Outcry of the people against COVID-19 and the neglectful government
March 19, 2020
The responses of the Duterte government to the COVID-19 pandemic have been gravely lacking and late. While the epidemic was happening in China and neighboring countries, government officials minimized its possible impact on the Philippines. From the earliest part of the spread throughout the world the Philippines should have enacted a travel ban on the countries central to the spread of the sickness like hina. (The first ones to be positive in the Philippines are from China). There should also have been preparations for widespread testing and thorough contact-tracing for the possibility that the sickness would enter our borders. The machinery of public health until community level should have been readied in order to face this health crisis. But this was not done.
On March 18, 2020 only 1,030 tests have been done for COVID-19, much too small a number compared to the projected possible number of those who will be infected within 3 months according to the DOH (Department of Health) itself, which reaches up to 75,000. Currently, there are more than 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines and it is expected to grow in the coming weeks.
The current lockdown which is called by the government as “enhanced community quarantine” on the whole of Luzon is a result of the late and sorely lacking response of the government to the crisis, the possible impect of which could be foreseen from the early part of February 2020. What’s worse, the situation of the most vulnerable who would be affected by the lockdown were not considered, something that was exposed in the first days of the quarantine.
The spread of the COVID-19 sickness must be stopped or significantly slowed especially since there is no cure or vaccine yet for it and there are vulnerable sections of the population that will be hit with grave illness that they can die from. This is what the government should urgently respond to along with wide socio-economic support for all vulnerable sectors affected by the lockdown.
The following are our urgent demands in the time of lockdown and facing COVID19:
- Allocate sufficient funds for free testing, treatment, and eradication of COVID 19, and fixing health services. Most immediately, use the P13 Billion Contingency Fund, P 16 Billion Disaster Rick Reduction Management Fund, and more than P4.5 Billion Confidential and Intelligence Fund of the President, aside from funds allocated for counter-insurgency, tourism, debt servicing and others. Congress should urgently act on the P1.6B supplemental funding for the eradication of COVID 19.
- Implement mass testing that is free, widespread, and systematic. Test everyone who is suspected to have COVID-19 (Persons Under Investigation or PUI and Persons Under Monitoring or PUM) especially in chosen and priority communities (called surveillance or sentinel testing) in order to determine who is sick, and how and where it spreads in order to be make a concrete plan and steps to stop the spread. The symptoms of sore throat, runny nose, cough, fever, and especially pneumonia – severe or not – and all those with exposure to confirmed cases should have priority in testing. Related to this, increase the number of testing kits, establish testing centers and laboratories, and assign those with expertise there. Make it a priority of the government to procure and produce testing kits and increase the laboratories that can process the results.
- Increase the equipment, supply, and personnel of hospitals. Assign COVID-19-specific hospitals (public and private) in Metro Manila, Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, that have sufficient equipment, supply, and trained personnel who will principally receive patients suspected and confirmed to have COVID-19. Increase the number of isolation rooms and ensure that no less than 3,000 ventilators will be provided to hospitals. Give aid to private hospitals if needed. Undertake immediate mass hiring of nurses and other health workers in order to fill the 17,000 vacant positions in public hospitals and the needed 42,000 nurses to support the curent health staffing in communities. Those taking the March 2020 Medical Licensure Examination may be mobilized to augment the current number of doctors.
- Establish sanitation facilities and quarantine centers in communities. Establish handwashing facilities, sanitation tents, disinfection facilities, and quarantine centers at all levels – baranggay, town, city, and region – in order to stop the spread of the sickness and respond to the needs of patients. It is not realistic or practical to rely on those living in cramped communities and houses the system of home quarantine. The correct care and monitoring of PUM and PUI is also a problem, they are currently just sent home.
