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Lawyer, CHR score Duterte’s order vs non-mask wearers

President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to have those who do not wear masks or wear them improperly arrested undermines the rule of law and may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse by government authorities, a lawyers’ group and the Commission on Human Rights said.

Reacting to Duterte’s verbal order issued Wednesday night, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia said the arrest directive is another authoritarian edict by the President.

“[T]he legal justification is not only inapplicable but erroneous because there appears to be no clearly defined crime or offense covered by any specific law or lawful ordinance for a valid instance of warrantless arrest to operate,” Olalia said.

The human rights lawyers said the order is a “cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment disproportionate to the evil sought to be supposedly addressed.”

He said its implementation may again be discriminatory as shown by the arrest, detention and death of mostly poor people arising from various coronavirus lockdown orders implemented by the government since the pandemic hit the Philippines in March 2020.

“This is what we get when we have knee-jerk draconian ideas rather than commonsensical solutions… Imagine the time, effort, resources – even brain neurons – to be spent legislating, enforcing, arresting, detaining, prosecuting and convicting for such a petty misdemeanor,” Olalia said.

He added that Duterte’s “serial mailed fist cures” would just worsen the coronavirus problem and lock the people up in the “slippery slope of inane coercive measures.”

The lawyer suggested providing facemasks for free to those who cannot afford them and launching massive popular information drives to prevent further congestion of the government’s jail facilities.

‘Detain them!’

In a meeting with pandemic task force officials Wednesday night, Duterte admitted he is at a loss on how to stem the rising number of coronavirus cases in the country.

“My orders to the police are, those who are not wearing their mask properly, in order to protect the public… to arrest them,” the President said.

“Detain them, investigate them why they’re doing it,” he said.

The chief executive said the police may detain those arrested to up to nine hours.

“If I don’t do this strictly, nothing will happen,” he said in Filipino.

‘Abusive’

The Commission on Human Rights however agreed with Olalia and said in a statement Thursday it is concerned that in the absence of clear guidelines, Duterte’s directive may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse.

“[W]ith the noted rise of human rights violations arising from violations of health protocols, we have stressed the need for reasonable and humane disciplinary measures for violators,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.

De Guia noted that several local government units have passed ordinances penalizing those not wearing masks in public but said the measures only often reprimand, fine or order violators to perform community service.

She agreed with Olalia that the country’s overcrowded jails may not be a sound strategy to prevent the further spread of the virus in the communities.

“In the end, it is through intensive education and information campaigns, not fear, that would best result in better compliance with healthy and safety protocols during the pandemic. ..We may be in quarantine due to the pandemic, but rights should not be on lockdown,” de Guia said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

A million Covid cases

Cartoon by Crisby Delgado, PUP/Kodao

Despite having one of the longest and harshest lock downs in the world, the Philippines breached one million Covid cases on Monday, April 26. This means the most number of new cases per and the most number of new deaths per million people in South East Asia. The Philippines also has the second worst number of fully vaccinated people by share of the population in the region. #

Start inoculating prisoners, rights group presses gov’t

A support group for political detainees pressed the government to start inoculating prisoners, citing the higher possibility of coronavirus outbreaks inside the country’s overcrowded and poorly-ventilated jail facilities.

“Kapatid presses the national government to release a clear schedule for the vaccination of all prisoners, including the 704 political prisoners, in the national deployment plan for COVID-19 vaccines because the congested prison system places them at significant higher risk for the disease,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.

The group Kapatid made the call after justice secretary Menardo Guevarra said that ordinary prisoners are not yet part of the priority list for the government’s vaccination activities against the increasingly contagious and deadly COVID-19.

Guevarra said that only elderly prisoners are eligible for early vaccination.

“[W]hile waiting for their turn to get vaccinated like the rest of the population, these [non-elderly] PDLs (persons deprived of liberty) will just have to follow minimum health protocols to reduce the risk of viral transmission,” Guevarra, Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) Against COVID-19 member, said.

‘Mixed messaging’

Lim said Guevarra’s statement however contradicts an earlier assurance by the Department of Health (DOH) that “all persons deprived of liberty as determined by Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) are included under the Priority Eligible Group B-9.”

Kapatid asked DOH secretary and IATF Against COVID-19 chairperson Francisco Duque last March 2 to included all prisoners among the first to be vaccinated as part of the most “at-risk populations.”

DOH undersecretary and National Vaccine Operations Center chairperson Dr. Myrna Cabotaje told the rights group that prisoners are already identified for inclusion in the priority eligible population on the basis of stratifying the risks for contracting COVID-19 infection.

“So we quote to Secretary Guevarra the very words of the DOH in their reply to us: ‘Health is an absolute human right. No Filipino will be denied their right to get vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine. The national government assures you that every consenting Filipino will receive the appropriate COVID-19 vaccine, to protect the life and health of every citizen, including all Political Prisoners,’” she added

“Shouldn’t the DOJ and the whole national government be saying the same thing to everyone?” Lim asked.

Lim said it is ironic that the DOJ whose mandate includes the supervision of the BuCor should contradict the DOH statement and ignore the plight of over 215,000 prisoners compelled to live in subhuman conditions.

“This apparently may be yet another case of mismanagement from the top that results in mixed messaging,” Lim said.

 ‘Death traps’

Kapatid said extreme congestion inside the country’s prisons makes them “death traps” during the pandemic.

