“Duterte regime’s National Action Plan, a false military solution to a national health issue.” — Migrante International

Despite Duterte’s proclamation of placing the Philippines under a State of Public Health Emergency earlier this month, seeing any comprehensive response from this regime by addressing COVID-19 as a health issue is now even more remote than ever. All government agencies in charge of implementing the regime’s National Action Plan are either active or retired generals. None of them have medical expertise. What’s also striking and outrageous is that the technical working group formed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the handling of donations was without any single representation from any public health agency or department. 

Unmoved by the public outcry against big politicians, senior government officials and other elite personalities who underwent VIP testing, Senator Koko Pimentel and other administration allies were seen roaming around, treating themselves at lavish parties while many in impoverished Filipino communities face threats of arrests, torture, beatings and other cruelties from lawless enforcers. A distressed PUI (person under investigation) in Nueva Ecija was violently arrested and dragged back to isolation. Other curfew violators reportedly ended up being locked in dog cages like in Laguna or being made to sit under the sun for an hour as in Parañaque City. 

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Today, a police officer in Quiapo, Manila was caught on film beating civilians with a stick after threatening to shoot anyone who goes out on the streets. Media entities reported that quarantine passes shown by residents in the area were not honored by the marauding policemen. These are the horrifying realities that retrenched OFWs are more likely to face upon their return to the country.

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OFWs are among the most gravely affected sectors in the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, a great number of stranded OFWs have already been left neglected by the Duterte government. At present, 10,000 seafarers are now awaiting repatriation. In Qatar, retrenchments have hit 73 OFWs from Structurel and 200 others from Qatar Airways. 

The $200 or Php 10,000 financial assistance promised by DOLE for OFWs would only be good for 10 days. This will never be enough to sustain them and their dependents if the situation persists for more than a month. President Duterte must provide additional allocations on top of this. We call on the government to provide monthly financial assistance and relief to OFW households until the lockdown gets lifted. Beneficiaries should include all those affected by travel ban and flight cancellations, OFWs affected by work and livelihood suspensions or disruptions, returning OFWs that will be subjected to the 14-day quarantine and all OFWs serving in the frontline. Adequate quarantine facilities must also be provided for the thousands of returning OFWs. 

President Duterte and his militarist henchmen are haunted by the boiling resentment of the Filipino masses against government inutility. The healthcare system is on the verge of collapse as hospitals are increasingly incapacitated by thinning healthcare workers and dwindling supplies. Regime officials are in denial of the shortage while the ruling elite’s demands for immediate VIP testing continue to go unhampered. Treating the COVID-19 pandemic as a peace and order issue will in no way arrest the increasing number contractions. It is a public health emergency issue that should be addressed through a comprehensive blueprint laid out by health experts and not by militarist predators. 

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OPEN LETTER to Filipino frontline workers in the Philippines and Overseas – our doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, cleaners, food and service workers, and scientists

To Filipino frontline workers in the Philippines and Overseas – our doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, cleaners, food and service workers, and scientists 

We are sincerely grateful to each and every one of you for your critical and valuable contributions in the global fight against COVID-19. 

We draw hope and inspiration from your unwavering and selfless commitment to serve, tireless work in saving hundreds of lives, courage and strength in the face of risks, challenges and uncertainties. 

Your countless first-hand accounts concerning unsafe and inhumane working conditions, lack of protective equipment, severe shortage of basic medical supplies and health personnel, lack of just compensation, experiences of discrimination and racism, and the lack of overall support from our government threatens your ability to effectively carry out your work and our chances of winning the fight, and severely undermines the value of your work.  

Significantly, we recognize that these conditions have also affected your physical, mental and emotional well-being. You have every right to feel rage, frustration, and sadness. 

The everyday realities you have been facing since our battle to fight COVID-19 began, reveal the glaring truth about the state of our healthcare system brought about by a lack of socialized and free medical health care, and our government’s de-prioritization of providing basic social services and securing long-term and sustainable livelihood for millions of our people.  

With or without a global health crisis, you are an invaluable part of our communities. Therefore, you deserve the utmost dignity and respect. Your lives, health, and well-being must be given importance. You are beloved mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles–each with a family of your own to care for. Their health, safety and well-being also matters.

Because our leaders are failing you and our people, it is up to us to take collective action to fight COVID-19 together, to fight for long-term systemic changes.  

