Bayan urges gov’t to prioritize the poor during lockdown extension

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said it is not surprised that the government extended by another two weeks the Luzon-wide lockdown to contain the corona virus disease (Covid-19) but raised concerns on how the Rodrigo Duterte administration would be able to deliver assistance to poor families.

Reacting to the government’s announcement of the lockdown extension, Bayan urged the government to prioritize the most vulnerable families, communities and sectors as these would suffer the greatest pressures of the extended community quarantine period.

“The longer the lockdown, the greater the number of people needing assistance. Even the middle class is feeling the increasing burden,” the country’s biggest alliance of progressive groups said in a statement.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles announced in a “virtual presser” last Tuesday, April 7, that the government has decided to extend the island-wide lockdown until April 30 after confirming the decision with Duterte.

Bayan said that for the extended lockdown to be successful in fighting COVID19, government should ensure the following:

1. Adequate economic aid for the poor and even the middle class,

2. Increase in capacity of our public health system, from testing kits and labs, quarantine facilities, to PPE’s for frontliners, and

3. Respect human rights.

Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said the three items were the issues need to be addressed during the extension.

“These are the same issues that government failed to address during the first phase of the lockdown,” Reyes said of the four-week old lockdown.

Bayan quoted a study by the University of the Philippines pointing out to a potentially greater number of infections in the future, from 140,000 to 550,000, especially among poor and densely populated urban communities even during the implementation of the lockdown.

The group said that a lockdown without adequate social protection only burdens the poor and vulnerable sectors and does not stop the spread of disease.

“A lockdown with no comprehensive health program will only lead to another extension.  No doubt, the people want to move forward and beat Covid-19. This cannot be done if the poor and vulnerable sectors are left to fend for themselves and their voices silenced,” Reyes said.

Reyes’ group asked the government to find ways to allow limited economic activities for some sectors in order to provide people with livelihood. 

Bayan also urged that human rights should be respected at all times and freedom of speech guaranteed.

“The people should be heard not silenced,” Reyes said in reference to government threats to file cyber-libel charges against those who post critical opinions on social media accounts.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has also admitted issuing directives against employees who criticize the government, saying they should “not bite the hand that feeds them.”

Bayan also said that the country’s massive budget for debt servicing, P450.9 billiom or 11% of the P 4.1 trillion 2020 national budget, should be re-channelled to fund social protection programs at the time of the pandemic.

“A moratorium on debt payments should be considered now. Other items such as intelligence funds, counter-insurgency funds and porkbarrel funds should be scrapped to free up resources for the fight against Covid-19,” Bayan urged.

The group added that local government units should also be given financial assistance by the national government to provide for the needs of the people. 

“People first. This should be the overriding consideration in facing the pandemic and dealing with the continued community quarantine,” Reyes said, warning that continued failures of the government can no longer be tolerated in the face of a dangerous pandemic. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)