In November 2019, the BJMP reported that its 467 jails nationwide were at 534 percent of capacity as of March of that year while the BuCor said that the congestion rate in its 125 prisons was at 310 percent as of January 2019.

In October 2018, the Commission on Human Rights said “deplorable jail conditions” in the country are aggravated by the failure of the government, including police officers, to faithfully comply with even the minimum human rights standards and laws, such as the Anti-Torture Act (RA 9745). # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Health workers say hospitals ‘on the brink of collapse’

By Joseph Cuevas

Health workers said hospitals are on the brink of collapse amid the spike in new number of coronavirus cases around the country.

In a press conference Tuesday, April 7, Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) members said hospitals are overwhelmed with new patients every day and employees themselves are falling ill from the virus.

A number of health workers also resigned or have taken early retirement options due to fear, fatigue, frustration and severe demoralization, AHW said.

Emergency rooms, intensive care units, wards, isolation facilities of private and public hospitals are overcrowded and overflowing, the group said, while tents or modular container vans are full of patients waiting admission.

“Even ordinary rooms are now being used as COVID wards. Outpatient departments are closed in most hospitals and many patients are being bumped off,” the group added.

AHW said understaffing schemes by hospitals force health workers to be on duty for at least 12 hours or even 24 hours while some hospitals only have skeletal forces.

Contractualization in some hospitals, such as job order and contract of services especially for nurses, has worsened during the pandemic, AHW revealed.

AHW officer Sean Velchez said 117 out of 180 Philippine Orthopedic Center employees are Covid-positive.

Screenshot of the AHW=led online press conference.

Delayed benefits and other issues

Union officers of the Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital and National Kidney and Transplant Institute said their hazard pay, performance bonus and health risk allowances have been delayed since 2019.

Meal and transportation allowances are also on hold after the Department of Health (DOH) recalled funds for said benefits, the unions said.

Cristy Donguines of the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Hospital said medical equipment like personal protective gears and gloves as well as medical supplies like oxygen tanks and others are also on low supply.

Philippine General Hospital’s Karen Faurillo complained of failed contact tracing as well as lack of mass testing, isolation and treatment for health workers.

Kodao file photo of an AHW protest action. (Joseph Cuevas/Kodao)

Collapsing health care system

Solidarity of Health Advocates and Personnel for a Unified Plan to Defeat COVID-19 (SHAPE-UP) convenor Dr. Eleanor Jara revealed that primary and secondary health care systems are also failing to help the spread of the virus.

Jara said important community level Covid interventions such as mass testing, contact tracing, equipped quarantine and isolation facilities are inadequate.

Jara, whose husband was among the first medical workers lost to Covid in 2020, said the situation will only worsen as the Department of Health continues to deny government’s inept and failed Covid response.

“The government must also held accountable for the death of 97 health workers since the pandemic and the rising cases of Covid-19 among health workers and people,” she said.

The AHW demanded an overhaul of the inter-agency task force’s militaristic response to the pandemic as well as the resignation of health secretary Francisco Duque.

The group said the Rodrigo Duterte government must also be held accountable for its failed pandemic response. #

QC houses demolished amid strict Covid lockdown

[UPDATED, 7:00 AM, April 6, 2021] Amid an extended round of the latest Covid pandemic lockdown, several houses had been demolished today along Maginoo Street, Barangay Pinyahan in Quezon City.

Urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) reported that elderly residents who lived in the demolished houses have been forced out on the streets, raising fears they may later be arrested by the police for curfew and lock down violations.

Eleven families were affected and no relocation has yet been offered to them, Kadamay told Kodao.

Private claimant-couple Nicolo and Luzviminda Junsay led the demolition, Kadamay said.

The group claimed the demolition is illegal and that barangay officials had no prior knowledge of the incident.

Kadamay said that prior to today’s incident, the affected residents were being forced to sign certain documents but no court order and notice have been presented before the demolition team swooped down on the community.

Demolition along Maginoo Street, Brgy. Pinyahan, Quezon City. (Kadamay photos)

“While we are under the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), the demolition pushed through. No notice, no relief goods, no assistance had been given to those affected and straight out on the streets they went,” Kadamay said in an alert.

The group blamed both the National Housing Authority and President Rodrigo Duterte as promoters of demolitions.

“They order us to stay at home while new coronavirus cases are on the rise, but they continue to endanger people. Those affected have lost their houses and are likely to be arrested while they are out on the streets,” Kadamay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Hindi pwedeng ganito’

Gusto ko sanang abutin ang maraming pamilyang namatayan dahil sa COVID o mga pasyenteng nagka-COVID na nakaranas ng palpak na responde mula sa sistemang pangkalusugan ng bansa. Hindi dapat sila nagdusa, hindi sana tayo nagluluksa kung naging episyente lamang ang tugon sa atin.

Ni Man Hernando

Walang nag-akala na ang kuha sa litrato na ito ang magiging isa sa huling masasayang sandali natin bilang pamilya. Sana nilubos na natin. Sana nayakap ka namin.

