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‘Secretary Lopez is acting like Pontious Pilate’

“Secretary Lopez is acting like Pontious Pilate, refusing government’s responsibility in ensuring safe mass transportation to hundreds of thousands of workers going to work under MECQ. Naghuhugas-kamay siya sa pananagutan ng gobyerno sa mga manggagawa.”

 Elmer “Bong” Labog

 Chairperson, Kilusang Mayo Uno

Carlo Francisco

Paano aalagaan ang mental health ngayong COVID lockdown?

Sa panahon ngayon, importante ang social connection at psycho-social support sa bawat isa. Ok tayo sa pisikal na distancing pero tuloy dapat ang social connection. Sa social connection papasok ang pagtutulungan ng bawat miyembro ng pamilya para matagalan ang ECQ. Ito ang panahon ng family bonding.

Ni Dr. Reggie Pamugas/Panayam ni Raymund B. Villanueva

Sinasabi ng mga eksperto sa mundo na nagiging pandemya na rin sa mental health ang krisis na dulot ng coronavirus na pinalalala ng kwarantina at mga lockdown na nag-uutos sa mga tao na manatili na lamang muna sa loob ng bahay. Dahil mahigit nang dalawang buwan ang lockdown sa mga bansa katulad ng sa Pilipinas, marami na marahil ang nakakaranas ng psychological stress dulot ng pagkakakulong, kawalan ng interaksyon sa mga dating nakakasalamuha at kawalan ng kasiguruhan sa hanapbuhay at ikabubuhay.

Kinapanayam ng Kodao ang isa sa pinaka-aktibong sikolohista na nagbibigay-tulong sa mga pamayanang nakararanas ng matinding psychological stress. Siya marahil ang pinaka-aktibong tumulong sa mga pamayanan sa Silangang Bisayas matapos ang super-bagyong Yolanda. Siya rin ang nagbibigay-tulong sa mga taong may psychological stress dahil sa kanilang trabaho, tulad ng mga mamamahayag.

Yuris Alhumaydy
@yrss

1. Ano ang mental health?

Ang kalusugang pangkaisipan o mental health, ayon sa World Health Organization ay isang kalagayan ng kagalingan kung saan ang isang tao ay maalam sa kanyang abilidad, kayang umagapay sa pangkaraniwang stress ng buhay, nakakapag-trabaho ng maayos, at nakakapag-ambag sa kanyang pamayanan.

Ang sakit sa pag-iisip o mental illnesses naman ay isang kondisyong pangkalusugan na nakakakitaan ng pagbabago-bago sa emosyon, pag-iisip o pag-uugali o kumbinasyon ng mga ito. Dulot ito ng distress o mga suliraning nagmumula sa sosyal, trabaho, o relasyon at aktibidad sa pamilya. Ito naman ay ayon sa American Psychiatric Association.

2.  Ano ang dulot ng lockdown na ito sa mental health ng karaniwang mamamayan, partikular sa tila walang malinaw na plano hinggil sa kabuhayan, pagkain, transportasyon ng mga kailangan pa ring lumabas bilang frontliners o manggagawa o arawan lamang ang kita?

Malaki ang epekto ng lockdown sa mental health ng tao. Ang tao ay social beings, kaya nung pinatupad ung social distancing na kasama sa ECQ, medyo nahirapan ung mga tao. Karamihan ay nakaramdam ngstress, nerbyos, pag-alala, kahirapan sa pagtulog, at iba pa dahil sa isip na walang kasiguraduhan at ang pagbabago ng situation (pandemic na). At dahil first time itong naranasan ng karamihan ng Pilipino, marami talaga ang kinakabahan at na-apektuhan ang kanila at ating mental health. Ang nakadagdag pa sa problema ay hindi malinaw na guidelines o plano mula sa ating gobyerno o pa-iba-iba ang sinasabi ng gobyerno at kulang ng information dissemination sa mga tao at komunidad.

