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‘Do not blame health workers going abroad’

Image by Carlo Francisco/Kodao

On the deployment ban of health workers abroad:

“We cannot blame our nurses and other healthcare workers who want to seek better paying jobs abroad despite the risks to their own health and anxieties of leaving their own families behind…[O]ur government leaders have clearly proven that their labor, remarkable contributions, sacrifices and voices are not valued.”–Joanna Concepcion, Chairperson, Migrante International

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! #

Putting Back the “Community” in Community Pantry

By L. S. Mendizabal

On the seventh day since the first community pantry on Maginhawa St., Quezon City was erected, one of its initiators, Ana Patricia Non, took a break but did not rest. The 26-year-old small entrepreneur, “Patreng” to many, gave a press conference via Facebook Live, explaining why she and her fellow organizers ceased operations temporarily: They did not feel safe after the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict accused her of being a “communist,” a brand the Duterte administration has proclaimed to be synonymous with “criminal,” “terrorist,” “a menace to society.”

“People are grateful because the community pantry revived their spirits to help one another in times of crisis . . . But even that had to stop. It hurts that we were forced to close even for just a day. Think of how many families, how many meals the community pantry would have provided,” Patreng said in Filipino, her voice cracking, barely able to hold back tears. “We had to stop for the time being to ensure our safety and to clear the allegations.”

On the same day, Metro Manila Eastern Police District set up its own community pantry with rice, canned goods, face masks and face shields. Also stacked are copies of the Gideon Bible and the police journal magazine replete with red-tagging propaganda because, y’know, “Communism is bad.” Throughout the Duterte regime alone, PNP is notorious for tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings in the war against drugs and anti-terror campaign. From accessorizing dead bodies with pieces of cardboard that said, “Pusher ako, huwag tularan (I am a drug pusher, do not emulate)” to giving away food and bibles under cardboard signs stating a rather interesting iteration of the Maginhawa Community Pantry slogan,

“Magbigay nang naaayon sa kakayahan, dumampot ayon sa inyong pangangailangan (Give what you can, seize what you need)”—their altruism is of the violent kind.

Ana Patricia Non (Photo from Altermidya)

Death, hunger, gloom and doom

Since the novel coronavirus claimed its first victim in the Philippines when the government failed to promptly close our borders, there’s been no mass testing or contact tracing. Hospitals are full. Frontliners are grossly underpaid, overworked and dying. COVID funds amounting to a trillion pesos have yet to be felt by 18 million beneficiaries still waiting for a second cash dole-out.

Unemployment is at an all-time record high. According to IBON Foundation, the total number of unemployed and underemployed soared to a staggering 12 million in February 2021. With the absence of food subsidy and the disruption of food systems, the poor are the hardest hit by draconian lockdowns, or this administration’s single palpable response to the pandemic. Minimum wage earners must go out to work or find work every day, risking COVID exposure. Staying home is a luxury the poor simply can’t afford. To them, dying from hunger is a more immediate concern than dying from the virus.

Academics of the Philippine Sociological Society in a study on the community pantry initiative claim that Filipinos have also been experiencing feelings of “gloom and doom.” WHO says that isolation, bereavement, fear and loss of income during the pandemic have been detrimental to individual mental health. Constant news of human rights violations may cause gloom and doom as well, for how can you sleep soundly at night knowing a 12-year-old boy just died after barangay tanods chased him when he was “caught playing outside?”

Omega Avenue community pantry. (Photo by Roberto de Castro)

A social phenomenon bred by state abandonment

On April 14, Patreng and her little bamboo trolley of free vegetables with a signboard bearing the words, “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan (Give what you can, take what you need),” first stood on a street corner in the city with the most COVID cases and deaths in the country. Small vendors and tricycle drivers nearby have since helped Patreng repack and distribute goods as well as facilitate the daily queue of neighbors they’ve invited themselves. And just like that, a movement was born.

Within three days, PSS identified 44 community pantries nationwide with majority in NCR. As of this writing, there are 500 from as far up north as Cagayan all the way south to “DDS Country,” Davao City. PSS in its initial analysis of the community pantry calls it an “emergent agency”—an independent initiative taken by stakeholders to effect changes on their situation. Emergent collective behaviors rise when preexisting structures fail to meet people’s demands. Notably, a good chunk of the community pantries that swiftly followed Maginhawa’s example are of organized masses from marginalized sectors who initiated community kitchens and collective gardening since the first enhanced community quarantine. PSS notes that these earlier emergent agencies didn’t quite capture the people’s imagination the way community pantries have.