Ang problema lang naman natin sa kalusugan mo ay ang pagiging makakalimutin mo. Minsan bibigyan ka ni nanay ng listahan ng mga dapat bilhin o dapat gawin para siguradong pagbalik mo ay gawa mo ang lahat ng ipinagagawa sa ‘yo. Pero babalik kang nagkakamot ng ulo dahil isa o ilan lang sa mga nakalista ang nagawa o nabili mo dahil nakalimutan mo kung saan mo nailagay ang listahan. May mga biyahe kayo ni nanay na nakakarating ka na sa malayong lugar bago mapagtanto na naiwan mo siya sa bahay dahil humarurot ka na sa pagpapatakbo ng motor nang hindi mo pa siya nai-aangkas. Ang ikinakatakot lang namin noon ay magka-Alzheimer’s ka.

Ang teorya namin, kaakibat na iyon ng iyong pagtanda at iniindang sakit na diabetes at mahinang baga. Pero bukod sa problemang iyan, kaya naman nating i-manage ang blood sugar at baga mo. Dahil na rin sa pandemic, tiniyak nating paborable ang nutrisyon at kaayusan sa bahay para sa inyo ni nanay. Regular ang pagdi-disinfect lalo na sa kwarto niyo. No Smoking Area ang buong bahay. At natuwa ako nang todo nang makumbinse ko kayong lahat na at least maging vegetarian. At pinakamahalaga, nakakakuha kayo ni nanay ng maraming energy kay Aully, Armee at iba niyong apo para manatiling malakas.

Unti-unting binalot ng kakaibang atmospera ang bahay nang nagsimula kang ubuhin. Napag-alaman natin kasunod na may nakatagpo kang isang kaibigang kalauna’y nagpositibo sa COVID. Sinikap natin kaagad noon na mapa-swab at mapatignan kayo pareho ni nanay sa isang klinika. Pero lahat ng subukan natin, mapa-publiko o pribadong pasilidad na malapit sa atin, ay ‘di kayo tinatanggap dahil mahaba ang pila at hindi tumatanggap ng walk-in. Kaya sinikap na lang namin, lalo ni nanay, na alagaan at pagalingin ka sa bahay.

Pero iba na ang pakiramdam mo nitong Martes. Lumala ang pag-ubo at nahirapan ka nang huminga. Hindi na rin kinakaya ni nanay kaya’t kahit walang appointment, nangahas na tayo na dalhin ka sa Bernardino General Hospital sa QC. Bandang alas-otso ito ng umaga. Doon, naigiit natin na i-x-ray at ma-test ka ng rapid antigen test. Agad na lumabas ang resulta. Positibo ka sa COVID at may pneumonia. Pero walang paglapat ng lunas na ginawa sayo o pagbibigay-gabay man lamang sa kasama mo kung paano ka magagamot. Ni hindi itinuro kung ano ang gagawin o paano ba ikino-koordina sa ibang pasilidad ang pang-gagamot sayo. Pinauwi ka ng ospital pagtapos magbayad ng limang libo.

Pag-uwi sa bahay, bandang alas-diyes, lalo ka nang nanghina. Kaya, sa payo ng kaibigang doktor, kumontak kami sa One Hospital Command Center (OHCC) at hotline ng Caloocan City Health Office (CCHO) para masundo at madala ka sa isang COVID facility. Wala tayong napala. Ni hindi makapasok ang tawag namin sa hotline ng OHCC. Palaging busy o cannot be reached ang kabilang linya.

Nakailang-tawag rin kami sa CCHO, naitatala ang ating request pero lagi lang sinasabi na maghintay. Naghintay tayo maghapon, pero walang dumating na tulong. Mabuti na lang at napakiusapan natin ang isang kakilala sa Barangay Hall ng Barangay 176 para magamit ang ambulansiya nila. Dumating sila alas kwatro ng hapon at kinuha ka, kasama si nanay. Pero hindi nila alam ang gagawin. Hindi pala naka-koordina iyon sa barangay at hindi rin naka-koordina ang barangay sa ospital na pagdadalhan.

Pagdating sa QC General Hospital, doon niyo nakita ang aktwal na kalagayan ng pandemya sa bansa: mahabang pila sa ER; hindi sapat na pasilidad; at over-burdened na mga medical frontliner. Nang lumapit kayo para humingi ng tulong, agaran ang tugon nila na hindi nila kayo magagamot sa mga oras na iyon. Una ay sinisi pa nila kayo kung bakit hindi kayo naka-coordinate. Ano nga bang malay natin na hindi pala tayo ikinordina ng barangay, hindi ba? Sinabi natin na huwag naman tayong pabayaan dahil lang sa hindi sila kinausap ng barangay. Nang maggiit tayo na huwag nila kayong tanggihan, saka lang nila sinabi na dapat kang mabigyan ng oxygen pero wala silang available. Mahaba raw ang pila at kailangang maghintay.

Pero tuloy-tuloy kang nagpapakita ng panghihina. Lumalalim na lalo ang paghinga mo at hindi na humihinto ang pag-ubo. Sa yugtong iyon, may isang kaibigang nagmagandang-loob na kumontak sa East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC) at nang malamang tumatanggap ng pasyente doon ay nagpasya tayong lumipat. Nagpaalam tayo sa QC Gen. Humingi sana ng kung anong coordination o endorsement pero wala silang ibinigay.

East Avenue Medical Center (larawan mula sa Wikipedia)

Pagdating sa EAMC, bandang alas nuwebe, ganoon rin ang sitwasyon. Walang tigil ang pagdating ng pasyente. Hirap na hirap ang mga frontliner. Walang sapat na pasilidad.