3. Paano nakaka-apekto ang lockdown na ito sa mental health ng karaniwang mamamayan sa pagmamalabis sa implementasyon nito ng mga taong-gubyerno, tulad ng pagbibilad sa mga violators daw sa quarantine, pananakit sa iba, pamamahiya, at iba pang banta sa kanila?

Sa mga taong may otoridad (pulis at military o barangay tanod) lalong dumarami ang pang-aabuso sa  kapangyarihan. Dahil ang training nila ay security response at hindi medikal o matinding pag-unawa sa kapwa. Kaya, madalas, labis na implentasyon o paglabag sa karapatang pantao ang ginagawa nila. Iba ang perspective ng nagpapatupad/ LGU/ national government kumpara sa mamamayan. May covid19 pandemic man o wala, basta may paglabag sa karapantang pantao, itoy nakaka-apekto sa isipan ng tao. Isa itong traumatic experience sa kanya na hindi nya makakalimutan at pwedeng magdulot sa sakit sa isipan. Nakakalungkot lang isipin na kahit sa panahon ng covid19 ay may pangyayaring pang-aabuso pa rin sa kapwa Pilipino sa halip ng compassion, pag-unawa at pagpapasensya.

4. Ano ang dulot ng lockdown na ito sa mental health ng karaniwang mamamayan matapos nilang malaman na ang mga taong may pribilehiyo tulad nina Senador Koko Pimental ay nakakaikot pa sa mga lugar at may mga wala namang sintomas at hindi  frontliner ay nauuna sa Covid-19 testing?

Minsan nahahati ang reaksyon ng mga tao dahil sa pag-iisip na opisyal sila ng gobyerno kaya may pribilehiyo sila. Pero karamihan ng mga tao ay nagagalit sa mga pag-aabuso ng mga gobyernong opisyal. Sa panahon ng covid19, dapat may role model o responsableng tao/opisyal na sinosunod ang mamamayan para may kaayusan. Pero hindi ito nangyayari. Kapag hindi matino ang isang leader o gobyernong opisyal, magulo ang resulta. Korapsyon at pang-aabuso sa kapangyarihan ang nangyayari.

5. Ano ang dulot ng lockdown na ito sa mental health ng mamayan kung bawas ang impormasyong natatanggap nila dahil sa limitasyong imposed sa mga alagad ng media?

Kapag kulang ang impormasyon na nakukuha ang mamamayan dahil sa limitasyon ng media ay lalong nagdudulot ito ng pangamba, takot, nerbyos sa mga tao. Ang dagdag problema pa ay dumadami ang mga fake news na lalong nakakalito sa mamamayan.

Photo by Jinky Mendoza/Kodao

6. Ano ang dulot ng lockdown na ito sa mental health ng mamamayan kung naglipana ang fake news, pati na rin ang galing mismo sa pamahalaan?

Hindi nakakatulong yung paglaganap ng fake news sa ating bansa. Ang mga tao sa panahon ng krisis ay umaasa sa tulong ng ating gobyerno. Kapag nalilito ang tao dahil sa fake news lalo sa panahon ng krisis, lalo silang matatakot at magpa-panic. Pwede rin itong magdulot ng away sa kapwa tao.

7. Ano ang dulot ng lockdown sa mental health ng mamamayan kung walang malinaw na impormasyon kung matagumpay ba o hindi ang ginagawa ng pamahalaan upang tugunan ang krisis, kung kailan ba matatapos ang lockdown, at kung ano ang plano matapos ang ilang buwang community quarantine?

Kung walang malinaw na impormasyon sa plano kung paano sugpuin ang covid19 o hanggang kalian ‘yung lockdown, lalong maging nerbyoso, magpa-panic o matatakot ang mag tao. Kaya ang iba ay hindi sumusunod sa ECQ/ quarantine, maliban pa sa rason na ekonomiko dahil hindi malinaw ang impormasyon tungkol sa covid19 o plano sa pagsugpo nito.

