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‘Kung hindi nagsilbi ang mga guro, hindi maitatawid ang pagbubukas ng klase’

“Napakabilis nilang maglabas ng mga memo o department order tuwing dagdag na trabaho, attendance sa mga webinar, gabundok na mga paperwork ang ipapagawa sa mga teacher pero itong benepisyo na karapat-dapat lamang na maibigay sa kanila ay ginigipit pa. Kung hindi nagsilbi ang mga guro noong panahon na June 1 to October 4, hindi maitatawid ang pagbubukas ng klase noong nakaraang taon.”ACT Rep. France Castro, Deputy Minority Floor Leader

Artists honor medical workers with street mural

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

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

(Photo by Sim Tolentino/Kodao)

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

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

(Photo by Sim Tolentino/Kodao)

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

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

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

(Photo by Sim Tolentino/Kodao)

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo by Sim Tolentino/Kodao)

Jobs crisis continues, informal work worsens

by IBON Foundation

Despite economic managers’ claims, the country’s jobs situation is bleak and far from returning to pre-pandemic levels, said research group IBON. Millions of Filipinos are still struggling to find work or turning more and more to informal jobs and self-employment to survive. The group said that substantial ayuda is urgently needed and that Congress should hold a special session to ensure the immediate allocation and distribution of funds for emergency aid.

IBON said the latest labor force figures show that the 3.7 million unemployed in May 2021 remains higher by 1.3 million than in January 2020 before the pandemic. The 2.2 million increase in employment is not enough to accommodate the additional 3.5 million Filipinos in the labor force, still leaving over a million unemployed. The number of underemployed has only decreased by just 807,000.

The employment increase also hides a significant decline in the quality of work and incomes as the country remains battered by the ongoing health and economic crisis, said the group. Millions of Filipinos are increasingly resorting to informal self-employment to make a living any way they can.

IBON noted that, by class of worker, the number of wage and salary workers declined by 131,000 from January 2020 to May 2021. This is mainly due to the 711,000 drop in those that worked for private establishments, likely from closures and retrenchments in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

The number of Filipinos entering informal self-employment and unpaid work is also worsening, the group said. Self-employed work without any paid employees climbed to 12.7 million (1.6 million increase) from 11.1 million in January 2020. Unpaid family workers also rose to 3.6 million (932,000 increase). Employers in own family-operated farms and businesses however dropped to 761,000 (241,000 decrease) from about one million – an indication that small businesses and farms have been unable to cope and are shutting down amid the pandemic crisis.

IBON stressed that the number of employed by hours worked also reveals how bad the informal employment situation has gotten. Those that worked part-time went up by 3.2 million to 16.7 million, while those that worked full-time fell by 1.3 million. Those considered as “with a job, not at work” increased by 273,000 to 606,000.  The increase in part-time workers and those with a job but not at work can also be attributed to the rising number of self-employed and businesses implementing reduced workdays and hours.

More and more Filipino workers are entering sectors that are known to be low-paying and irregular, the group noted. Employment in wholesale and retail trade increased by 1.6 million to 10.2 million and in agriculture by one million to 10.6 million. Economic growth in these two sectors however continued to contract in the first quarter of 2021 – agriculture contracted by 1.2% and trade by 3.9%. This strongly implies lower sectoral incomes made worse by overcrowding.

The rise in part-time employment in these sectors also reflects the irregularity of work, said IBON. The number of part-timers grew by 1.1 million to 3.2 million in trade and by 889,000 to 7.2 million in agriculture. 

IBON said that with an increasing number of Filipinos struggling to support themselves amid poor job prospects and falling incomes, substantial aid, subsidies and support are urgently needed. It is time for the government to take immediate steps in providing these and prioritizing the welfare and interests of millions of vulnerable Filipinos. The group said it can start by heeding people’s demand for a special session to ensure the speedy passage of legislation that will ensure the immediate release of funds and distribution of ayuda.

Gov’t hyping employment gains to avoid giving more ayuda, stimulus – IBON

The economic managers are overstating employment gains to cover up the harsh impact of their refusal to give more cash aid and meaningfully stimulate the economy, said research group IBON.

Latest labor force figures show that Filipinos are not regaining their jobs and incomes and, on the contrary, are desperately trying to make a living in whatever way they can.