Gaya sa QC Gen, sinabi ulit sa atin na hindi tayo matatanggap dahil hindi tayo na-coordinate. Napaisip na ako nito. Bakit ganoon? Yung coordination, yung One Hospital Command Center ng DOH, imbes na makapagpadali sa proseso ng panggagamot sa mga pasyente ay nagiging burukratikong sagka pa para hindi nila gamutin ang tulad mo.

Sabi ng kausap natin sa triage, Lung Center of the Philippines(LCP) lang daw ang tumatanggap ng hindi naka-coordinate na pasyente. Dahil malapit lang, dali-dali kaming nag-inquire sa LCP. Pagdating doon bandang alas diyes ng gabi, sinabi sa information tent na hindi rin nila masasabi kung magagamot ka nila. Nagmamakaawa na kami sa kausap namin. Pero wala raw silang magagawa. Punuan ang pasilidad kaya’t wala silang maipangako.

Mabuti na lang sa oras ding iyon, naawa na sa kalagayan mo ang mga staff ng ER sa EAMC. Sa wakas, pinayagan ka na nilang pumasok sa loob ng ER. Habang tulak-tulak ko ang wheelchair mo paakyat sa ER kinakausap kita. Sabi ko sa yo: “Tatay, ito na, magagamot ka na. May mga doktor nang titingin sayo. Kaya tibayan mo lang loob mo, pagtutulungan nating lahat ang pagpapagaling mo.”

Pagdating sa pintuan, tinanong ko kung kumusta ka. Sumagot ka,” OK lang.” May kasamang thumbs up pa. Iyon na pala ang huli nating pag-uusap.

Bago pa man nila tingnan ang kalagayan mo, pinagsulat nila ako ng waiver na nagsasabing walang magiging pananagutan ang ospital sa kung ano man ang mangyari sa’yo. Desperado na kami. Hindi ka makakapasok hangga’t ‘di ako sumasang-ayon. Kaya kahit mabigat sa loob, isinulat ko ang idinikta nila.

Inakala naming malulunasan ka na kaagad. Pero hindi pa rin pala.

Pagpasok sa iyo, natanaw ka namin sa malayo. Ipinwesto lang ang wheelchair mo sa isang gilid kasama ng hindi ko mabilang na kritikal na pasyente. Aligaga ang mga frontliner. Hirap na hirap sila sa sitwasyon. Kami, alam kong ikaw rin noon, umaasa ka na mapapansin at makakatanggap na ng oxygen. Pero wala raw available. Hindi nila masabi kung kailan ka mabibigyan. Anong gagawin namin? May waiver kaming pinirmahan.

Gumawa kami ng paraan. Nanawagan kami kung sino sa kakilala ang pwedeng magpahiram ng aparato para sa oxygen. Nakakuha tayo, ala-una ng madaling araw. Pero sa hindi namin maintindihang kadahilanan: hindi nila pinayagang magamit mo iyon.

Lumipas pa ang ilang oras bago ka unang makatikim ng hangin mula sa oxygen. Sabi ng (nurse na) bantay mo, nangingitim ka na noon. Sa pag-alala namin, kumilos kami para mailipat ka sa isang pasilidad kung saan ka matututukan. Lumapit kami sa lahat ng kaya naming lapitan. May tumugon na ilang kaibigan sa loob ng ospital. Dahil sa paggigiit natin sa ER at sa tulong nila, naiakyat ka sa ward, madaling araw ng Abril 1.

Pag-akyat doon, siguro dahil sa paga-alala mo kung nasaan ka at nasaan kami o marahil dala na rin ng pagdidiliryo dulot ng kakapusan ng oxygen sa katawan mo, naging agitated ka raw. May oxygen ka na ulit. Pero hindi na pala sasapat iyon.

Ilang oras lang, bumagsak sa 60% ang oxygen level sa katawan mo. Lubhang napakababa kaya dinesisyunan na nilang gamitan ka ng ventilator. Last resort na raw iyon. At mula sa puntong iyon ay wala na raw kasiguruhan ang susunod na mangyayari.

Kung anuman ang ibig sabihin noon, hindi namin lubos na gagap. Basta huling kita namin sa iyo malakas ka. Naga-alala, pero buo ang pag-asa namin noon na para iyon sa mabilis mong recovery.

Lumipas ang mga oras na intubated ka. Kahit ang (nurse na) bantay mo ay nagimbal sa mga nasasaksihan niya sa mga oras na iyon. Wala kang malay. May mga oras na may sobrang lalim at bagal ang paghinga mo. May panahong para kang nalulunod. Pero sa mas mahabang panahon, payapa ka. Kaya sabi namin, kaya mo ‘yan.

Google search. Batay sa mga medical articles na nabasa ko, naglalaro sa 30-40% ang global death rate ng mga ginamitan ng ventilator. Inisip ko, malakas ka eh. Siguradong pasok ka doon sa 60-70% na magsu-survive. Hawak namin ang pag-asa na iyon hanggang alas-onse y medya.

Sinagot ko ang tawag ng kapatid ko. Hinatid ng iyong (nurse na) bantay sa kaniya ang balita na wala ka na. Idineklara kang patay 11:10 pm. Sabi ng bantay mo, ilang minuto lang daw iyon pagkatapos mong marinig ang boses ni nanay sa cellphone na sinasabing hinihintay ka niya na gumaling agad. Na mahal na mahal ka niya. Pinipilit mo raw dumilat ng mga panahon na iyon. Gumalaw pa nga raw ang isa mong daliri. Pero pagkatapos noon ay naghabol ka na ng hininga hanggang sa malagot ito.