8. Bakit mahalaga na pangalagaan ang mental health ng mamamayang isinasailalalim sa community quarantine, lalo na yung mga nasa isolation, forced o voluntary?

Mahalagang mapangalagaan ang mental health sa panahon ng ECQ para hindi magkasakit sa isipan. Ang tao ay sociable creature by nature kaya nakakapanibago itong isolation or ECQ sa mga tao. Natatakot, kinakabahan o pwedeng magkaroon ng pagduda sa ibang tao kapag nagkaroon ng matagal na isolation.

Photo from Unsplash.com/Jonathan Burbank

9. Paano pangangalagaan ang mental health ng mga nasa lockdown at quarantine? Paano magtutulungan ang mga miyembro ng pamilya upang matagalan itong community quarantine ng pamahalaan?

Mahalaga na mapangalagaan ang ating mental health sa panahon ng lockdown. Sa individual pwede niyang gawin ang ABC ng Mental Health Care.

Ung “A” ay awareness. Self-awareness at situational awareness. Dapat kilala mo sarili mo, ang inyong kalakasan at iyong pwede pang ayusin. Dapat well-informed ka din sa mga balita. Pero mag-ingat iyong mga vulnerable sa isip, yung mga madaling mag-alala.

Yung “B” ay balance. I-balanse ang ang buhay mo sa trabaho at sa pamilya mo. Dapat ay may regular sleep pa din, may hobbies, doing work (work from home), doing exercises. Pwedeng gumawa ng schedule for a day o daily routine ng isang linggo na pwede sundan.

Ung “C” ay connection. Sa panahon ngayon, importante ang social connection at psychosocial support sa bawat isa. Ok tayo sa pisikal na distancing pero tuloy dapat ang social connection. Sa social connection papasok ang pagtutulungan ng bawat miyembro ng pamilya para matagalan ang ECQ. Ito ang panahon ng family bonding. Family can do games, teamwork in household chores, at iba pa. Sa mga magulang, sana at dapat kalmado lang ang ipinapakita nila sa anak nila, dahil nakikita at naramdaman ng kanilang anak ang kanilang kilos at reaksyon sa sitwasyon. Ipaliwanag sa anak ang nangyayari sa lebel ng kaalaman nila. Huwag sanang takutin ang mga bata sa covid19. Sa mga anak/bata, gumawa ng mga nakakatuwa or interesadong aktibidad na makatulong pag-alis ng boredom.

10. Paano mabawasan ang takot at agam-agam ng mamamayan sa lumalala pa ring pandemic na ito?

Normal matakot sa panahon ng covid19 pandemic. Pero dahil sa kakulangan ng impormasyon sa mamamayan o walang malinaw na direksyon o guidelines galing sa LGU o national government ay lalong natatakot at naging nerbiyos ang mga tao. Para mabawasan ang anumang takot at agam-agam ng mamamayan ay kailangan nilang i-practice ang ABC ng mental health/ kalusugang pangkaisipan. Pwedeng palakasin ang community care/ bayanihan din sa bawat komunidad. Ito rin ang panahon ng social solidarity, pagtutulungan sa kapwa PiIipino. Sa mamamayan na miyembro ng organisasyon, ang  tiwala, tulong, at lakas galing sa mga kinabibilangang organisasyon ay makakatulong din sa kanila. (Organizational care)

Kuha ni Jola Diones-Mamangun/Kodao

11. Ano ang panukalang national mental health program sa mga panahong tulad nito at pagkatapos?

Kahit mayroong national mental health program ang ating gobyerno, ito ay hindi nakatuon sa panahon ng covid19 pandemic. Ang pagdating ng covid19 ay hindi inaasahan ng mga tao. Pero nakikita at na-obserbahan natin na may epekto ang covid19 sa mental health ng bawat Pilipino. Kaya dapat ay importanteng maipatupad ng ating gobyerno ang mental health program sa panahon ng covid19 pandemic at kahit pagkatapos nito.