- Ensure the support and protection of frontliners. This includes health workers, doctors or nurses, med tech, x-ray technitian, etc. Urgently provide them with adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Ensure that they have transportation to and from work during lockdown. Ensure their working conditions – that they have nutritional food and adequate rest, hazard pay, free and regular testing for COVID-19, and other support. This is appropriate both for those based in hospitals or in triage areas outside of hospitals that will be established in order to filter those who are sick or need to be checked out, and those who will be stationed in community centers in order to undertake specimen collection for targeted testing. Also ensure that the community health workers who will be going around communities to help with public information, education and sanitation drives have adequate gear like mask, alcohol, gloves, etc.
- Ensure the system of response to COVID-19 until the community level. Ensure that correct, timely, and understandable information about COVID-19 and how to avoid it is given to the people. Clarify where the closest and first place to go is for those who are suspected to be sick. Prepare a transportation system for them if they need to be brought to the hospital. Give appropriate orientation and skills to Barangay Health Workers (BHW), relief and disasater management presonnel, and volunteers so that they can effectively contribute to responding to COVID-19. Related to this, fix the system of unified and comprehensive health system and general management in facing COVID-19. There should be clear guidelines and support from the national government to LGUs that recognizes their abilities and weaknesses. Use persuasion instead of oppression or fear in order to get the people to implement quarantine protocols.
- Forbid layoffs and give support to affected workers and semi-workers. Implement mandatory paid leave (separate from regular leave credits) to workers who can’t come to work due to sickness or lockdown. Give support to micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) who can’t implement this. Give financial assistance no less than P10,000 to contractual and informal workers who are affected but not qualified for paid leave. Urgently implement the DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) order for P5,000 COVID Adjustment Measures Program for private employees who will lose their jobs and P5,000 Tulong Pangkabuhayan sa Displaced/Underprivileged Workers (TUPAD) (Livelihood Assistance to Displaced/Underprivileged Workers), including street vendors, tricycle and jeep drivers.
- Give emergency relief packs and other support for the poor. Include in relief packs not just food but also face masks, vitamins, medicines, soap, alcohol, and sanitizers like bleach. Make distribution house to house to abide by social distancing. Loosen and expand the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program and use the more than P56.4B available funds for unconditional cash transfer (UCT) to help the poor. Increase the capability and funds of crisis intervention units (CIU) of the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) in handling social workers.
- Implement a moratorium on bills and penalties. Principally on bills for water, electricity, phone service, rent, debts, and tax, including the suspension of the deadline for income tax return on April 15.
- Control the prices and ensure the supply of basic goods and services. Particularly water, electricity, telecommunication, medicine, rice, and other basic food. Ensure the continuous entry into Manila and other urban centers of food from the countryside.
- Ensure transportation for those who need it. Other than frontliners and those providing important services, limited but sufficient transport should also be ensured for patients, those buying food and basic goods, and to those stranted and wish to return to their homes. The guidelines on social distancing will be followed here.
- Stop the demolition of houses of the poor and shelter the unhoused. Find a way for those who were affected by the lockdown to be able to go home to their respective homes in the provices. Ensure those without homes are sheltered and their needs are taken care of.
Mobilize against COVID-19 and the incapable Duterte government
Our demands are primarily directed at the government which has the biggest capability but has failed to respond to COVID-19. Even so, this should be responded to by all and effort should be exerted in different ways and levels, especially by those who are organized.
In relation to this, we as the people should mobilize to push the government to do their duty. Let us also mobilize to the best of our ability to cover any shortcoming that we can. Let us help the frontline personnel and agencies and cooperate with baranggays, hospitals, LGUs, and other agencies to reach our demands. Let us take the initiative to organize volunteer brigades that can undertake information, sanitation, and disinfection drives in the community. Use social media in the effort against COVID-19 and to propagate our demands.
It is also important to expose, demand, and hold responsible those who have been negligent in government, primarily President Rodrigo Duterte. At the same time as working to fight COVID-19, let us launch a widespread protest against the neglect of the government in order to push them to do their duty. Let us demand urgent help for the poor and most vulnerable in the time of lockdown.
Medical service, not military action!
Check-ups, not checkpoints! Socio-economic help now!
Save the people! Remove the virus from Malacañang!