After President Rodrigo Duterte declared a public health emergency due to mounting cases of COVID-19 in the country, urgent measures needed to combat the virus are still missing up to now.
In his two public addresses, Duterte did not mention allocation of additional funds for health services. This, even as the Department of Health (DOH) needs at least P3.1 billion to address the threat of COVID-19. As of this writing, the House Appropriations Committee approved only P1.6 billion supplemental budget for DOH. The executive department did not even certify the two bills for DOH’s supplemental budget as urgent.
It must also be kept in mind that Congress is currently on recess and sessions won’t resume until May.
Of the 3.1-billion requested by the DOH, P2.35 billion would be for personal protective equipment (PPE), P933 million for the Bureau of Quarantine, and P139 million for 40,000 testing sets for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).
With 98 COVID-19 cases as of this writing, our situation remains bleak. Our frontline health workers do not have enough supply of PPE. We do not have isolation rooms for effective quarantine. How do we control the spread of the virus then?
Testing kits are very limited. How do we enforce effective disease surveillance and monitoring?
Even the simple and effective measures recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) prove to be challenging. For instance, how do we encourage proper hygiene and hand washing if urban poor communities in Metro Manila do not have access to clean water? Why not provide water tanks in these communities? Why not deploy teams to disinfect public spaces?
How do we implement social distancing when our public transportation is a mess? Why not mobilize government’s resources to provide services to our commuters? Or provide subsidy for workers staying at home in this time of crisis?
What have we heard so far? Deployment of police and military to enforce community quarantine is not the solution to this dreaded disease. Threatening Metro Manila residents with arrest if they do not obey would not kill the virus but would increase the number of detainees in already cramped detention cells. This only heightens the probability of spread of the virus.
If anything, Duterte only reaffirmed our fears. He blurted out threats, threats, and threats. He was so good at creating more panic. We need to counter these with sobriety and solidarity. Let us not be what this administration wants us to become, to think only of our personal survival. Do not hoard. Share. Let’s beat the virus together.
What can be done? Let us demand the realignment of president’s discretionary funds to public services now. The Office of the President has a total of P4.5 billion (US$86.7 million) intelligence and confidential funds. Next time he opens his mouth, let us ask him to do that “little sacrifice.”
Let us demand what our communities need the most – public health education, free testing, water supply, sanitation, subsidy for the affected workers.
Let us be vigilant against right abuses. What we need is health care, not repression.
After all, a global pandemic requires health-related action, not a Martial Law experimentation.
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