Ang national mental health program ng gobyerno ay merong promotive, preventive, treatment and rehabilitative services component. Integrated sa ibat- ibang settings sa paggamot mula sa komunidad hanggang sa pasilidad, implemented from the national to the barangay level.

Ang mga program na kalakip nito ay:

1. Wellness of Daily Living sa eskwela, trabaho at iba pang programa

2. Extreme Life Experience- pagbibigay ng psychosocial support sa personal and community wide disasters

3. Mental Disorder

4. Neurologic Disorders

5. Substance Abuse and other Forms of Addiction

Dapat ay tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang pagbibigay serbisyong mental health at psychosocial support sa lahat ng mga Pilipino sa panahon ng covid19 pandemic. Sa panahon ng ECQ mas kawawa ang mga taong may sakit sa isipan at yung iba pang may kapansanan. Paano ang access nila sa mental health care provider at sa gamot kung sarado ang mga hospital na tumitingin sa kanila dahil naka-pokus lang tayo sa covid19. Sana holistic care pa rin. #

Ang Tulong Kabataan Network sa panahon ng pandemya

Isa ang Tulong Kabataan Network sa mga grupo na tumutulong sa mamamayan noon pa mang 2013 sa panahon ng bagyong Yolanda at sa kasalukuyan sa panahon ng Covid 19. Nagsasagawa sila ng community kitchen at relief operations katuwang ang mga grupo ng kabataan sa iba’t-ibang komunidad sa bansa.

Bukod dito, panawagan ng kanilang grupo ang Kalusugan, Kabuhayan at Karapatan sa panahon ng pandemya.

Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas

Lola, nananawagan ng tulong

Habang nagko-cover ang Kodao ng pag-aresto ng 18 na aktibista sa Barangay Central, Quezon City noong Biyernes, Mayo 1, lumapit ang isang lola at nakiusap na i-bidyo ang kanyang paghingi ng tulong.

Nais ni Lola Marietta “Nene” Benig ng tulong upang makabili ng kanyang gamot, partikular sa Department of Social Welfare and Development at sa Office of the Senior Citizens Affairs ng Lungsod Quezon. “Nais ko pa pong mabuhay,” ani Lola Nene.

Sa mga nais tumulong, siya ay nakatira sa No. 4, Maparaan Street, Barangay Central, Quezon City. Ang kanyang numero ay nasa dulo ng bidyo. (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas)

Gov’t should deliver cash subsidies it owes 3.8M poor families in GCQ areas

by IBON Media

The government announced that it will ‘reprioritize’ social amelioration to only the areas retained under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and will ‘discontinue’ in declared general community quarantine (GCQ) areas.

But research group IBON said that some 3.8 million* vulnerable families still without assistance are at risk of slipping into deeper poverty should the government make the shift.

The group said that government should be sensitive to the plight of all still un-served and now struggling beneficiaries by making good on its promise to immediately distribute emergency subsidies.

The Duterte administration declared that the extended ECQ – previously set to end on April 30 – will be again extended to May 15 in areas classified as “high risk”.

The areas observed to still have many COVID-19 cases are Benguet, Pangasinan, Central Luzon except Aurora, Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Cebu, Ilo-ilo, Bacolod City, and Davao City.

The rest of the country – considered “low risk” and “moderate risk” areas – will be under a GCQ. Face masks and physical distancing will still be required, but work and transportation are expected to re-operate under more relaxed quarantine.  

IBON observed that despite Pres. Duterte being granted emergency powers by Congress, promised financial assistance has not been expediently delivered to the targeted 18 million poor families affected by the Luzon-wide ECQ.

Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) secretary Rolando Bautista said that GCQ areas will no longer receive cash subsidies due to limited social amelioration program (SAP) resources as per National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) recommendation. 

