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Artists honor medical workers with street mural

A group of street artists painted a mural on a wall at a street corner in Manila honoring medical workers battling the corona virus pandemic in hospitals and other health facilities throughout the country.

More than a year and a half since the pandemic hit the Philippines, friends Sim Tolentino, Christian “Lamok” Cresencio and Bryan Barrios collaborated on a mural at the corner of Singalong and Remedios streets at the capital city’s Malate District.

(Photo by Sim Tolentino/Kodao)

The mural features three faces wearing face masks, two of whom sport raised clenched fists, referencing the series of protest actions held last week by medical workers, calling for the payment of benefits as well as the resignation of Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

Tolentino said their group wanted to call attention to the health workers’ demands and for the Philippine government to effectively respond to the worsening pandemic.

(Photo by Sim Tolentino/Kodao)

The Philippines breached the two million COVID-19 cases last week amid warnings by various experts the pandemic appears to be worsening in the country.

“The government must adequately respond and give the proper support to the front liners and health workers. But we know that its response is not only inadequate, it even asks for a smaller health budget for next year,” Tolentino told Kodao in an online interview.

He added that a large part of the proposed 2022 budget would only be given to intelligence funds that are exempt from audit.

(Photo by Sim Tolentino/Kodao)

In an earlier Facebook post, Cresencio said the Malate mural is their group’s first project since they were forced to abandon their Intramuros mural project at the onset of the pandemic lockdowns.

“Exactly a year after we failed to finish our mural in Intramuros, we are back in Manila and nothing has changed,” Cresencio wrote.

The Malate mural took just a day to complete last Sunday, August 5.

Tolentino explained their street art is their way of contributing to the achievement of the people’s aspirations.

“Art in any form must be relevant, not just to reflect society but a weapon of change for the betterment of the masses,” he said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

(Photo by Sim Tolentino/Kodao)

Reds urge people to brace for worse COVID crisis; rallies forces to lead fight vs. ‘tyrant Duterte’

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) urged the people to brace for an even worse crisis because of the government’s ineffectual response to the coronavirus (COVID) pandemic.

In a statement, the CPP said that due to President Rodrigo Duterte’s “unbridled neglect and failure of governance,” there appears to be an imminent break out of an even worse crisis in the coming months.”

The underground Party said there is a possibility that the COVID pandemic would lead to the downfall of the economy and people’s lives due to Duterte’s reliance on lockdowns and other onerous and burdensome policies.

If it happens, the Duterte regime would falter with the wearing down of the people’s patience, the group said.

Last August 6, the day the government imposed its strictest quarantine for the third time since the pandemic began last year, the Philippines has overtaken Indonesia with the most number of active COVID cases at close to 120,000 cases as compared to its neighbor’s more than 118,000 cases.

Since Saturday, August 14, the country registered upwards of 14,000 new cases daily, nearly matching the all-time high of more than 15,000 registered last April.

“[T]he continuing worsening of the pandemic is a result of Duterte’s pigheaded refusal to prioritize health measures,” the CPP said, noting that the government has no new solution to the emergent Delta variant of the virus but repeated lockdowns.

The group warned there is a strong possibility that COVID will spread more rapidly beyond the capacity of hospitals and facilities in the coming months due to the government’s lack of testing and contact-tracing capacity, in addition to its “turtle-paced vaccination” activities.

No recovery in the horizon

The CPP also said government’s assurances of an economic recovery appear empty due to the lack of investments to kick-start production and consumption.

“Based on experiences in 2020, there is the threat of unemployment shooting up within a few months and rapid rise of businesses losses and bankruptcies,” it said.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) announced last August 6 that 5,322 workers have lost their jobs on the first day of the current lockdown as at least 178 establishments said they were closing down or cutting their workforce.

Last March 30, DOLE said 4.2 million remained unemployed while 7.9 million workers took pay cuts from shorter working hours.

The CPP said the situation will cause the intensification of workers exploitation and further deterioration of the lives of millions in both cities and the countryside.

“People are forced to desperate straits by the rotten, failed and oppressive Duterte government. Millions of Filipinos daily suffer in long queues for food, aid and vaccines,” the group said.