“The seeming improvement in the jobs situation from the reported higher employment and lower unemployment is an illusion, said Sonny Africa, IBON Executive Director. “Many Filipinos have still not regained their full-time work and small businesses. They’re just trying to get by on informal and irregular work with likely low and uncertain incomes.”

Comparing March 2021 labor force data to January 2020 data before the pandemic and the start of endless lockdowns, IBON noted that while the number of employed increased by 2.8 million, the labor force also grew by 3.8 million. 

This means there was not enough work for those entering or returning to the work force, resulting in a one million increase in unemployment, said the group.

IBON also observed that these additional jobs are made up of mostly irregular and informal work.

Africa said that the clearest sign of this is the decline in full-time work (40 hours and over) by 550,000 to 28.2 million in March 2021 from 28.8 million in January 2020. The increase in the number of jobs was overwhelmingly of part-time work (less than 40 hours) which grew by a huge 3.2 million and of those ‘with a job, not at work’ which grew by 128,000.

Over half of part-time workers surveyed said they are working less than 40 hours due to variable working time or nature of work. This could be due to reduced work hours brought about by pandemic conditions and lockdowns.

The significant rise in self-employment is another indication that there is a lack of decent work. Africa said that the supposed employment gains are largely in ‘self-employed without any paid employee’ which grew by 1.7 million (to 12.8 million) and of ‘unpaid family workers’ which rose by a huge one million (to 3.6 million) in March 2021.

Meanwhile, the 28.1 million wage and salary workers in March 2021 is only 333,000 more than the 27.8 million in January 2020.

These are aside from some 206,000 employed in small family businesses which have shut down between January 2020 and March 2021, as indicated by the fall in ’employers in own family-operated farms or business’.

Africa said that this may be due to how micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are getting scant support from the government, especially informal and unregistered MSMEs.

Africa also said that household incomes have fallen so low after over a year of lockdowns that more youth and otherwise retired elderly are seeking work to supplement household incomes.

The labor force participation rate of age groups 15-24 years old and 65 years old and above increased by 2.3 percentage points and 2.7 percentage points from February 2021 to March 2021, respectively.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, these two age groups largely contributed to the increase in the labor force during this period.

Recovery is stifled by the economic managers refusing to give more ayuda, improve the welfare and increase the purchasing power of households, and stimulate small businesses and the national economy, said Africa.

The real value of the minimum wage measured at 2012 constant prices also continues to fall –  from Php468.06 in June 2016 at the start of Pres. Duterte’s term to just Php434.47 in April 2021 –  and is as low as almost a decade ago (Php434.38 in December 2011).  

Three out of four Filipino households do not even have any savings to fall back on, he said.

Africa said that the persisting economic crisis will become even clearer when the first quarter gross domestic product (GDP) figures come out next week.

He said, “We will likely see tepid economic growth at most despite the so-called improved employment situation. This will just underscore how poor the quality of jobs remains and how shallow the economic rebound is.”

IBON said that the government can arrest the problem by giving much more emergency cash assistance. This will not just improve household welfare but also boost aggregate demand and spur more rapid economic recovery.

The multiplier effects from this will be much greater and more immediate than the same amount going to grandiose import-intensive infrastructure projects, debt servicing, and human rights-violating counterinsurgency, said the group. #

Lawyer, CHR score Duterte’s order vs non-mask wearers

President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to have those who do not wear masks or wear them improperly arrested undermines the rule of law and may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse by government authorities, a lawyers’ group and the Commission on Human Rights said.

Reacting to Duterte’s verbal order issued Wednesday night, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia said the arrest directive is another authoritarian edict by the President.

“[T]he legal justification is not only inapplicable but erroneous because there appears to be no clearly defined crime or offense covered by any specific law or lawful ordinance for a valid instance of warrantless arrest to operate,” Olalia said.

The human rights lawyers said the order is a “cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment disproportionate to the evil sought to be supposedly addressed.”

He said its implementation may again be discriminatory as shown by the arrest, detention and death of mostly poor people arising from various coronavirus lockdown orders implemented by the government since the pandemic hit the Philippines in March 2020.