Though the DSWD recently clarified that beneficiaries in the GCQ areas will still receive the first tranche of subsidies, IBON said that overall, government should stop making excuses on top of a huge SAP backlog.

The group said that government should provide humane and compassionate response and it can start by immediately dissolving all bureaucratic hurdles to deliver promised cash assistance to the millions of unserved beneficiaries including those in GCQ areas.

Relaxing activities in areas previously locked down does not offset the six-week impact of the ECQ on the incomes and livelihoods of the most vulnerable families, said the group.

Based on DSWD data, IBON noted, some 1.3 million beneficiaries or one of three target SAP beneficiaries in Luzon GCQ areas alone remain unserved as of April 29.

Meanwhile, 8.4 million households across the country are reported to have not yet received any emergency assistance.

Of these, 4.6 million households are in the retained ECQ areas and the remainder 3.8 million households are under the downgraded GCQ areas by May 1.

Also, some Php50.3 billion in SAP funds have yet to be paid out nationally, Php19 billion of which is for GCQ areas. 

IBON hit government’s indifference to the plight of the poor. The group observed that government was able to afford a one-and-a-half-month delay in emergency aid to its poorest constituents and is now deciding to even ration it.

On the other hand, the government guarantees resources for business-inclined Build, Build, Build infrastructure program and prompt debt servicing.

This is only exposing the Duterte administration’s inclination to scrimp on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable in order to survive COVID-19’s impact while saving the economy for big business.

The delayed response and the move now to even get away with it has only highlighted that the Duterte administration’s approach has only been militaristic more than humanitarian, IBON said.

The nation’s chance to survive the health crisis and the deterioration of the country’s economic crisis as aftermath is even compounded by the need to surpass such callous governance. #

* DSWD SAP data was noted for national, ECQ areas (based on announcement by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on April 30, 2020). Nationwide GCQ data for unserved beneficiaries was derived by subtracting ECQ areas data for unserved beneficiaries from national data for unserved beneficiaries.

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

Ayuda para sa mga drayber, hiniling sa isang pagkilos

Isang maiksing pagkilos ang isinagawa ng mga drayber sa araw mismo ng paggawa sa isang barangay sa Quezon City. Ito ay para manawagan ng ayuda mula sa pamahalaan.

Simula nang ipataw ang lockdown ay hindi pa sila nakakakuha ng tulong kagaya ng Social Amelioration Program. Nagtatanong ang mga drayber na may-ari ng sarili nilang mga sasakyan kung kasali ba sila sa dapat mabigyan ng tulong dahil nawalan din sila ng hanapbuhay dahil sa lockdown. # (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas/ Kodao)

‘Magpalaya na ng mga nakakulong’

“Nanawagan na ang United Nations na upang maiwasan ang higit pang delubyo na maaring idulot ng COVID-19, magpalaya na ng mga nakakulong. Palayain na yung matatanda, may sakit, low-risk offenders, kabilang dito ang mga bilanggong politikal sa bansa. Ayon sa BJMP, noong October 2019, umabot na ng 450% yung congestion rate o 380 out of 467 jails ay congested o siksikan. Sa kasalukuyan, merong 609 na bilanggong pulitikal sa bansa. 63 dyan may sakit, 47 mga matatanda na, 100 ay mga kababaihan. Huwag na nating hintayin pa na madagdagan ang bilang nila.”

Roneo “Jigs” Clamor
Deputy Secretary General, KARAPATAN

Carlo Francisco

On 7th week of lockdown: 10M worker and informal earner households still waiting for emergency subsidies

by IBON Media

A month-and-a-half into lockdown, millions of workers and informal earners grapple in uncertainty as the government’s social amelioration program (SAP) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) aid are failing to reach them, said research group IBON.