Although they’re not the cure to end food insecurity, the viral spread of community pantries is but a symptom of the true state of the nation: Like Patreng, Filipinos are “tired of complaining and fed up with government inaction.”

Fish on their way from Laguna de Bai to community pantries in Quezon City. (Pamalakaya photo)

Half a piece of ginger, cups of taho and a tale of two oranges

Community pantries have been practiced in the US and other parts of the world. When COVID hit Thailand, locals installed cupboards filled with food, medicines and other necessities in public spaces in Bangkok to help one another. Called “happiness-sharing pantries,” they spread all over the country, reaching a total of 1 400 by the end of 2020. As lockdown restrictions were lifted in Thailand and stores reopened, the pantries were later abandoned.

In the Philippines, community pantries show no signs of slowing down as Duterte stays in power, hoarding public funds for his election war chest. (The original Maginhawa Community Pantry announced Monday night it will cease to be a distribution center starting today, Tuesday, April 27. It will instead be a donation center from which nearby community pantries shall be replesnished.—Ed. ) A viral element of the phenomenon is its slogan which people have adopted and translated into many different languages and dialects, my favorite being LGBTQ+ organization Bahaghari’s “Gumib luv offering ayern sa kerichinabels, gumeching vatai sa needine lustre.” More than just a catchphrase, Filipinos from all walks of life have been unified by the idea and practice of a mutual aid grounded on giving what they can and taking only what they need.

In contrast to donation drives where the same prepacked goods are given to households without taking into account household size, you have the freedom to get what your family specifically needs from a community pantry regardless of what you donate. How much one takes / gives is a non-issue. In a Bulatlat article, University of the Philippines Professor Sarah Raymundo says that community pantries defy the capitalist market because they highlight products’ utility (use value) over their monetary worth (exchange value).

This encourages people to prioritize the needs of others over their own. For instance, a resident in a resettlement area in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan only needed a small slice of ginger, so she broke one into two pieces “para makakuha rin ang iba (so others may have as well).” In Kawit, Cavite, a taho vendor gave out free cups of his own product by a small roadside table. Inspiring passersby, they bought more cups of taho for his little pantry. Patreng also shared in the press conference how an old beggar picked up two oranges. When he was told to get more, he said two were enough to get him by for the day.

The community pantry is a utopian space where the destitute and benevolent converge, often one and the same. More than bayanihan and volunteerism, it advocates collectivism. This boggles the minds of the rich because they only understand an individualist way of life, not unlike that of a barangay captain in Los Baños, Laguna who threw a fit, accusing organizers of profiting off their pantry. His angry constituents later exposed him on social media for using personal connections to get vaccinated ahead of frontliners.

The Maginhawa Community Pantry. (Photo by Roberto de Castro)

“Communist Pantry,” “just bayanihan” and other anti-people takes

Once the community pantry became a phenomenon, anyone who knows this administration damn well would’ve seen red-tagging from a mile away. Historically, emergent agencies or relief efforts that expose government incompetence are met with hostility. Last year alone, cops destroyed Sitio San Roque’s community kitchen and apprehended youth volunteers distributing food packs to impoverished communities in QC, Malate, Marikina, Bulacan, etc. Armed men killed activist Jory Porquia while conducting relief operations in Iloilo City.

According to UP Prof. Danilo Arao in an online forum on journalism ethics and community pantries, red-baiting is the “highest form of fake news” because it endangers lives. It is the state’s go-to tactic in discrediting and demonizing personalities and organizations so that hurting them is justified. Another objective of red-tagging, Arao explained, is to challenge its target/s to denounce Communist links. Sounds familiar? Mainstream media, GMA Network being the biggest offender of late, has become nothing more than a mouthpiece of a regime that persecutes people like Patreng whose only fault is facilitating change.

