A senator of the Republic is currently reaping the whirlwind after announcing he learned he is positive of the corona virus disease (Covid-19) while accompanying his wife to a hospital delivery room. The Makati Medical Center is livid with Senator Koko Pimentel for what it described as a breach of Covid-19 home quarantine protocols. Pimentel is also being pilloried online, and understandably so.
Pimentel’s ill advised caper followed widespread denunciation of reports that senators, other high government officials and their families pressure the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine to have their test kits processed ahead of everybody else’s, including those who display symptoms of the dreaded disease. Resentment is strong among the people who are being forced to observe the lockdown imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte despite the lack of a logical plan on how the lockdown should be implemented, save for the deployment of police and military personnel with assault rifles on checkpoints throughout Luzon island.
Pimentel’s gambol is not helping the government convince it is doing a good job in containing the spread of the virus. Aside from the utter lack of mass testing to pinpoint where the virus is spreading the fastest, what Pimentel and fellow senators Francis Tolentino, Imee Marcos, and others have demonstrated is their utter disregard for the people, particularly the poor, sick, elderly, and the frontline health workers who need to be tested first with the limited kits that are available.
This has led the people (at least those who have internet connections at home) to launch trending tweet campaigns that demand accountability, such that even this government’s well-oiled troll armies could no longer cover up. President Duterte’s obvious absence isn’t helping his spin doctors any. If he does go on television (often at ungodly hours of the evening) he could only manage rambling speeches that help very little in calming the nerves of an already nervous populace.
The populace’s nervousness is understandable. In communities, the people are afraid whether they would be able to feed themselves or whether there are still food items to be bought until the month-long lockdown ends. The fact that they are also humiliated—such as in Parañaque where those suspected of violating the so-called community quarantine are tortured by being forced to sit under the heat of the unrelenting sun or are harshly and publicly berated—contribute to the growing resentment.
I was in Switzerland and The Netherlands when the Covid-19 pandemic shifted to the region as its new epi-center earlier this month. Countries were also closing their borders and lockdowns were imposed one after the other. But there are no checkpoints in communities and the police do not carry assault rifles to terrorize the people into staying indoors. Only food stores and pharmacies are allowed to remain open but, pretty much, the governments rely on their citizens to comply with self-quarantine requests without unnecessary force. When I arrived back here, all I saw is the overwhelming exercise of state power through the police and the military. Even those who need to be at work because they are real frontliners in the fight against the virus are finding it hard to do their jobs because of the overly-strict and illogical edict of banning all forms of transport.
The Covid-19 crisis is the Duterte government’s Mamasapano and Hello, Garci crises of the past two administrations. If it slides through this one, it would only be through the heroism of the frontliners (doctors, nurses, hospitals, relief and emergency workers, and others) who battle through despite lack of supplies, absence of clear directions and plans, and even through thick-headedness and cheekiness of the likes of Pimentel. How this administration runs around like a headless chicken, albeit full-battle geared, in one of the country’s direst moments is turning out to be its true legacy to the people. #