By Renato Reyes Jr.
It appears the Duterte regime may extend the lockdown for another two weeks, and then blame the people for it. The developing storyline is that Filipinos are hard-headed and will cause the failure of the quarantine measures. An extension is thus necessary. Martial Law-style implementation is also necessary.
While we recognize there may be difficulties in the proper implementation of the quarantine protocols by some elements, it would be unjust and highly insensitive to blame this solely on the people, especially the poor.
Before accepting hook, line and sinker the Palace excuse, let us all pause for a moment and examine why we find ourselves where we are now in the first place.
It was Malacañang’s slow response to and downplaying of the global health crisis which led to the imposition of severe quarantine measures throughout Luzon and other parts of the Philippines. There was no travel ban at the onset, local transmission happened, and the health system was ill-prepared to handle a crisis.
Let us remind policymakers that when the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was imposed, there were no plans for public transportation, social protection, relief for affected families and uniformity in the execution of quarantine measures. Local government units (LGUs) were asked to fend for themselves while the regime was busy setting up checkpoints and militarizing the entire ECQ, turning it into a harsh lockdown for the people.
Let us remind policymakers that at the onset, the regime resisted the call for mass testing as well as the positive initiatives of some LGUs to implement health measures. Only after the clamor became so loud that the DOH finally acknowledged the need for mass testing for COVID 19.
Let us remind the people of how the powerful would flaunt quarantine protocols because they felt that they were somehow exempted, thus potentially infecting other people.
Let us remind the regime how it treated the people of San Roque when they sought food and economic aid. They were arrested, charged with so many ridiculous cases and made to pay P15,000 each for bail – when the most reasonable response would have been to just give them food.
Let us continue to point out the fact that the emergency powers did little to speed up the social amelioration program of the government. Up to now, despite the money already allotted, millions still have not received the promised economic support. The list of beneficiaries approved by the DSWD is often less than the list submitted by the LGUs, thus creating problems among administrators and those who are in need.
“Matigas ang ulo niyo!” does not reflect the complex and difficult situation faced by our people. It glosses over government culpability for the crisis and unfairly shifts the blame to the people.
While the ECQ has slowed down the spread of the disease, we have always maintained that it is not enough nor is the lockdown the decisive measure in fighting COVID19. We need mass testing, contact tracing, isolation and treatment of patients. We need to ramp up our health services to accommodate more patients. We need economic support for the people because we cannot expect them to simply stay at home when they are faced with hunger.
We have called on the government to show the people its roadmap and the key indicators for the lifting or modification of the lockdown. How will we move from a state of ECQ to the easing of restrictions as our health system copes with the rising number of COVID19 cases. We supported the recommendations of the University of the Philippines Pandemic Response Team for a modified community quarantine that allows the resumption of economic activity and restores the livelihood of the people.
We cannot simply accept an open-ended or indefinite lockdown that does not address the health and economic needs of the people. We cannot accept laying the blame on people to cover up government inaction, incompetence or gross negligence. We cannot accept heightened military response as the ONLY way to enforce quarantine measures. Whatever happened to “mulat na disiplina” where people follow protocols because they understand what these mean and not because they fear the government? A heightened militarist response invites more abuses in a time when the country is faced with a serious health crisis.
Blaming the people for quarantine woes and difficulties absolves the government of its primary responsibility of effectively fighting COVID19 while protecting the rights and welfare of the people. “Matigas ang ulo niyo!” doesn’t explain away the problems the regime itself should be accountable for. #
The author is the secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.