Neoliberalism has so deprived us of basic social services and turned everything into a capitalist commodity that Filipinos sharing goods among themselves has become quite the spectacle. That said, what really frightens the state is not its “phenomenal” or “bayanihan” aspect, or Patreng’s political affiliations. The community pantry is not just a place of sharing and caring but sharing and caring between the middle and lower social classes with similar traumas caused by the pandemic and exacerbated by state inutility and terrorism. Some might’ve lost jobs, others loved ones, most of them hope. Now, they find solace and strength in being able to not only take but give, whether it’s 50 kilos of fish from small fisherfolk alliance PAMALAKAYA; sacks of sweet potatoes from a farmer in Paniqui, Tarlac; or three packs of noodles from the kind balut vendor at Maginhawa. The community pantry feeds people for a day but empowers them for much longer as they continue to struggle in a society that takes jobs, loved ones and children’s lives, and thrives on widespread hunger, doom and gloom.

Community pantries as a collective refusal to not starve are a protest whether you like it or not. And it’s disturbing how Malacañang, NTF-ELCAC, some journalists and centrist liberals all sound the same: “It’s just bayanihan and should be free of any politics.” Keep calm and share gulay, they say. A bishop went as far as declaring that these pantries with their signboards will “forever erase the shame” of cardboard justice in the drug war. Great. When they’re not red-baiting whole movements, they’re whitewashing or romanticizing them. Why do we celebrate bayanihan yet balk at the idea of hopeful, empowered masses who feed one another and understand why they starve in the first place?

“Everything is political,” says PAMALAKAYA – Southern Tagalog Spokesperson Ronnel Arambulo. “Widespread hunger is a result of government inadequacy in responding to the health crisis. The national situation should not be seen as a separate picture from community pantries.”

Meanwhile, mayors have expressed support and assured organizers of their safety. A resignation was tendered. Gag orders were issued. These are little victories, indeed, but we must not be complacent. Patreng is right: She may be safe for now but entire communities are not. Believing that community pantries are red-tagged because some have given political meaning to them is only blaming the victim. It says outright, “They deserve to be red-tagged for not submitting to the status quo.” This fascist thinking is harmful to the people.

The Iloilo City mobile community pantry by a local LGBTQIA+ group. (Photo by Irish Granada)

From the masses, to the masses

An organizer posted on FB about buying vegetables from a peasant in Nueva Ecija. Upon knowing they were for a community pantry, she said, “Napanood ko sa TV kanina. Nagugutom ang tao, pinapasara pa nila! Komunista raw. E ano naman? Namimigay lang naman! (I learned about it on TV. People are starving yet the government wants to close them! They call them communists. What about it? They’re only giving out food!)” After donating 200 pesos, she added, “Maganda ‘yang ginagawa ninyo. Pipila kami mamaya pero hindi na gulay ‘yung kukunin namin. Bigas sana (What you’re doing is noble. We’re going to line up at the pantry later but we won’t be getting vegetables. I hope there’s rice).”

It isn’t hard for the poor to understand and embrace the community pantry as their own because they struggle the most and have been quite vocal about their grievances. Instead of calling them “komunista,” “reklamador” or “pasaway,” Patreng listened. If the masses are not afraid to voice out their demands and work towards social change, why should we be? Let’s stop telling them what to do and as them instead what must be done. Let communities lead the way for community pantries. #

References:

Altermidya (2021, April 23). To ask or not to ask: Lessons on red-tagging & community pantry [Video]. Facebook. https://fb.watch/56UyZvIOhF/

Bolledo, J. (2021). “12-year-old boy chased by Pasay tanods loses consciousness, dies”. Rappler. Retrieved from https://www.rappler.com/nation/minor-chased-by-pasay-tanods-loses-consciousness-dies-april-2021

Chatinakrob. T. (2020). “Happiness-sharing Pantries: an effective weapon to ease hunger for the needy during the pandemic in Thailand”. Retrieved from https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/seac/2020/09/16/happiness-sharing-pantries/

Dionisio, J. et al (2021). “Contagion of Mutual Aid in the Philippines: An Initial Analysis of the Viral Community Pantry Initiative as Emergent Agency in Times of Covid-19”. Retrieved from https://philippinesociology.com/contagion-of-mutual-aid-in-the-philippines/

IBON Foundation (2021). “Joblessness worsens in February and will get worse with ECQ”. Retrieved from https://www.ibon.org/joblessness-worsens-in-february-and-will-get-worse-with-ecq-ibon/

Raymundo, S. (2021). “Community Pantry Ph: Hugpungan ng ginhawa at pag-iral ng use value”. Bulatlat. Retrieved from https://www.bulatlat.com/2021/04/22/community-pantry-ph-hugpungan-ng-ginhawa-at-pag-iral-ng-use-value/

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. #

Measly ECQ aid an afterthought — IBON

by IBON Foundation

Research group IBON said that the Duterte administration’s financial assistance to families affected by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is so little that it is plainly just an afterthought.