We want you to know you are not alone. People’s organizations such as ours, whose membership make up the marginalized sectors in our country, stand with you in fighting this battle. The mandatory lockdowns, quarantines and curfews have not in any way stopped or slowed our efforts to take action and actively do our part in fighting this battle. 

We are organizing and campaigning to challenge our government to ensure your protection and welfare, and that of vulnerable sectors of our communities both in the Philippines and overseas. We are educating and sharing resources with our communities, gathering and distributing medical and food supplies. We are advocating for scientific and health based solutions to the crisis and for our government to invest in the health and livelihood of our people. 

Together, let us honor the sacrifices and contributions of our courageous and well-respected Filipino doctors who passed away from COVID-19 by organizing for a future where your work is valued and supported, and your rights protected. 

PHOTO: Filipino Nurses United, abs-cbn.com

Asking for emergency powers after allotting Php14 Billion for Tourism is foolishness! Duterte resign now! — Migrante International

Our doctors are dying, our people are starving. In the streets, cancer and dialysis patients are walking miles and miles just to reach hospitals and treatment centres. People are wailing out of this tragedy but here we have the Duterte regime allotting a whopping Php 14 Billion for tourism! Where is President Duterte getting all the nerve to ask for an emergency power?

From the beginning of his term, Duterte already made a Php 31 Billion budget cut for health in 2016 while the 2020 allocation for the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine was slashed by 57 percent. No wonder that the country has been experiencing a torrent of epidemics from measles to the worst dengue outbreak we have seen in 10 years. Polio has even made a grand comeback two decades after its eradication. The Duterte regime has failed big time in providing quality healthcare and medical services to the Filipino public. There is nothing universal about Duterte’s “Universal Healthcare” Law that is being extolled by his bootlickers. All responsibility is being passed on by Duterte to LGUs. Was it LGUs who made these budget cuts in the first place? This is a global pandemic that necessitates action at the national level, for heaven’s sake!

As we have seen in the past few days, big political personalities and senior government officials close to President Duterte are getting the highest VIP treatment in the COVID-19 tests despite the absence of symptoms. Abusing their power at the expense of thousands of ordinary people who endure days waiting for their results. Woe unto these ruling class parasites!

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While other countries are doing great strides in conducting mass testing, the Philippines is way far behind with only 1,200 tests conducted. This is way lower than Vietnam’s 15,637 tests and less than half of Palestine’s 2,519. Even Iran which has been hit hard by US sanctions has already made 80,000 COVID-19 tests. With 1,545 tests, the scarcely populated and landlocked country of Kyrgyzstan is enough to shame the Duterte regime. His health secretary stubbornly rejects calls for mass testing. 

If the Duterte regime can’t even provide relief and welfare to the local Filipino population who are just under his nose, then OFWs have more than enough reasons to fear that they have been trashed once more into oblivion. Welfare assistance for those terminated from their work is meagre. As thousands are stranded and hit by overseas retrenchments, destitution awaits them upon their return. 

President Duterte has Php 13 Billion as Contingency Fund and Php 16 Billion Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund, what is this emergency power for? No doubt, this only redounds to Duterte voraciously salivating to have more power for corruption! More money for his opulence and depravity! He spoiled more than 3 years of his time granting boons to POGO operations when he could have built more hospitals, research facilities and treatment centres.  With doctors dropping down dead, our healthcare system is fast collapsing but the agony of the Filipino people fall on deaf ears. 

There is no more reason for the Duterte regime to stay in power. Duterte’s folly and incompetence are just too flagrant to be pushed aside. The deepest recesses of hell and eternal damnation should be reserved for Duterte and his entire legion of abusive officials and corrupt politicians who have plagued this country for too long. 

No to emergency powers!

Free mass testing now!

Duterte resign!

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“No to concentration camp in Sibakil Island!” – Migrante International on AFP WestMinCom’s proposal to isolate 131 stranded ship passengers from Sabah on an uninhabited island

Migrante International is deeply concerned for the 131 stranded ship passengers from Sabah, Malaysia. After their vessels were refused entry by ports for fear of COVID-19, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Mindanao Command is proposing that they be sent to Sibakil Island, an uninhabited island in Lantawan, Basilan where they will be confined in scorching tents. 

