“The community quarantine or lockdown over Metro Manila spells forced hunger to millions of low-income workers who cannot afford to skip a day despite the current COVID-19 pandemic.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Progressive groups have warned that the militarist response of President Rodrigo Duterte to the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to bigger crisis.
In a statement, Gabriela Women’s Party said that without effective social safety nets and economic relief programs, “the community quarantine or lockdown over Metro Manila spells forced hunger to millions of low-income workers who cannot afford to skip a day despite the current COVID-19 pandemic.”
This afternoon, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the president is implementing an “enhanced community quarantine” in the whole of Luzon. The pronouncement came on the second day of implementation of the virtual lockdown in Metro Manila.
Critics pointed out that the current measures might lead to further spread of the dreaded disease.
Gabriela Women’s Party said that what the public has seen today is not a community quarantine but rather “long queues of workers in public transport systems and before the various checkpoints,” which, they said, “practically negated the very purpose of social distancing.”
Several photos of stranded Filipinos commuting on their way to work in Metro Manila went viral today.
As of this writing, the Philippines has at least 140 positive COVID-19 cases, 11 of whom have died.
To flee the March 15 lockdown, a significant number of Metro Manila residents went to nearby provinces. Medical experts agreed that this could spell more danger, as possible virus carrier may have unknowingly brought the virus to their respective provinces.
Social distancing, too, has proven to be a privilege as urban poor communities “inherently live in close quarters,” according to Kadamay.
The group also assailed the recent statement of Panelo who said no one dies of hunger. Kadamay said government officials appear to be out of touch on the plight of the ordinary people.
Kadamay Chairperson Gloria Arellano said poor people who are forced to go out and work for their families, if arrested, must not be treated like criminals.
“They should be provided with help,” she said.
Eule Rico Bonganay, secretary general of children rights group Salinlahi, said the Duterte administration is trying to simply address the situation with crowd control while it remains mum on adequate assistance it should be providing the people.
Gabriela Women’s Party noted that the situation is worse for millions of Filipinos in the informal economy, who are mostly women.
“They are suffering from an economic shock, and are ill-equipped to counter COVID-19 risks since they cannot afford preventive healthcare costs,” they said.
The Duterte administration has yet to release much-needed funds needed to address COVID-19.
So far, the House of Representatives has only approved a supplemental budget of P1.6 billion out of the proposed P3.1 billion needed by the health department, as the Bureau of Treasury only certified the said amount as “available” as of Mar. 10.
President Duterte, too, has not certified the proposed supplemental budget as “urgent.”
Among the most affected in the budget restraints are health workers, as more than half of the proposed supplemental budget was supposed to provide them with personal protective equipment.
The Alliance of Health Workers noted there are currently 39 health workers in the Philippine Heart Center and seven in Rizal Medical Center who are considered as persons under investigation. The group confirmed that one health worker has been positively confirmed to have afflicted the virus.
“Who will look after health workers in the front line? The government failed to provide us with proper and quality Personal Protective Equipment (PPE),” said Robert Mendoza, president of the Alliance of Health Workers.
Meanwhile, Gabriela Women’s Party called on the Duterte administration to ensure that the COVID-19 will not escalate into a “full-blown economic meltdown,” adding that the president’s intelligence and confidential funds may be tapped to scale up the country’s health-oriented response.