Six-out-of-ten or majority of government’s targeted beneficiary households have still not received the promised emergency subsidies while funding for DOLE assistance programs has run out. The sluggish response and lack of funds highlights the State’s continued indifference, said the group.

IBON said that the sorry state of emergency relief shows how even the granting of emergency powers to the president has failed to swiftly deliver promised aid to the 18 million poorest households. This includes millions of workers in the formal and informal sectors who lost incomes and livelihoods under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

The latest Department of Social Welfare (DSWD) data shows only 8.1 million SAP beneficiaries were assisted, which means that 9.9 million, or a glaring 55% of the target 18 million low-income households, still await emergency cash aid into the seventh week of lockdown.

IBON said that aid is long overdue for millions, and that the 8.1 million households helped should also be getting their second tranche of subsidies already due to the lockdown extension.

The government’s other assistance programs do not add much more.

As of April 26, DOLE reported giving cash aid to only 345,865 workers, which is just 3.2% of 10.7 million workers estimated by IBON.

Meanwhile, only 259,449 informal workers benefited from DOLE’s cash-for-work program which is just 5% of 5.2 million informal workers.

Only 40,418 PUV and TNVS drivers have received emergency subsidies – with no new recipients in the last two weeks.

The DOLE also reported that just 49,040 affected overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been approved to receive Php10,000 cash assistance out of the 233,015 that have so far applied, as of April 26.

The department said that the number of OFWs requesting aid exceeds the 150,000 targeted by the government. The Php1.5 billion funds under the Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) program for this will not be enough to cover all OFWs needing assistance.

IBON also noted that to date, only 354,875 rice farmers or just 3.7% of the country’s 9.7 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk have been given cash assistance by the Department of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, only 6,403 employers have been able to apply for assistance on behalf of 130,188 employees under the Department of Finance’s Small Business Wage Subsidy program.

This is just 3.8% of the 3.4 million small business employee target, and actual payout will only start on May 1.

The poorest Filipinos continue to go hungry and fend for themselves amid over-delayed social amelioration, said IBON.

To make matters worse, the Duterte administration has announced that low-income households living in areas where the ECQ has been lifted will no longer receive emergency subsidies.

IBON said with no other means to help compensate for their lost wages and incomes due to weeks under lockdown, many vulnerable families will be pushed into deeper poverty.

IBON said each week under lockdown further exposes the Duterte administration’s pro-big business and militaristic approach in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If it continues to ignore the humanitarian crisis and not genuinely and substantially address the socioeconomic needs of affected Filipinos, many more will go hungry, human rights violations will rise and there will be even more unrest. #

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

Duterte govt can end lockdown sooner and help every Filipino in need

by IBON Media

The Duterte administration can end the lockdown sooner and help every Filipino in need. It can raise the resources needed for this if it lets go of its infrastructure fantasies, prioritizes life over debt, and is bolder in tapping the accumulated wealth of elites and large corporations. Not doing any of these means making the people bear the disproportionate burden of dealing with the pandemic.

Funds are available

In their most recent taped address last Thursday, April 24, the president and other members of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases took turns lamenting how little funds there are for responding to the COVID-19 crisis. No one doubts that huge resources are needed. However, using this an as excuse for failing to implement the necessary public health measures against the pandemic and for failing to help millions of poor Filipino families not just during the lockdown but amid the country’s worst economic crisis in decades is completely unacceptable.

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte declared: “Our country comes first.” For this to mean anything, the Duterte administration needs to take bolder measures to raise funds for dealing with the pandemic including letting go of its sacred cows.

Realigning the national government budget away from items that have fallen in priority is a start. However, the finance secretary’s latest declaration that the administration is preserving funds for its Build, Build, Build (BBB) program is particularly out-of-date. These BBB projects were conceptualized and justified at a time of giddy optimism about the economy. The pandemic, global recession, and domestic economic collapse mean that many projects in the Php989 billion public infrastructure program for 2020 are no longer viable and of much less priority than urgent health measures, emergency relief, and social protection.

