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.
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.
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.