Si G. Joseph Rumbaua, ang namayapa at ama ng awtor.

Hindi na namin alam kung ano talaga ang pahiwatig mo noon. Pero naniniwala ako na yun yung panahon na lubhang tumaas ang kagustuhan mong bumangon at makauwi pero nasa rurok na rin ng dominasyon sa katawan mo ang COVID. Lumaban ka hanggang huling hininga. Sana naramdaman mong nakipaglaban rin kami. Sadya lang talagang napakalupit ng kalaban natin at pinalalakas siya ng palpak na sistemang pangkalusugan sa bansa.

Sa pagpanaw mo, tatay, lalo kong naunawaan kung bakit natin iginigiit ang episyente at komprehensibong sistemang pangkalusugan. Kung sana naging masinsin ang sistema ng contact tracing at quarantine, pwedeng hindi ka na-expose sa COVID. Kung may accessible at maagap na testing, laboratoryo, at check up sa iyo, higit sana kaming mulat sa paga-alaga sa iyo. Kung malakas, nadaragdagan at napangangalagaan ang mga medical frontliner natin, may nakakatugon sana kaagad sa mga pangangailangan ng mga tulad mo. Kung may sapat na pasilidad lamang sana, hindi mo kailangang pumila ng matagal para madugtungan ang iyong hininga. Kung may episyente sanang polisiya at koordinasyon ang DOH at buong gobyerno para tuluyang wakasan ang pandemyang ito, siguro kasama ka pa namin ngayon.

Pero ayaw kong dito tapusin ang istorya mo. Hindi pwedeng ganito. Para sa iyo at iba pang tatay at nanay, lolo, lola at kapamilya, ipatigil na natin ito. Gusto ko sanang abutin ang maraming pamilyang namatayan dahil sa COVID o mga pasyenteng nagka-COVID na nakaranas ng palpak na responde mula sa sistemang pangkalusugan ng bansa. Hindi dapat sila nagdusa, hindi sana tayo nagluluksa kung naging episyente lamang ang tugon sa atin. Maaari tayong manghingi ng indemnipikasyon dahil sa kapalpakan nila. Higit doon, maaari nating ipanawagang palitan sila at ang nakamamatay nilang sistema. #

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Si Man Hernando ay kasapi ng Migrante.

Joblessness worsens in February and will get worse with ECQ — IBON

The February 2021 labor force survey confirms that unemployment and underemployment are worsening despite economic managers’ hype of rebounding employment, said research group IBON. The group also said the country’s jobs crisis will get even worse with the government still resorting to economically-destructive enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) rather than smarter containment measures as its main strategy against COVID-19 while waiting for vaccines.

In a joint statement, the economic managers said that the gradual reopening of the economy is bringing more people back to the labor force and has restored 1.9 million jobs in February 2021. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported employment increasing to 43.2 million in February 2021 from the previous month. This is higher than the pre-pandemic employment level of 42.5 million in January 2020.  

IBON however said that merely higher employment compared to the pre-pandemic level is a low standard for claiming recovery and ignores how Filipinos rejoining the labor market still cannot find enough decent work. 

The group pointed out how joblessness and the lack of decent work continue to worsen. The combined number of unemployed (4.2 million) and underemployed (7.9 million) rose to 12 million in February, IBON stressed. This is 39% more than the 8.7 million unemployed (2.4 million) and underemployed (6.3 million) in pre-pandemic January 2020.

IBON also noted how the official estimate of 12 million combined unemployed and underemployed in February 2021 is an increase from 10.5 million in January 2021. As it is, this is the highest since April 2020 according to official figures. The group however said that the real tally is likely actually worse because the official methodology has stopped counting millions of jobless Filipinos who stopped looking for work or are not immediately available for work.

IBON stressed that a closer look at the 1.9 million jobs created shows that these are mostly of poor quality, meaning low-paying, insecure or informal work. Of the supposedly new jobs generated, some 48% (923,000) were merely part-time or less than 40 hours per week, and a large 23% (446,000) were actually categorized as “with a job, not at work”.

The group pointed out that this has resulted in the combined number of Filipinos in part-time work and those “with a job, not at work” now comprising 40% of the total employed, which is a marked increase from the 32.4% in pre-pandemic January 2020. On the other hand, mean hours worked per week is markedly down to just 38.9 hours in February 2021 from 41.3 hours in January 2020.

IBON also raised how many of the jobs supposedly generated are in sectors where employment is temporary or poor quality.  For instance, those working in wholesale and retail trade increased by 995,000 to 9.6 million, in other services (which includes household based work) by 294,000 to 2.8 million, in transportation and storage by 147,000 to 3.1 million, in public administration and defense by 142,000 to 2.6 million, and in manufacturing by 136,000 to 3.3 million.

The trade subsector, in particular, is known for its low-paying and insecure work. Wage and salary workers in this sector were paid just Php358 compared to the average daily basic pay in industry (Php404) and across all services (Php483), according to latest available data in 2018.

IBON suspects that a significant number of new jobs are in the informal sector, with many Filipinos struggling to make a living however they can rather than be completely unemployed. Using the combined share of self-employed, employers in family farms or businesses, and unpaid family workers as a proxy for informal sector work, they make up a huge 57% (1.1 million) of net employment created in February 2021. This is as the group noted the number of employers in family farms or businesses decreasing by 189,000, possibly due to small business closures during the pandemic.