“This is what we get when we have knee-jerk draconian ideas rather than commonsensical solutions… Imagine the time, effort, resources – even brain neurons – to be spent legislating, enforcing, arresting, detaining, prosecuting and convicting for such a petty misdemeanor,” Olalia said.

He added that Duterte’s “serial mailed fist cures” would just worsen the coronavirus problem and lock the people up in the “slippery slope of inane coercive measures.”

The lawyer suggested providing facemasks for free to those who cannot afford them and launching massive popular information drives to prevent further congestion of the government’s jail facilities.

‘Detain them!’

In a meeting with pandemic task force officials Wednesday night, Duterte admitted he is at a loss on how to stem the rising number of coronavirus cases in the country.

“My orders to the police are, those who are not wearing their mask properly, in order to protect the public… to arrest them,” the President said.

“Detain them, investigate them why they’re doing it,” he said.

The chief executive said the police may detain those arrested to up to nine hours.

“If I don’t do this strictly, nothing will happen,” he said in Filipino.

‘Abusive’

The Commission on Human Rights however agreed with Olalia and said in a statement Thursday it is concerned that in the absence of clear guidelines, Duterte’s directive may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse.

“[W]ith the noted rise of human rights violations arising from violations of health protocols, we have stressed the need for reasonable and humane disciplinary measures for violators,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.

De Guia noted that several local government units have passed ordinances penalizing those not wearing masks in public but said the measures only often reprimand, fine or order violators to perform community service.

She agreed with Olalia that the country’s overcrowded jails may not be a sound strategy to prevent the further spread of the virus in the communities.

“In the end, it is through intensive education and information campaigns, not fear, that would best result in better compliance with healthy and safety protocols during the pandemic. ..We may be in quarantine due to the pandemic, but rights should not be on lockdown,” de Guia said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Ayuda urgent: Jobs crisis still worse than before pandemic — IBON

Government claims of the employment situation improving in February 2021 compared to pre-pandemic January 2020 are unfounded, research group IBON said.

The so-called increase in employment is just Filipinos desperate to make a living in any way they can. This makes the need for substantial cash aid even more urgent, the group said.

The economic managers repeatedly claim that “we have surpassed our pre-pandemic employment level of 42.6 million in January 2020,” such as when the February 2021 labor force survey (LFS) results were released.

IBON said the LFS figures, however, clearly show that the jobs crisis existing even before the pandemic has only gotten worse upon the longest and harshest lockdowns in Southeast Asia.

Reported employment increased by 610,000, from 42.5 million in January 2020 to 43.2 million in February 2021. But this was far from enough for the labor force which grew by 2.4 million over that same period to 47.3 million, said the group, resulting in even greater unemployment.

IBON also noted that there are 12 million combined unemployed (4.2 million) and underemployed (7.9 million) Filipinos as of February 2021, which is much more than the 8.7 million in January 2020 (i.e. 2.4 million unemployed and 6.3 million underemployed).

The 1.8 million increase in unemployment in itself already indicates collapsing household incomes for millions of Filipino families, said the group.

Photo by R. Villanueva/Kodao

The marginal increase in employment should not be seen as a sign of any improvement because it masks a serious deterioration in the quality of work in the country, IBON said. Even less than before, so-called employment is not enough to give Filipino families the regular and secure incomes they need to survive.

By class of workers, the number of wage and salary workers fell by over 1 million and of employers in family farms and businesses by 72,000 from widespread lockdown-driven business closures and retrenchments. These are down to 26.7 million and 930,000, respectively.

IBON noted that jobless Filipinos were apparently driven to “self-employment” which bloated by 1.4 million and to being “unpaid family workers” which rose by 356,000. These increased to 12.5 million and 3 million, respectively.

By hours worked, the number of full-time workers fell by 2.9 million to 25.9 million. Those working only part-time however increased by 3.2 million to 16.6 million, and those “with a job, not at work” by 325,000 to 657,000.

IBON stressed that tens of millions of Filipinos are going hungry, most of all from not having the money to buy food especially from the lack of work.

The Php10,000 emergency cash assistance being demanded is all the more urgent to immediately alleviate hunger. The inflation-adjusted official food threshold as of March 2021 for a family of five is Php2,133 per week in the National Capital Region (NCR) and Php1,905 per week on average for the Philippines.