All the while, government officials abuse power, politicize aid and vaccine distribution, pocket public funds, squander on counterproductive wars, or repay the ever rising government debt which did not benefit the people, the group alleged.

Human rights activists accuse Duterte of instigating mass killings of civilians. (Kodao file photo)

Resistance vs. tyranny

The CPP urged the people to act and express outrage against the Duterte government’s failed policies and response to the crisis.

 “They cannot remain silent and dispersed. They cannot forever wait for aid or rely on the good-heartedness of others to avoid extreme hunger,” it said.

“The people must resist being silenced by Duterte’s shock and terror. Their silence will all the more embolden Duterte and his vassals and minions to trample on the their rights and welfare, plunder public funds, impose heavier taxes, betray and conspire with foreign powers, monopolize political power, sow terror and perpetuate themselves in Malacañang,” it added.

It also challenged its forces as well as progressive, patriotic and democratic activists to bear “the responsibility of guiding and leading the Filipino people in their fight against Duterte’s ruling tyranny.”

“The Filipino masses have been deprived of everything. They have nothing else to lose,” the CPP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Separated by Covid: Inmates struggle to save relationships, mental health amid ban on visits

The ban on in-person visits was imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19. No one thought the set up would last so long, however.

by Aie Balagtas See/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, inmate Mark* of Manila City Jail approached officer Elmar Jacobe to confide about a problem that boys don’t usually talk about.

Mark was broken-hearted. He lost his wife, not to Covid-19, but to another insidious disease. Cheating.

Tumambling ’yung asawa…. She fell in love with another man,” Jacobe, the jail officer, narrated to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) in a phone interview. Tumbling is the jail’s term for cheating, a common misfortune among inmates separated from their partners.

Mark is incarcerated while undergoing trial for a drug case. When the ban on in-person visits was imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19, he and his wife kept in touch through video calls.

Technology could not keep the flame alive, however. Mark was devastated to learn that his wife had “tumbled” toward another man.

When Mark approached jail officer Jacobe, he desperately wanted to know how one could deal with a family that had just fallen apart.

Breaking families apart

The ban on in-person visits was imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19. No one thought the set up would last so long, however.

“They thought the policy would only last for a week,” Jacobe said, referring to the persons deprived of liberty (PDLs).

It has been more than a year since the ban took effect on March 14, 2020 or days before Metro Manila was placed under a total lockdown. It was seen as one of the most controversial steps taken to insulate the inmates from the rampage of the virus.

The PDLs were forced to rely on phone and video calls to keep the emotional bond with their families. Some were able to hold it together. Others, like Mark’s, fell apart.

Jacobe said he had seen at least 10 men cry during video calls because their partners broke up with them.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has been trying to help the inmates cope with isolation and has been “doing its best to address the situation,” said Tessie Gomez, executive director of Prisoners’ Enhancement and Support Organization Inc. or PRESO.

But the pandemic has exacerbated cases of depression and loneliness.

“I know of an inmate who got so depressed that he went on a hunger strike… He just died,” said Gomez.

“Nothing could replace human touch…. I could imagine how desperate the elderly and the sick are right now,” she said.

The pandemic did not only stop family visits. It also prevented advocates, church groups, schools, and nongovernment organizations from visiting the inmates.

These visits, which provided educational and entertainment value to the PDLs, were stolen away by the pandemic, too.

Shared sacrifice

Before the pandemic, it was unthinkable to cancel visits, especially in-person family visits. It is a right held dearest by the PDLs.

“Family visits are a priority for the persons deprived of liberty [PDLs]. They can stomach unsavory food in jails as long as they can look forward to these visits,” Gomez told the PCIJ.

Jacobe said cancelling visitation was considered the gravest punishment meted only to inmates who had committed extreme violations. Any attempt to suspend it for the whole jail would only lead to riots and noise barrages.

What allowed inmates to accept the current situation was the awareness that jails and prisons are highly vulnerable to the spread of disease, said Raymund Narag, an associate professor at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. A former detainee himself, he is a staunch advocate of reforms in Philippine jails and prisons.

