COVID-19 pandemic solution should include human rights protection

For Mercedes Berioles, typhoon Ulysses and COVID-19 are double whammy for poor residents of Marikina. (Photo by Bernadette Ann Morales)


MANILA – It has been almost two years since the pandemic hit the Philippines. Still, public health advocates are calling for a human rights-based approach to curbing the spread of the deadly virus, under a banner “Dapat Lapat.”

“We must acknowledge the impact of the pandemic in poor communities because they enjoy a limited amount of rights,” said Joshua San Pedro, a doctor and co-convenor of the Coalition of People’s Right to Health (CPRH).

On December 13, public health advocates launched Dapat Lapat: Karapatan sa Pandemya that aims to expose the government’s militarized policies that affect human rights. It also campaigns for the public right to health and pushes for scientifically addressing the Covid-19 health crisis.

In the past days, new COVID-19 cases have become fewer than 300 per day. There are also reports of hospitals closing their wards dedicated to COVID-19 patients as there are no new cases in their areas. Still, public health advocates are wary due to the two cases of the Omicron variant confirmed by the health department.

The pandemic has so far hurt the country’s economy.

Ibon Foundation earlier said that the government’s claims of recovery are belied by how unemployment has been increasing throughout the third quarter, reaching 4.3 million in September 2021. This is the highest since the 4.6 million reported in July 2020.

“During this pandemic, instead of focusing on the health needs, the social, economic needs of Filipino people, our government is hellbent on violating the people’s rights.” Roneo Clamor, deputy secretary-general of Karapatan, said.

People’s health, not rights violations

Last year, Duterte was granted special powers to deal with the pandemic as provided by the Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. This, however, was criticized by public health advocates as it relied primarily on state security forces, with the military and retired generals practically leading the government response.

This situation resulted in human rights violations, according to human rights groups. There were reports of health protocol violators being subjected to physical, emotional, and gender-based violence. Psychological mistreatment also happened, including being made to do loads of push-ups, being crammed inside dog cages, and being made to sit or stand in the sun.

“Some of them are even put inside the coffin to let them feel how it is to be dead when you died from COVID that can cause psychological trauma especially to those people who have a phobia,” San Pedro said.

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CPRH said that people also had limited access to immediate and essential health services during the pandemic, adding that women tend to bear the brunt of increased cases of gender-based violence.

Select cases of human rights violations during the COVID-19 pandemic

“The COVID-19 control is framed by the government as unjustifiable and unavoidable responses in the context of extreme circumstances using the narratives of emergency as a means of limiting transparency and accountability,” Giada Girelli, a human rights analyst at Harm Reduction International, said.

Put people’s needs first

Dr. Eleanor Jara of the CPRH said that “The Dapat Lapat” Campaign is a more proactive, enabling, and grounded pandemic response compared to the militarized focused response of the government that just resulted in the cycle of lockdowns and complacency. “Dapat LAPAT […] will also highlight the grounded pro-active rights-based response and our presentation of the recently concluded research of the CPRH.”

CPRH also launched a human rights-focused pandemic response that caters to the communities. This makes them aware of their rights at every stage of the pandemic response through various campaign materials. CPRH also has a partnership with Bakuna Hotline in handling reports of irregularities of the National Vaccine Program. It has a Facebook page, which can provide guidance and document complaints.

“If we are to learn from the COVID pandemic, we must treat it as an opportunity to reframe public health and governance towards recognizing and promoting human rights,” Chester Arcilla, an associate professor of UP Manila, said. (JJE, DAA) (

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