when all else fails was highly improper and uncalled for, leaving us in greater doubt as to whether the Duterte regime is really capable — and serious — about addressing the COVID19 crisis. #