The finance department’s earlier position that debt servicing will continue unhindered is also out-of-date. The national government is paying Php1.03 trillion to service debt in 2020 – Php451 billion for interest payments and Php582.1 billion for principal amortization. The current crisis however means that millions of Filipino families are at risk not just from the coronavirus but from disrupted livelihoods and loss of incomes. COVID-19 response spending should be prioritized over debt payments, starting with at least moratoriums on US$5.2 billion in debt service to so-called development agencies and supposedly friendly governments. The government’s human rights obligations to its people far outweigh debt service obligations.

The president said that the government will do everything necessary to raise money to fight COVID-19. This should include tapping the huge concentration of wealth and income in the country’s richest families and largest corporations. The 50 richest Filipinos had a combined wealth of Php4,061 billion in 2019, according to Forbes. The 50 largest conglomerates meanwhile had combined profits of Php856.4 billion in 2018 alone.

Much of this wealth and income is more socially useful today spent on COVID-19 response rather than accumulated as personal wealth or used for self-interested business purposes. The Duterte administration can take the bold step of issuing COVID-19 emergency bonds on solidarity terms targeted at these elites. There is also the daring step of reforming the tax system to become progressive with higher personal income and wealth taxes on the richest Filipinos and higher corporate income taxes on the largest corporations. The Duterte administration cannot say it has no money if it is not doing anything to mobilize concentrated income and wealth for socially urgent purposes.

Photo by Joseph Cuevas/Kodao

Lockdown can be ended

Millions of Filipinos are looking forward to the end of the lockdown, especially the vulnerable majority who have gone hungry and desperate over weeks of sparse or non-existent emergency relief from the Duterte administration. However, despite Malacanang’s posturing and government agencies’ reports, the fact remains that the national government is still being slow in putting the necessary health measures in place for the lockdown to be lifted safely.

The government needs to accelerate the pace of health measures for battling the coronavirus. At the same time, it needs to immediately arrest the enormous backlog in socioeconomic relief and assistance for millions of poor and vulnerable households affected by the lockdown.

The coronavirus continues to take its toll. As of April 23, the total number of reported cases has reached 6,981, with 462 fatalities. These include 1,062 infected health care workers with 26 fatalities.

Health experts such as from the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team point out that the epicenter of the virus is the National Capital Region (NCR) and surrounding regions but also that it continues to spread elsewhere and still needs to be contained. The Department of Health (DOH) concedes that it is too early to say if the curve of COVID-19 transmission has begun to flatten.

While experts attest to the contribution of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in controlling the spread of the coronavirus, it has heavily impacted on the poorest sections of the population, especially in Luzon, and the economy as a whole. The ECQ is disrupting 73% of the economy, corresponding to Luzon’s share in the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019. IBON estimates that 14.5 million workers and informal earners have been dislocated. The 7.5 million lowest-income families in Luzon are most in danger of deeper poverty and hunger since they have little savings or means to absorb the shock of disrupted livelihoods.

The lockdown need not have been expanded or dragged on for so long had the government been more efficient and immediately started putting the necessary health measures in place. Yet three months since the first case of COVID-19 and almost six weeks into the lockdown, the government is still ill-equipped to contain the pandemic.

Despite the arrival of donations and test kits, only 55,465 individuals have been tested as of April 22. This is too few, according to health advocates, compared to the potential community and hospital transmission of the virus. There are still only 17 COVID-19 testing centers out of 78 that the DOH plans to install nationwide. Only 7,000 have been contact-traced, which is low compared to the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Quarantine, isolation, and treatment facilities remain insufficient: the health system is not yet ready for when infections and hospitalizations peak in the coming months. Frontline health workers still lack protective equipment. This has already resulted in the Philippines having among the worst infection rate and highest number of COVID-19-infected health workers in the world.

