The Duterte government’s imposition of a new lockdown on Metro Manila — supposedly aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19’s Delta variant and will last from August 6 to August 20 — highlights its utter failure to contain the deadly virus, despite carrying out extremely repressive measures against ordinary Filipinos.

It knows no other measure except imposing lockdowns and restrictions. It has not ramped up testing, contact tracing, vaccination, and improvements in the country’s medical services all this time. It is clear from the country’s experience that while lockdowns may counter surges, these do not really prevent the virus from spreading.

We condemn the Duterte government for refusing to provide financial assistance to Overseas Filipino Workers’ (OFWs) families and ordinary Filipinos during the entire 17 months that it has put the country on lockdown. This highlights its insensitivity to the condition and sufferings of its people.

Many OFW families need ayuda, as many OFWs have been retrenched from work, have suffered from reductions in work and wages, have been subjected to “no work, no pay” schemes, have run out of savings, among other ordeals caused and worsened by the pandemic.

This lockdown goes hand-in-hand with the Duterte government’s extension until August 15 of the travel ban on OFWs who want to come home from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman. This travel ban, which has been in place since May 15, has brought suffering to thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of OFWs.

Among those who need to go home are OFWs with visas that have expired or about to expire, pregnant women and patients without medical insurance, families with children, and OFWs who want to rest and check up on their families amidst these difficult times. OFWs from the Middle East, most of whom have received the vaccine, are most willing to undergo health protocols against Covid-19.

The five repatriation flights announced by the Philippine missions in the UAE are too few. By their own admission, almost 6,000 Filipinos have applied for the flights, and that each flight can accommodate only 350 passengers — amounting to less than 30 per cent of those who applied.

Even OFWs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries are having a hard time going home — even as the Philippine government has not declared a travel ban on OFWs from the said countries.

OFWs in the Middle East are suffering from the travel ban because of the Duterte government’s incompetence in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. We will not forget this in the coming months, when the Duterte regime will seek to prolong its hold on power through the May 2022 elections.

We also condemn the Duterte government for weaponizing these lockdowns and restrictions against critical and independent voices. It has used these measures to carry out greater extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations. It will most likely use the pandemic as an excuse to ban opposition candidates from holding face-to-face campaigns in the upcoming elections.

We reiterate our demands: carry out medical, not militaristic, response to the pandemic; provide financial assistance to OFWs and ordinary Filipinos; lift travel ban to the UAE, Oman and other Middle Eastern countries and repatriate distressed Filipinos abroad; and a stop to human-rights violations in the country. We are calling on all OFWs and Filipinos to end the Duterte regime.##