Giving assistance clearly only entered the government’s mind when it once again resorted to an ill-conceived ECQ to try and contain the uncontrollable spread of COVID-19, said the group.

The Duterte administration announced that it will distribute assistance to some 22.9 million low-income households affected by the renewed ECQ in the National Capital Region, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan (dubbed NCR+).

It promises Php1,000 per individual to be distributed by the local government units (LGUs) as cash or in kind.

The so-called supplementary Social Amelioration Program (SAP) is evidently hastily being put together just now, said IBON.

The group said that after a year, the government has noticeably forgotten about giving aid and has not even bothered to make any contingencies or guidelines for providing further emergency cash subsidies.

IBON also observed how the budget for this is not being determined by the needs of Filipino families being driven into deeper distress.

Instead, the allocation for aid is decided based merely on the amount of leftovers from COVID-19 response funds that should have already been spent.

The economic managers said financing would be sourced from Php23 billion in unspent Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) funds.

As a result, said IBON, only a measly Php1,000 is being allotted per individual including for those who have already suffered joblessness, loss of incomes and livelihoods, and depleted savings after over a year of lockdowns.

This is even less than two days of the NCR minimum wage of Php537, said the group.

IBON added that the assistance looks even more meager compared to its estimated family living wage (FLW) of Php1,064 as of February 2021. The FLW is the amount needed by a family of five members each day to meet their basic needs.

As it is, even the very few families getting the full amount of emergency cash aid under Bayanihan 1, Bayanihan 2 and this supplementary SAP would only have gotten around Php15,607 to help tide them over the 54 weeks of lockdowns since March 15, 2020.

This is the sum of average assistance received under the SAP 1st tranche (Php5,637) and SAP 2nd tranche (Php5,970), and assuming a family gets the maximum Php4,000 supplementary SAP today.

IBON said that poor and low-income families in NCR+ deserve not just Php1,000 but at least Php10,000 in emergency cash subsidies to be distributed immediately, or ten times more than being offered after a year of lockdowns.

This should even be given for at least three months and then to at least the poorest 18 million or even 22.5 million families, stressed the group.

Substantial emergency cash subsidies will provide immediate relief to tens of millions of Filipinos as well as significantly spur aggregate demand to help the economy recover faster, said IBON. #

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

‘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.

‘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.” #

OFWs press for scrapping of mandatory PhilHealth membership

A group of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and overseas Filipinos pressed their demand for the scrapping of the mandatory Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) membership amid difficulties brought them by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, Migrante International said OFWs have been facing job losses amidst the pandemic that is aggravated by “onerous government fees” such as the proposed PhilHealth premium rate increase this year.

The group said mandatory PhilHealth membership has been a burden for OFWs since the passage of the Universal Healthcare Act (UHC) signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on February 20, 2019.

The law requires OFWs to be PhilHealth members before leaving for work abroad.

Migrante earlier said majority of the OFWs have no use for mandatory membership as PhilHealth is practically useless in helping them pay medical bills when they get sick abroad.

Instead, Migrante said PhilHealth membership should be “voluntary for those with capacity to pay contributions.”  

Migrante also scored the corruption at the health insurance agency that has yet to properly account for at least Php 15 billion in allegedly misspent funds.

“PhilHealth has been used as a tool for unscrupulous health officials appointed by the President to amass billions of members’ contributions for their own selfish interests,” the group said.

“Why should contributors suffer by paying increased premiums in response to the agency’s lack of funds?” the group also asked.

Migrante demands “corrupt” PhilHealth officials involved be held accountable and prosecuted. 

Migrante also said OFWs believe that Duterte’s recent announcement to defer the collection of increased PhilHealth premiums is only a tactic to quell the anger and anxiety of the people especially during this COVID crisis.

“Merely deferring the increased premium does nothing to calm down the people,” Migrante said in its statement.

Instead, the group said OFWs want a genuine, pro-people, universal health care program through free and comprehensive medical and health services. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)