The latest Php1,000 token cash aid is glaringly not even enough for food expenses, considering even that official food thresholds are ridiculously low to begin with, IBON said.

At the same time, a large fiscal stimulus is critical to arrest economic scarring, jump-start the economy, and genuinely improve employment on a wider scale, said the group. #

QC houses demolished amid strict Covid lockdown

[UPDATED, 7:00 AM, April 6, 2021] Amid an extended round of the latest Covid pandemic lockdown, several houses had been demolished today along Maginoo Street, Barangay Pinyahan in Quezon City.

Urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) reported that elderly residents who lived in the demolished houses have been forced out on the streets, raising fears they may later be arrested by the police for curfew and lock down violations.

Eleven families were affected and no relocation has yet been offered to them, Kadamay told Kodao.

Private claimant-couple Nicolo and Luzviminda Junsay led the demolition, Kadamay said.

The group claimed the demolition is illegal and that barangay officials had no prior knowledge of the incident.

Kadamay said that prior to today’s incident, the affected residents were being forced to sign certain documents but no court order and notice have been presented before the demolition team swooped down on the community.

Demolition along Maginoo Street, Brgy. Pinyahan, Quezon City. (Kadamay photos)

“While we are under the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), the demolition pushed through. No notice, no relief goods, no assistance had been given to those affected and straight out on the streets they went,” Kadamay said in an alert.

The group blamed both the National Housing Authority and President Rodrigo Duterte as promoters of demolitions.

“They order us to stay at home while new coronavirus cases are on the rise, but they continue to endanger people. Those affected have lost their houses and are likely to be arrested while they are out on the streets,” Kadamay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Curfew violator dies after ‘cruel police punishment’

[UPDATED, 7:08 AM, April 6, 2021] A man died in General Trias, Cavite after being punished by the police for violating the pandemic lockdown curfew, an activist organization reported.

The League of Filipino Students (LFS)-University of the Philippines in Los Baños chapter said a certain Darren Manaog Peñaredondo died on Easter Sunday, April 4, as a result of being ordered to perform about 300 cycles of an exercise routine.

The LFS said the victim stepped out of their house Thursday evening to buy drinking water but was apprehended by Barangay Tejero security personnel and turned over to the police

Facebook page Go Cavite also reported the incident, saying Peñaredondo and fellow arrestees were ordered by the police to perform 100 “pumping” exercises but were told to repeat them twice as they were not in sync.

“Pumping” is a series of punishing exercises that may include air squats, sit-ups and push ups.

The incident happened at the vicinity of the General Trias Municipal Hall, Go Cavite said.

Peñaredondo’s death was first reported by his cousin Adrian Luceña who also wrote on his Facebook page the victim was allowed to come home on Friday morning at about eight o’clock in the morning but already had difficulty walking.

“At dawn of Saturday, he (Peñaredondo) suffered repeated convulsions and was revived. But he eventually became comatose until he died at 10 o’clock (on Saturday evening),” Luceña wrote in Filipino.

Luceña added that Peñaredondo told him he collapsed several times as they were being punished.

He said they will demand justice for Peñaredondo’s death.

Luceña’s post has gone viral on various social media platforms.

A video taken by the victim’s common law wife Reichelyn Balce was posted by GMA Network showing Peñaredondo unable to stand up and rolling on the floor in agony.

The news report said the victim was taken to a hospital where he died.

The LFS said the victim’s death was a case of police brutality.

The Gen. Trias police chief Lt. Col. Lieutenant Colonel Marlo Solero meanwhile denied they punish curfew violators and said they only lecture those arrested.

He added the police only order some sort of community service to those they have apprehended for curfew violations.

Gen. Trias Mayor Antonio Ferrer said an investigation has been launched. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Si Duterte mismo ang kalbaryo sa magbubukid’

“The Duterte regime knows nothing but to repress the people. Farmers have been demanding aid and production subsidy as the pandemic and economic crisis rages, yet it has repeatedly attacked legitimate peasant leaders and organizations. Si Duterte mismo ang kalbaryo sa magbubukid!”Danilo Ramos, National Chairperson, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas

‘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.” #