This very bad proposal made by AFP WestMinCom and the ports’ refusal to allow them entry was made at the back of the absence of sufficient medical personnel in seaports and the Duterte government’s long-delayed delivery of free mass testing kits and services to the public. Bringing this huge amount of people to an uninhabited island for “quarantine” where they will be far distant from healthcare and social welfare facilities is more like locking them up into a concentration camp.

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PHOTO: Inquirer.net

Despite the enormous wealth in natural resources, Region 9 and ARMM are the top 2 poorest regions in the country in terms of human development. This is due to government neglect, corruption, landlordism, and the long-standing armed conflict exacerbated by the Duterte regime’s failure to address the roots of poverty in the region. No wonder then that there are not enough hospitals and public health facilities where ports can refer arriving passengers for medical testing and treatment. 

These Filipino migrants from Malaysia have already experienced many hardships working overseas. Over and over again, we keep hearing stories of abuse, caning and imprisonment from Filipino migrants in Malaysia. Bringing them into isolation on an uninhabited island is adding insult to injury. Migrante International calls on the Duterte government and all concerned agencies to come to the aid of these stranded ship passengers by providing them relief, welfare and medical support. 

Libreng medikal! Hindi militar!

Ospital, hindi selda!

Free mass testing and treatment now! 

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“Duterte’s priorities in COVID-19 pandemic show no genuine concern for the people” — Migrante International

Maintaining his stone deaf attitude towards warranted pleas from the ground level, President Duterte went on a midnight rant threatening to slap LGUs with criminal charges. And while big political personalities have already been tested for COVID-19, tens of millions are left paralyzed by Duterte’s militarized lockdown. Worse, a whopping Php 14 Billion spending package for Tourism was allotted by the Duterte regime as healthcare providers express fears on the looming collapse of the country’s healthcare delivery systems. 

The allotment of Php 14 Billion for tourism is Duterte’s mockery against ordinary Filipinos. Since almost all tourism facilities in the country are highly privatized, this is Duterte’s way of subsidizing private profit when the impoverished masses need food, financial relief and medical assistance. The Duterte regime’s revulsion for the poor is further attested by the suspension of social pensions, cash assistance and other services to indigents when the government could have instead just provided Personal Protection Equipment to social workers and made adjustments to implement social distancing. 

President Duterte will long be remembered as the only president in history who right in the midst of a state of national calamity, presided over the suspension of social welfare services while generously subsidizing private profit. 

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We felt debilitating pain hearing about the agony of cancer and dialysis patients who were forced to walk miles just to reach hospitals and treatment centres due to the total ban on public transportation. Millions grapple with their little or zeroed cash as the government’s enhanced lockdown continues to divorce them from their work and livelihood. Meanwhile, the plight of OFWs do not appear to be reaching Malacañang’s radar. Migrante International calls on government agencies to include OFWs in their publicized COVID-19 infection tallies. 

Over 118 OFWs have already been infected with COVID-19 and those who are still sturdy and sound are beginning to lose their jobs. Just days ago, 200 Filipinos were unexpectedly laid off by Qatar Airways. Thousands of OFWs are either stranded or are set to return back to a country battered by a worsening humanitarian crisis. 

In the midst of these woes, the Duterte regime is unremitting in inflicting more Fascist crimes. Cultural activist Marlon Maldos was abducted and shot by military elements in Bohol on 17 March 2020. NDFP Peace Consultant Julius Giron along with two others were massacred during a raid in Baguio City. Based on trumped-up charges, Gloria Tomalon, the sister of Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat was arrested this morning in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. Migrante International denounces all these atrocities. 

Instead of tormenting the people with more state-terror, the Duterte regime needs to address the problems caused by the militarized lockdown and listen more to assessments and inputs from the ground. Threats of arrest will only enrage citizens already reeling from hardships they now face. Migrante International therefore calls on the Duterte government to lift the suspension on social welfare services to give immediate relief to millions of indigent families who badly need assistance at this time of calamity. In the same manner, the Duterte government must not leave OFWs in the dark as they are among the most vulnerable sectors in this global pandemic. Most importantly, it is only through medical and public health intervention that the country will be able to address the COVID-19 pandemic and not through militarization and tyranny. 

Gamot hindi bala! Ospital hindi selda!

Libreng medikal! Hindi militar!

Libreng COVID19 testing sa mga mahihirap, hindi lang sa mga politiko at sikat!

Ayudang pinansyal, hindi turismo!

Serbisyo, hindi negosyo!

