We need timely but urgent responses from the National government to fight back against the threat posed by the pandemic COVID-19. Since March 16 the whole of Luzon was subject to Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), many communities have yet to receive any assistance— especially food assistance and employment assistance—both promised before the passage of Bayanihan Heal As One Law ( RA 11469) last March 26.
The Bayanihan Act granted among others the power to the executive to realign monies in the national budget, bypass the procurement Act, and direct private enterprises to respond to the needs of COVID-19.
Even in the last progress report made by the national government, there are an estimated Php 100 Billion funds expected to be acquired from GOCCs according to the Department of Finance (DOF) and another Php 300 Billion in reserve.
What help that has been extended remains inadequate.
As per the report of the DSWD, it has prepared 69,200 food packs among others. Its NCR field office has prepared 67,150 food packs worth 26 million pesos. These numbers remain small given the number of families that need the food assistance packages especially if we consider the 2.5 million people living in the slums and 3.1 million people who are considered homeless. At this point, it is the task of the LGU to step up to the challenge. And the results are uneven with the process of distribution vulnerable to partisan politics. There are even cases of LGUs who are not made aware of the procedures for the public to access subsidy or support.
The public has yet to be privy to the expenditure plan for the Php 200 Billion money resulting from RA 11469. We are calling on more government transparency and disclosure on these funds earmarked for COVID-19 response rather than relying on blind faith.
There are elements in the Duterte government that look at officials who do their duty as “competitors” or “undermining government efforts” like Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto and even Vice President Leni Robredo. At the same time are critical of criticism levied unto it.
Are we not supposed to welcome any and all help as long as it is along our objectives to counter the crisis? This pandemic should not be used as a platform with which to launch political careers or political ambitions. Narrow, partisan interest should not have a place in a public health emergency.
Broken Supply Chain, Rising Prices
A hungry population will be too weak to fend off a virulent virus like COVID-19. We need a healthy population both physically and economically. But now we see that the constraint to social mobility has severely impacted the flow of goods and services.
We are concerned that some market stalls and markets are closed because of scarce supplies as there have been breaks in the food supply chain from producers to sellers. For instance, food supplies are still being held or delayed in checkpoints and some drivers are being required to be quarantined by LGUs.
The goods are scarce not due to hoarding but because of delays in the production and transportation of goods. Thus, driving commodity prices up despite the price freeze imposed by the Department of Trade and Industry.
We cannot simply wait (“maghintay na lang kayo”). We need decisive action to resolve the broken food supply chain and striking fear in the hearts of the population will neither quell hunger nor appease the uncertain and precarious state of our citizens.
Where are the PPEs
Prior to COVID-19, our country already lack medical personnel (doctors, nurses, medical technicians) where there is 19 such personnel for every 10,000 Filipinos which is a far cry from the ideal of 44 medical personnel for every ten thousand Filipinos. We have yet to hear our legislators allot more monies to the health department given the COVID 19 pandemic.
Since the lockdown, our front liners are still bereft of PPEs. Rather than being spurred to action by the increasing death toll of medical personnel from COVID-19, the government continues its negligent attitude towards them. Now, the procured PPEs by the government are plagued by allegations of overpricing by as much as 400%!
We need to secure and protect the remaining medical personnel as we anticipate a rise in PUIs and PUMs and penalize the profiteers who are taking advantage of the situation. As of March 30, there have been 3,030 tests conducted, this is wholly inadequate to contain the spread of the virus.
We need to dial up our efforts to ensure that we identify COVID-19 positive individuals, isolate them and adequately care for them. Let us learn from the experience of other countries in this regard and follow suit.
Militarist and Authoritarian
There have been more than 17,039 arrests as of March 30 as a result of the enhanced community quarantine. And many more arrests are to be anticipated given that there are three more weeks to go before the lifting of the lockdown in Luzon, and relief packs are slow to come, especially for the most severely hit by the lockdown – day laborers, informal workers and the like.
Aside from the arrests, we are wary of the increasing militarist attitude adopted by the government in dealing with this health emergency. We fear that the latest round of strong language from the President will only spur excesses and abuse.
We need health protocols and guidelines in place, not checkpoints, threats and abuse. Let us put our resources to use and implement a comprehensive community-based action plan to address the spread of COVID-19.
Yes, our people are resilient and innovative but such resiliency and innovation will only be maximized if we harness it in a scientific and organized manner designed to combat and contain the virus and not weaponized to stifle people’s rights.
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