The PDLs also saw how jail officers shared the sacrifice, Narag said. He was referring to the decision of BJMP to assign jail officers, like Jacobe, to stay inside the compounds until the pandemic is over.

Jacobe had been “locked up” inside Manila City Jail since March 20, 2020. Like the inmates he has been guarding, Jacobe’s only means to get in touch with his relatives in the provinces are through phone and video calls.

Narag said this policy was “unique to the Filipinos.” Jail guards from other countries have yet to embrace such a radical initiative in order to slow the spread of virus within their walls and save lives, he said.

The “shared sacrifice” allowed inmates to feel closer to jail officers, said Jacobe. This makes opening up about depression easier because jail officers have become somehow relatable.

Still, Covid-19 penetrated the country’s detention centers. Many suspicious deaths were reported in city jails, the New Bilibid Prison and the Correctional Institute for Women.

Strict measures helped contain the coronavirus, said Gomez. The ban on in-person visits, in particular, prevented the virus from taking over prisons and jails, she said.

Early warnings and close collaboration between jail official and advocates prevented a major human catastrophe, said Narag.

“During meetings, people used the words time bomb to raise awareness about our jail situation. The [PCIJ] story served as a warning to them,” said Narag, referring to PCIJ’s coverage of the situation of jails in 2020 as the pandemic hit the country. (READ: Philippine jails are a Covid-19 time bomb https://pcij.org/article/3979/philippine-jails-are-a-covid-19-time-bomb)

Jacobe said the PDLs understood the situation. “They, too, do not want to die. And choosing to give up visitation rights was a sacrifice on their part not only for the fellow inmates but also for their families,” Jacobe said.

Some of them, like Mark, didn’t realize what it would cost them, however.

E-Dalaw

The BJMP, which is tasked to oversee the city jails, and the Bureau of Corrections, which handles state prisons, maximized the e-Dalaw system to keep PDLs connected to the outside world.

It’s a system that has been in place for years but demand for it intensified because of the pandemic. Prison advocates like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) donated gadgets to city jails.

Allison Lopez, Philippine spokesperson of the ICRC, said at least 31 jails have benefited from ICRC’s program, which distributed tablets with internet load. The gadgets did not only connect PDLs with their loved ones. The BJMP also used them for court hearings, medical consultations, and drug dependency evaluations.

E-Dalaw helped PDLs at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City connect with relatives in Mindanao, according to warden Jayrex Bustanera of Metro Manila Jail District.

Bustanera said some detainees, had failed to communicate with their families for years because distance and lack of money. With e-Dalaw, family ties strengthened because of frequent online chats, he said.

“Now, they are in constant communication with each other,” Bustanera said.

Inmates who did not receive any in-person visitors in the past have since reconnected with their relatives because online calls have become more convenient.

Fighting buryong

At Manila City Jail, various programs were also organized to help the PDLs fight depression and loneliness.

The lack of connection to the outside world induces boredom or buryong, Jacobe said.

To prevent inmates from having idle minds, the city jail intensified online appointments with psychologists and ensured that jail officers checked on the mental state of PDLs regularly.

“The PDLs are also very cooperative with our programs now. You can see that they are avoiding the ‘buryong’ trap,” Jacobe said.

PDLs also encourage each other to dance Zumba with Jacobe him every afternoon.

If anything, the policy became an “equalizer” for all inmates. “They now think pantay-pantay sila (they were all equal). Because now, all of them cannot receive visitors at all,” Gomez said.

The idea of pantay-pantay, however, only applies to physical visits. The class divide is still very much alive in terms of the length and frequency of video calls.

10-second call

Lyn Mangrobang, 49, and her incarcerated husband are trying hard to make their relationship work. She wanted to call him every day, but the cost of phone calls was too steep.

When she is able to call her husband, their conversation is short.  “It’s just hi-hello and how are you,” Mangrobang said.

Their longest call lasted for 15 minutes. The shortest was 10 seconds. They speak to each other twice a month. That’s how their relationship survived the pandemic.