People over profit!

 

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Labor Unions, Port Workers, Filipino Advocates Rally Together In Support of 500+ Filipino Grand Princess Cruise Ship Workers Amidst Covid-19 Scare

On Saturday, March 14, 2020, Migrante Northern California and National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) joined several Bay Area based labor unions and workers advocates for a press conference raising concern about the treatment and well-being of the more than 500 Filipino seafarers aboard the Grand Princess Cruise Ship, as well as the thousands of passengers who were at risk of exposure to a Covid-19 outbreak on the ship. The Grand Princess Cruise Ship, which was anchored 10 miles off the coast of SF was finally allowed to dock at the Port of Oakland on March 9 and remained there until Sunday, March 15. 

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Health experts already decried the example of the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, where so many more passengers and workers were infected than needed to be, by quarantining them on a contaminated ship kept off the Japanese coast. 700 people tested positive for Covid-19 on the Diamond Princess, 80 of whom were Filipino crew members, and 6 people died from their exposure. 

While measures to disembark passengers were immediately attended to, the foreign workers of the cruise were kept aboard the ship. “Workers were being treated with less concern and dignity than the passengers who were disembarked first. There’s a need for transparency, cooperation, and government action for humanitarian relief and the health and safety of everyone – the passengers, the foreign workers, the port workers, and the surrounding community,”  said Terry Valen, President of NAFCON and Executive Director of the Filipino Community Center in San Francisco. 

Shortly after the press conference on Saturday afternoon, the Filipino workers were disembarked, screened, and repatriated back to the Philippines. “We’re relieved that the workers were able to finally leave the ship and go home,” said Nap Pempeña of Migrante-USA. “ The workers should receive appropriate and comprehensive medical and mental health services upon their return to the Philippines, and they should receive fair compensation and appropriate protection from lost wages based on their contract and their collective bargaining agreement (CBA) if applicable. With more ships expected to be infected and to dock all over the world, the Philippine government must be ready to receive and support repatriating Filipino seafarers.” 

There are close to half a million Filipino seafarers on cargo ships, cruise ships, fishing and other vessels on the seas at any given time, making up to a third of all crew members on maritime vessels. Forced to work abroad due to unemployment, dismal wages and crushing poverty in the Philippines, Filipino workers experience exploitation, harassment, discrimination and hazardous working conditions aboard. The contractual and seasonal nature of their work exacerbates their hardship as shipping companies, recruitment agencies and government agencies sometimes evade liability when seafarers’ rights are violated. 

The case of the Grand Princess Cruise Ship highlights the challenges faced by Filipinos and other seafarers in general and exacerbated by inadequate response to the Covid-19 health crisis. With the service workers on land and offshore crucial to the healthcare system and to the upkeep of commercial establishments, travel and tourism industry as well as other workplaces, their vulnerability to contracting the disease increases due to their nature of work requiring physical presence and constant contact with other people. 

As the crisis worsens and deals negative impacts on various industries, workers will need not just access to healthcare, but also economic support to sustain themselves and their families.

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Migrante International welcomes travel ban exemption for OFWs returning to safe places in Mainland China

Migrante International welcomes the approval of the travel ban exemption for OFWs returning to Mainland China (except to Hubei Province). We ascribe this to the collective action of OFWs, their families and their supporters who never wavered in raising their demand to get back to their normal lives and carry out their occupations. Aside from the petition initiated by affected OFWs from Mainland China, the group held rounds of consultations with Migrante International which from then on led to the OFWs working relentlessly with us to reach out and lobby for their cause in the media, in different government agencies and in the House of Representatives. We were heard because we never kept silent. 

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PHOTO: From Majo Reyes

The OFWs did not hesitate to voice their frustration on the meager financial assistance provided to them by OWWA and in expounding on the dire impacts of their prolonged stay in the Philippines. Through the help of Gabriela Partylist and Bayan Muna, the OFWs were able to forward their petition and appeal letters to government agencies during the House Committee meeting on Health. 

We call on the Duterte government to continue providing assistance to our dear OFWs even after their return to Mainland China. Migrante International expresses its commendation to our OFWs from Mainland China for their strong resolve to fight for their rights and we vow to ever more strengthen our solidarity with them in the struggle to ensure their health and welfare as they work overseas for the sustenance of their loved ones back home. 

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PHOTO: From Majo Reyes

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