IBON said the jobs situation will only get worse in March and April with the Duterte administration implementing another round of ECQ in the “Greater Manila area” which accounts for as much as 47% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). The group said that enterprises in the trade, transport, hotel and restaurant, recreation and other non-essential sectors will be particularly hard hit.  This is while they are still reeling from the worst economic contraction in the country’s history.

The group said that the country’s economic recovery most of all starts with the government testing more, tracing better, and ensuring that COVID patients are isolated and do not spread the coronavirus. Household distress can also be immediately relieved and economic activity spurred by meaningful amounts of emergency cash aid, wage subsidies, and other fiscal stimulus measures. #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

‘Hindi ECQ ang solusyon sa pagdami ng COVID cases’

“Hindi ECQ ang solusyon sa pagdami ng COVID cases sa ngayon kundi [ang] paghigpit sa preventive measures. Palitan na ang mga bumubuo ng IATF at ilagay ang mga health expert at mga scientist para magkaroon ng scientific at comprehensive na plano para masugpo itong COVID-19 na ito. Solusyong medikal, hindi militar!Robert Mendoza, National President, Alliance of Health Workers

‘They treated me like I murdered someone’: Lockdown arrests mark 1st year of PH pandemic response

Fines from lockdown arrests have bled poor Filipinos dry while the rich and famous get wrist slaps for similar offenses. Calls for a different approach grow louder as the pandemic lockdown enters its second year.

BY AIE BALAGTAS SEE/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Hunger pains hit Erwin Macahig, 30, at an inconvenient time on a hot and humid evening in the slums of Navotas. 

It was 9 p.m. on April 8, 2020, an hour past the city-imposed curfew that took effect roughly two weeks after the country’s Covid-19 infections began to rise and the Philippine capital was put on lockdown. The city streets turned into a ghost town manned by cops and soldiers in camouflage uniforms. The poorly lit alleys where Macahig lived seemed even darker in the silence of the night.

He was walking toward a sari-sari store when someone grabbed his wrist from behind. A cop. Three of his neighbors – out on the streets like him – were rounded up as well. 

The cops were accompanied by barangay officials who were jittery about Covid-19 spreading in the village and wouldn’t tolerate excuses that night from residents who violated the curfew ordinance. 

After getting a swab test at a public hospital, Macahig and the three other men were taken to a school where they were to be detained for the next 30 days for “simple disobedience” – unless they could post bail worth P3,000. For someone who had just been retrenched, the amount was a fortune that was impossible to raise in the middle of a pandemic.

“We did not receive financial aid from the government. Our food supply was only a few canned goods and three kilos of rice for a month. And they want us to pay a P3,000 fine? Where are we going to get that money? Frankly, they just made our difficult situation tougher,” Macahig told the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) in Filipino. 

Getting a criminal record for a mere attempt to buy food was beyond Macahig’s imagination.

“I don’t deny committing violations but why did they have to treat me like I just murdered someone?” he said.

Punitive pandemic response

Lockdown arrests marked the early months of the Philippines’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Police Task Force Covid Shield has not released the total number of Filipinos arrested, detained, or fined one year since the lockdown began on March 15, but it was already at 100,000 as of September 2020. 

Police Major General Marni Marcos, chief of the Directorate for Investigation and Detection Management, has yet to respond to PCIJ’s requests for data. 

The punitive response has drawn a lot of controversies. In Santa Cruz town, capital of Laguna province, curfew violators, including children, were locked up in a dog cage. In Dasmariñas Village in Makati City, a Spanish national was declared an “undesirable alien” who could no longer return to the country, after an altercation with cops over mask rules. In Quezon City, a former soldier with mental illness was killed by cops after a commotion near a quarantine control point.

Many ended up in packed detention centers, which health and jail experts said were among the worst places to find one’s self in during the pandemic. They called them “breeding grounds” for Covid-19, where detainees were at risk of being exposed to the disease that the government has been trying to protect them from. 

In Navotas, about 1,000 people were cramped in the school where Macahig was detained. Fifty violators shared one classroom, he said. At night, they slept on cartons on cold floors. There were no provisions for food, soap, alcohol and potable water, he said. 

“I was more afraid of contracting the virus there because we didn’t comply with health protocols in the school at all. Detainees only wore face masks and followed social distancing rules when a high police official arrived for inspection,” Macahig said.

They were later transferred to an open space – a covered court behind the school building – after the school was converted into a quarantine site for suspected Covid-19 cases.

His friends and family – all of whom were financially knocked out by business closures themselves – eventually raised funds for his bail. “They did it out of pity. Some donated P20; others P100,” he said. 

Macahig was released on April 23 after he paid the fine. He pled guilty before a municipal trial court.

Relatives of quarantine violators wait outside the Navotas Metropolitan Trial Court to get their kin out of detention. There was a narrow window for the processing of release documents, 8 a.m. to noon, as working periods were shortened because of the pandemic. Photograph: Vincent Go
‘My family thought I was dead’

Other than imposing curfews, local governments also issued travel passes to limit the number of people allowed to go out even during day time. Those who didn’t have passes were arrested, too.

But Caloocan fish vendor Joseph Jimeda, known to many social media users as “Mang Dodong,” said he was arrested despite having a travel pass.