Her husband has been in jail for two decades, currently locked up at NBPs medium security compound. Before the pandemic, family visits were frequent.

Mangrobang finds herself crying most nights these days. Her husband cries during their phone calls, too.

None of the prison advocates nor jail officers interviewed for this story see Philippine jails or prisons opening up soon. Jacobe and Bustanera said the ban on in-person visits might continue for another year.

Narag said the government should recognize PDLs and jail guards as a high-risk sector.

“We should start vaccination in jails soon,” he said.

The supply of shots is low and the  Philippines has one of the worst vaccination rates in the region, however.  #

FIRST PERSON: Kung magka-COVID at sa pampublikong ospital nagpapagamot

Ni Mona Nieva

Ang may akda ay naging pasyente ng COVID sa isang pampublikong ospital sa bandang hilaga ng Kalakhang Maynila. Mahigit isang linggo rin siyang nanatili roon hanggang payagang makauwi para ituloy ang pagpapagaling.

Kung magka COVID ka at malala at sa public hospital magpapagamot, ito ang payo ko sa iyo base sa aking karanasan noong Abril:

1. Masks – magdala at everyday magpalit ka. Sa ward, iba-iba ang makakasama mo, iba iba rin ang level ng COVID. Bukod sa iyo at sa ibang pasyente, para rin ito sa kapakanan ng mga health worker na gagamot sa iyo.

2. Loperamide – kasi baka magka-diarrhea ka at hindi ka na mabalikan ng nurse, lalo kapag full capacity ang ospital. May oras lang ang pagbisita nila at sa dami ng pasyente may chance na makalimutan nila. Hind iyon sadya.

3. Vitamin C – para maka-double dose kahit nasa ospital. Tulungan mo rin sarili ang mo.

4. Biscuit/crackers – pero individually-wrapped. Huwag iyong maramihan, kasi isang bukas lang ay contaminated na lahat iyon. Sana iyong may palaman na rin. In case late ang rasyon ng pagkain. Pwede mo pa i-share sa ibang pasyente.

5. Table napkin o kitchen towel – huwag tissue kasi napakanipis nito. Madali masira ang tisyu. Pero kung kitchen towel or table napkin, sapo ang lahat ng ubo, dahak at more ubo. Maayos pang maitatapon. Mahihikayat din ang iba na hindi na dumahak at dumura sa basurahan kasi kawawa iyong maglilimas nito.

6. Disposable na pangkain – May pagkain sa ospital at maayos at masarap naman ito. May plastic na kubyertos na kasama. Pero kung may nagpadala ng pagkain, mainam ito para hindi masira ang pagkain. Itapon sa basurahan pagkatapos, lahat ng ginamit. Kahit generous ka, no sharing, para sa kapakanan ng lahat.

Rasyon na pagkain sa pampublikong ospital. (Larawang kuha ni M. Nieva)

7. Extra bottled water – may bottled water sa ospital pero minsan mauubos mo kaagad or late darating ang rasyon.

8. Toiletries – sabon para sa iyong hand washing at kung ano-ano pa. Posible naman ang maligo pero mabilisan kasi nakakahiya sa ibang pasyente.

9. Alcohol spray at alcohol pang refill – bring your own alcohol. Importante ito lalo’t marami kayo sa kwarto, iisa lang ng banyo at mixed ang ward. Maaari din itong hiramin ng mga med tech kapag i-xray ka.

10. Charger – because

11. Electric fan – kasi mainit. Kung may extra fan doon, huwag mahiyang manghiram. If magdadala ka, iyong maganda na. Iwan mo na rin doon para sa mga susunod na pasyente.

12. Kumot – walang kumot o unan sa public hospital.

13. Damit – yung presko at madaling isuot, kasi mainit sa ospital. Ang pamalit ay dapat pang-dalawang linggo, lalo ang underwear. Hindi kasi makakapaglaba dahil sa swero o IV. Wala ring pagsasampayan.

Do’s and don’ts

Magpahinga at magpalakas. Mahirap matulog sa ospital pero possible. Gawin iyong lung exercises para lumakas agad ang baga.