Photo by Joseph Cuevas/Kodao

Unnecessary suffering

At the same time, the government is failing to ensure that all poor and vulnerable families affected by the lockdown get adequate emergency relief. Their rights to food, health, water and sanitation, and social protection are grossly unmet and even violated.

Over 13 million of government’s targeted 18 million low income families have not received emergency subsidies and are going hungry.  Only 264,154 formal workers out of the IBON-estimated 10.7 million workers in the country have reportedly received assistance, and just 235,949 informal earners out of 5.2 million nationwide. Only 353,037 of 9.7 million farmers, farmworkers, and fisherfolk are reported to have received emergency subsidies.

The government claims to have released Php205 billion for emergency assistance. However, it is unconscionable for the government to have created so many bureaucratic barriers before this much-needed aid reaches the poor. These should be immediately removed.

The ECQ will be extended until May 15 in selected high-risk areas including the NCR, Calabarzon, Central Luzon, Benguet, Pangasinan, Albay, Catanduanes, Mindoro Island, Antique, Ilo-ilo Cebu, Davao Del Norte, and Davao City. Other parts of the country considered “low-risk” or “moderate-risk”, meanwhile, have been put under a “general community quarantine”, where aside from ECQ measures, “non-leisure stores” can partially open, higher education can finish the academic year, some construction projects may resume, and public transportation may operate on reduced capacity.

Affected families need expedient emergency relief in the period to come on top of what is due them for the past six weeks.

Making the most-affected families wait a day longer for aid that should have started coming many weeks ago nullifies government’s facade of being resource-capable with supposedly Php1.49 trillion towards its 4-pillar socioeconomic strategy against COVID-19. This amount gives the impression of huge spending but is really bloated by items that should not be counted as a ‘budget’ for the response.

In truth, the government plans to spend just Php366.9 billion with another Php133.7 billion for loan programs and credit guarantees. There is just Php50.7 billion for health response – it remains to be seen if this is enough to address the worst public health crisis in the country’s history.

The balance of Php316.2 billion is for social assistance. Yet this barely covers the Php297.1 billion in emergency socioeconomic relief that IBON estimates is needed for every month of the lockdown, which should include: emergency relief packages for the poorest 5 million families (Php15 billion); unconditional cash transfers for the poorest 10 million families (Php100 billion); wage subsidies for 10.7 million workers in formal establishments (Php53.5 billion); financial assistance for 5.2 million informal workers (Php26 billion) and 9.7 million farmers and fisherfolk (Php97 billion); and emergency support for 5.6 million indigent seniors and pensioners (Php5.6 billion).

Protecting people’s lives is the paramount concern, and the government should do everything necessary for this. This includes ensuring that the millions of families do not go hungry or suffer. It also includes giving special attention to high risk groups aside from the poor, such as the sick, elderly and those in congested jails. It however does not mean setting aside human rights as the Duterte government’s militarized approach is doing.

The lockdown may help contain the spread of the virus but this is at great social and economic cost and will be more and more untenable the longer it drags on. The necessary health measures have to be secured for the lockdown not be put to waste. At the same time, the government must ensure that it is giving enough attention to mitigating the lockdown’s effect especially on the poorest Filipinos. The country must deal with the pandemic, and the Duterte administration has the responsibility and obligation to ensure that this is done humanely and compassionately. The government also cannot claim that it does not have the money to respond well if it is just being blind to what really needs to be done. #

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

‘Our basic rights are not on lockdown amid this pandemic’

On the killing of retired Corporal Winston Ragos:

“Our basic rights are not on lockdown amid this pandemic — and to effectively combat this pandemic, the government needs to implement the needed public health measures, to address the people’s legitimate demands especially the poor and marginalized, and to uphold people’s rights, welfare, and dignity. We demand justice, and we will hold the government accountable.”

Cristina Palabay
Secretary-General, KARAPATAN

Jo Maline Mamangun