He was travelling to neighboring Navotas with friends to buy fish that they could sell in the market when the police took them on suspicion they didn’t have travel passes. Jimeda said he begged the cops for compassion because he had a four-year old at home and his wife had a cataract and could barely see.

“We kept explaining that we have them (about the travel passes), but the cops never listened to us. They just wanted to arrest people,” Jimeda said in an interview.

At the detention center, Jimeda received smacks and punches from authorities, instead of food and help. He could not inform his family of his whereabouts because he did not have a mobile phone at that time. The police did not help him. “All the while my family thought I was dead,” he said.

Jimeda was detained in the same covered court in Navotas several weeks after Macahig was released. Again, there was not enough food for the growing number of detainees. Those who didn’t receive visitors often suffered from hunger, he said. 

‘Yung iba akala mo patay-gutom (You’d think the others were destitutes),” Macahig said. “Some of them will join you in your meals uninvited. It’s embarrassing to shoo them away.”

Jimeda was released onMay 19 after 12 days in detention.

Photo shows Mang Dodong in detention  at the enclosed Navotas Sports Complex on May 14, 2020. The sports complex served as a detention center for quarantine violators. Photograph: Vincent Go
No money to pay fines

Those who couldn’t pay the fines had to stay longer in detention. 

Randy delos Santos, a coordinator of the church group Paghilom led by Fr. Flavie Villanueva, said several people from the slums have sought financial assistance from their office in Manila since April of last year. 

They had similar complaints: Being fined and arrested for violating quarantine rules.

The penalties ranged from P250 to P50,000, depending on the type of violation alleged and the city where it was committed.

Delos Santos said the calls for help usually came from people in Navotas, Manila and Caloocan. 

Delos Santos said there should be a shift in policies because fines imposed by ordinances that were passed to address the health crisis were bleeding the poor dry and sending them into deeper debt.

“It’s an additional burden to the poor,” delos Santos said. “Local governments should channel their energies toward educating the people and teaching the community how to follow proper health protocols,” delos Santos said.

While the poor suffered fines and long days in detention centers for finding ways to fend off their hunger, the past year has shown that the rich and powerful can hold parties and receive token wrist slaps for their violations. 

In January, events organizer and host Tim Yap organized a party in Baguio City, attended by guests who didn’t wear masks, among them contact-tracing czar and Baguio mayor Benjamin Magalong. Another celebrity, Raymond Gutierrez, threw a birthday party at trendy Bonifacio Global City Taguig the same month. 

In the early days of the pandemic, Makati Medical Center castigated Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III for breaching quarantine protocols when he brought his pregnant wife to the hospital while he was waiting for the results of his test for Covid-19. 

Philippine National Police chief Debold Sinas was caught holding a birthday party inside Camp Aguinaldo, while the president’s spokesperson, Harry Roque, visited a marine park in Subic. There were no repercussions for the two despite the ban on mass gatherings and unessential travel.

A different approach is needed

Carlos Conde, researcher for Human Rights Watch in Asia, said local governments must rethink “anti-poor policies” such as sending people to jail for breaking health protocols and fining violators who are obviously penniless.

“No one should spend a night in jail for violating quarantine rules. That’s inhumane,” Conde told PCIJ.

Conde said that instead of arrests and fines, the local government should channel their efforts into a massive information drive for the public to better understand the dangers of the virus that has so far killed two million people worldwide.

Political science professor Maria Ela Atienza said the government should train its sights on harnessing “bayanihan” or community spirit among Filipinos instead of imposing a culture of crime and punishment to address the pandemic. The public needed to be encouraged to take care of themselves in order to take care of one another, she said.

Atienza said the government’s message was “people should just follow rules” instead of  “the government is doing its best to make sure we have enough resources for public health and we are tying our best to support those who were economically dislocated as a result of the lockdown and we need the help of everyone to help each other.”

“The language is not focused on the cooperation of people, it’s more about getting them to follow. Otherwise, you’ll be meted with punishment. It’s (the government narrative) not for a country that’s supposed to be democratic,” she said.

To encourage better public participation, Atienza said efforts must be exerted to ensure that the law applied equally to the rich and the poor.

“The pandemic and the response of the government… exposed the inequality not only in Philipine politics but in Philippine society where you have senators and other officials, even police personnel, who violate the lockdown restrictions but at the same time they are not penalized,” she said

“But you have fish, vegetable vendors and jeepney drivers trying to find alternative sources of income penalized heavily. So you also see inequality in terms of enforcement of lockdown rules and accountability on the part of government officials,” she added.

Mang Dodong finally on his way home, late in the afternoon of May 19, 2020. Photograph: Vincent Go

One year after the Philippines went into lockdown, data from the World Health Organization showed the country as having the worst coronavirus performance in the Western Pacific Region, with a total of 611,618 infections and 12,694 deaths as of March 14. 

Infections are rising again, hovering between over 2,000 to nearly 4,000 new cases a day in recent days after months of recording less than 2,000 daily new infections on average. Metro Manila mayors have again imposed uniform curfew hours, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., beginning March 15. 