Huwag magpanic. Sa loob ng iyong ward, maaari kang makakita ng mga pasyenteng mai-intubate o mamamatay, lalo kung walang separator na tela ang mga hospital bed o mixed ang kaso sa ward. Meron ding tatalon sa bintana.  Anuman ang dahilan nila, kalmahin mo ang sarili mo at isipin mong gagaling ka.

Selfie ng may-aksa sa loob ng ospital.

Makipag kapwa-tao. Makipagkumustahan. Hindi ka man sanay, makakabuti ito sa mental health mo at ng kapwa pasyente.

Unawain ang mga health worker. Kulang kulang pa rin mga PPE nila. Iyong iba, sisinghap-singhap na habang kinukuhaan ka ng BP. Yung iba naman, basang basa na ng pawis to a point na tutulo na parang bukas na gripo yung pawis nila kapag tumungo lang sila. Pero tuloy lang ang pag asikaso sa may sakit.

Huwag mong tiisin ang hindi dapat. Sakaling may mamatay sa iyong ward, paalalahanan ang mga health worker na takpan kung hindi agad makukuha ang labi ng isang pasyente. Kung lumipas na ang isang oras at wala pa rin takip o hindi pa rin kinukuha, ipaalala muli. Huwag mong sundin iyong kasabihan na “Pagtiisan mo na lang dahil naka public hospital ka.” Deserved ng buhay ang respeto, ganoon din ang mga patay.

Magpasalamat ka. Hind mo man nakikita yung doktor mo, ipaabot mo ang iyong pasasalamat. Pasalamatan mo rin ang lahat ng health worker na makakasalubong mo sa iyong paglabas.

Cheers to life! #

Pharma execs cash in on expensive Covid vaccines while billions wait inoculation

MANILA, Philippines—Nine new billionaires were created by excessive profits in the manufacture of coronavirus vaccines, a global alliance revealed.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA) said its analysis of recent Forbes Rich List data showed massive wealth is being generated from the Covid pandemic and executives of corporations manufacturing vaccines are cashing in.

“Between them, the nine new billionaires have a combined net wealth of $19.3 billion, enough to fully vaccinate all people in low-income countries 1.3 times,” the PVA– whose members include Global Justice Now, Oxfam and The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)—revealed Thursday ahead of this year’s G20 leaders Global Health Summit in Rome, Italy.

“Meanwhile, these countries have received only 0.2 per cent of the global supply of vaccines, because of the massive shortfall in available doses, despite being home to 10 per cent of the world’s population,” the alliance added.

Among the new billionaires are executives of successful Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers Moderna, Pfizer’s BioNTech and CanSino Biologics.

The PVA said the nine new vaccine billionaires, in order of their net worth are:

  1. Stéphane Bancel –  Moderna’s CEO (worth $4.3 billion) 
  2. Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech (worth $4 billion) 
  3. Timothy Springer  – an immunologist and founding investor of Moderna (worth $2.2bn)
  4. Noubar Afeyan – Moderna’s Chairman (worth $1.9 billion) 
  5. Juan Lopez-Belmonte– Chairman of ROVI, a company with a deal to manufacture and package the Moderna vaccine (worth $1.8 billion) 
  6. Robert Langer – a scientist and founding investor in Moderna (worth $1.6 billion) 
  7. Zhu Tao co-founder and chief scientific officer at CanSino Biologics (worth $1.3 billion) 
  8. Qiu Dongxu, co-founder and senior vice president at CanSino Biologics (worth $1.2) 
  9. Mao Huinhoa, also co-founder and senior vice president at CanSino Biologics (worth $1 billion) 

The Philippines imports vaccines from both Moderna and BioNTech. The Department of Health told the Senate that two doses of Moderna cost PHP3,904 while BioNTech cost PHP2,379.

In addition, eight existing billionaires– who have extensive portfolios in the Covid vaccine pharmaceutical corporations – have seen their combined wealth increase by $32.2 billion, the PVA said.

The added wealth created through the manufacture of the vaccines are enough to fully vaccinate everyone in India, a country most affected by the pandemic, the alliance added.

PVA said the eight vaccine billionaires who saw their wealth increase are:

NameRole/description$ billions 2021 $ billions 2020 
Jiang Rensheng & familyChair, Zhifei Biological products $  24.40  $ 7.60 
Cyrus PoonawallaFounder, Serum Institute of India $  12.70  $ 8.20 
Tse PingSinopharm $  8.90  $ 7.30 
Wu GuanjiangCo-founder, Zhifei Biological products $  5.10  $ 1.80 
Thomas Struengmann & familyportfolio includes Germany’s BioNTech and Uruguay’s Mega Pharma$ 11.00  $ 9.60 
Andreas Struengmann & familyportfolio includes Germany’s BioNTech and Uruguay’s Mega Pharma $  11.00  $ 9.60 
Pankaj Patel controls listed company Cadila Healthcare. The company now manufactures drugs to treat Covid-19 such as Remdesivir from Gilead. Its Covid-19 vaccine, ZyCoV-D, is undergoing clinical trials. $  5.00  $ 2.90 
Patrick Soon-ShiongImmunityBio – selected for the US federal government’s “Operation Warp Speed” to help quickly develop a Covid-19 vaccine. $   7.50  $ 6.40 

PVA said expectation of huge profits from the Covid vaccines created the billionaires as stocks in pharmaceutical firms are rising rapidly.

The alliance warned that the monopolies allow pharmaceutical corporations total control over the supply and price of vaccines, pushing up their profits while making it harder for poor countries such as the Philippines to secure the stocks they need.  

The PVA said that Covid vaccines should be manufactured rapidly and at scale, as global common goods, free of intellectual property protections and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.

Philippine vaccine procurement chief Carlito Galvez has lamented the difficulties the Philippines faces in procuring vaccines amid limited global supply.

At an online meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Council last April, Galvez said: “The Philippines remains resolute in championing a policy of ensuring universal, fair, equitable, and timely access to Covid-19 vaccines.”

A vial of the Moderna Covid vaccine. (Photo by Ian Hutchinson/Unsplash)

The faces of vaccine profits

In a statement, international humanitarian and development organization Oxfam said the billionaires are the faces of the huge profits created by the “monopolous” pharmaceutical corporations.

“What a testament to our collective failure to control this cruel disease that we quickly create new vaccine billionaires but totally fail to vaccinate the billions who desperately need to feel safe,” Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager Anna Marriott said.

Marriot said the development of the vaccines were funded by public money and should be first and foremost a global public good, not a private profit opportunity.

The campaigner urged the end of the “monopoly” to allow for greater vaccine production, the lowering of their prices and faster inoculation of the world’s population.

Earlier this month the US backed proposals by South Africa and India at the World Trade Organization to temporarily break up the so-called monopolies and lift the patents on COVID-19 vaccines.

This move has the support of over 100 developing countries, and, in recent days, countries like Spain have also declared their support, as has Pope Francis and over 100 world leaders and Nobel laureates, the PVA said.

Rich countries as enablers of huge profits

The call for the faster manufacture of cheaper Covid vaccines are falling on deaf ears, however, with at least two of the richest countries blocking the proposal, the PVA revealed.

The group added that Italy, host of the G20 Global Health Summit today, continues to sit on the fence on the issue, as are Canada and France. 

“As thousands of people die each day in India, it is utterly repugnant that the UK, Germany and others want to put the interests of the billionaire owners of Big Pharma ahead of the desperate needs of millions,”  Global Justice Now senior policy and campaigns manager Heidi Chow said.

UNAIDS executive director Winnie Byanyima for her part said: “While the companies making massive profits from COVID vaccines are refusing to share their science and technology with others in order to increase the global vaccine supply, the world continues to face the very real risk of mutations that could render the vaccines we have ineffective and put everyone at risk all over again.”

“The pandemic has come at a terrible human cost, so it is obscene that profits continue to come before saving lives” Byanyima added.

 The PVA said that Covid vaccines should be manufactured rapidly and at scale, as global common goods, free of intellectual property protections and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.  # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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)