The punitive response cannot continue, said Macahig. “The government should find better solutions. It needs to stop imposing fines that only makes the poor poorer. We’re in the middle of a pandemic yet they keep milking us for money.” #

14 Charts: What the Government Has Done to Our Pandemic Economy

by IBON Communication

If you bothered to start to read this then you probably know by now that the 9.5% contraction of the Philippine economy last year was the worst on record – which is to say since the end of World War II which is only when gross domestic product (GDP) started to be estimated for the country.

he government blames the bad economic performance on the pandemic. Well, COVID-19 certainly was a problem for the country.

In September last year, the well-respected Lancet medical journal reported to the United Nations 75th General Assembly that the Philippines ranked 65th out of 91 countries worldwide in terms of COVID-19 response. We were already the worst performer in Southeast Asia then.

The Lowy Institute came out with a similar study last month. In the chart showing the Philippines and a few of our Southeast Asian neighbors, a higher line means better performance in dealing with COVID-19 as the weeks go by. The Communist Party-led Socialist Republic of Vietnam was a star performer from the very beginning.

The Philippines fared even worse in the Lowy Institute study and placed 79th out of 98 countries worldwide. The only countries that ranked lower in Asia were Bangladesh (84th), Indonesia (85th), and India (86th). Perhaps not coincidentally, what the four worst performing countries in Asia have in common is that the pandemic hit as they all struggled with authoritarian leaders and democratic decline.

Effective public health response is the most important starting point of good COVID-19 response without which other measures wouldn’t get much traction. But the economic response is also very important.

Unfortunately the Philippines lagged badly even here and, measured as share of gross domestic product (GDP), had among the smallest fiscal response in the region. The poor public health response combined with the trifling fiscal response to result in the Philippines having the worst economic performance in the region.

And is actually set to have the worst performance not just in the region but to as far away as South Asia and across East Asia.

The Duterte administration insists that it was a choice between health and the economy, kalusugan or kabuhayan, and portrayed itself as having agonized but made the difficult choice to prioritize health. The economic collapse was the price to pay, it said.

But that is a false choice – both could have been attended to well as the experience of the likes of Vietnam and Thailand have shown.

And it’s also not really the choice the administration made. In terms of COVID -19 response, the choice they made was the militarist one to treat the people as the enemy and rely on harsh lockdowns and long community quarantines. And also the choice to prioritize creditworthiness over spending to contain the pandemic and to ease the suffering of tens of millions of Filipinos.

The Duterte government chose not to spend. In the first 11 months of 2020, it only spent Php3.69 trillion which is just an 11.6% increase from the same period in 2020. Unless government spending picks up substantially in December, the last month of the year, this means that it even underspent its 2020 budget which is supposed to be as much as 13.6% more than the 2019 budget.

The historical annual average increase of budgets for the last four decades is 11.1% so the government can’t claim that there’s any stimulus happening.

And so the economy’s unprecedented collapse – because the pandemic was not contained and then because the government did not spend to stimulate it.

Hotels and restaurants, transport and storage, and construction were hit especially bad. Investments and foreign trade as well.

The biggest job losses were in hotels and restaurants, transport and storage, and manufacturing.

Agricultural employment increased – maybe partly because so much of farming and fishing is physically-distanced already, and maybe partly because retrenched and laid-off workers thought to find work there instead. Somewhat surprisingly, employment in education rose.

The biggest job losses were in hotels and restaurants, transport and storage, and manufacturing.

Agricultural employment increased – maybe partly because so much of farming and fishing is physically-distanced already, and maybe partly because retrenched and laid-off workers thought to find work there instead. Somewhat surprisingly, employment in education rose.

The drop in employment was unparalleled. In April 2020, at the height of the government’s lockdown, the number of employed suddenly fell to 33.8 million which was as low as a dozen years before in 2008.

In short, there’s a huge social crisis with millions of unemployed, poverty increasing, and hunger worsening.

Yet the Duterte administration seems oblivious and COVID-19-related emergency cash assistance, or ayuda, has dwindled to almost nothing this year – while corporations (especially large and foreign firms) are being given Php133 billion in corporate income tax cuts.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of distressed micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are getting scant support. Various surveys by the International Trade Center (ITC), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and World Bank reported as much as 10-15% of businesses expecting to close permanently.

Yet, according to the president’s reports to Congress, Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2 have extended financing support to less than 28,000 by the end of last year.

The government’s preferred approach of using monetary and financial policy to stimulate the economy simply isn’t working. Despite hundreds of billions of pesos in liquidity poured into the economy and interest rates down to record lows, businesses aren’t borrowing – with loan growth even contracting for the first time in 14 years.

This is most of all because so many ordinary Filipinos with no work and no incomes just don’t have enough money to spend so businesses have no reason to stay in or expand their businesses.

Now it’s true that the government is grappling with record budget deficits…

… and with record debt.

The problems are huge but the equally huge solutions are well within the capacity of the government to implement if it so wanted. The Philippines needs a much more ambitious COVID-19 economic response than the Duterte administration’s current business-as-usual approach.

In broad strokes, the Duterte administration has to take much more decisive measures to contain the pandemic such as by: tracing better, more judicious quarantines, and more rapid isolation; giving more emergency cash subsidies and support to MSMEs; and actually starting on long-term reforms to strengthen domestic agriculture and build national industry.

Most of all, it has to respond in a much more rational and humane manner. Too many Filipinos and their families are suffering from the government’s inaction, and too many small businesses are distressed from being left behind.

IBON takes up the economy’s problems in more detail and outlines possible solutions more concretely in our forthcoming Birdtalk paper. Please have a look at it! #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.