[Statement] No to Militarization of Public Health Emergency! -KILUSAN

Calibrated lifting of Luzon ECQ!
No to Militarization of Public Health Emergency!

Ahead of the IATF meeting that is supposed to come up with a proposal for President Duterte to consider, Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque floated the idea that the lockdown may not be lifted and instead be up for another extension or, “modification”.

But recent events prove the ECQ is becoming stricter and harsher. President Duterte earlier vented his ire on so-called “pasaway” and threatened military and police take-over ECQ implementation. Indeed, ECQ is being militarized, in order to check “violations” of ECQ rules. But other than compounding the fears and sufferings of the people, further militarization exposes the government’s lapses and failures in its COVID-19 response.

The resignation of Ernesto Pernia from his posts as a socio-economic planning secretary and as NEDA chief and, the resolution by senators calling on health secretary Duque to resign, underscore government’s chaotic and blundering actions.

The Social Amelioration Program (SAP) is still bogged down in a web of discrepancies between DSWD’s and LGU’s lists of qualified beneficiaries. The DOH, while already lagging behind mounting backlog in COVID-19 testing, is encumbering, instead of supporting, mass testing efforts by LGUs. Initiatives by LGUs in building and readying isolation and quarantine facilities for PUIs and PUMs came before the national government started refitting certain public facilities for the same purpose. And of course, the LGUs, within their limitations, were first in distributing food packs to the people. The DSWD was way behind and under-prepared.

With this kind of government performance, the Philippines is ranked as the “least safe” country in the Asia-Pacific as well as the 9th “riskiest” country in the world in the present duration of COVID-19 pandemic. These findings are among the results of studies by Hong Kong-based Deep Knowledge Global (DKG) that focused on 150 countries’ performance on quarantine efficiency, monitoring detection, government management efficiency and emergency treatment readiness.

Another remark that should shake the government from its ineptitude and insensibilities is the one from the Chinese medical experts that observed the government’s COVID-19 response. The head of the team had this grim outlook, the Philippines “might not be able to cut off the local source” of the coronavirus2019 disease. In an interview over China’s CCTV Asia-Pacific, Dr. Wang Shangeng, head of the medical team said, “the country lacks beds and testing capacity. Many of the country’s COVID-19 patients are still quarantined at home instead of being admitted to hospitals.”

Slow in learning, fast in repressing

The incident in Sitio Zapatera, Barangay Luz, Cebu City echoes the warnings by Dr. Wang Shangeng and the finding by DKG. It forecasts the fate that awaits the rest of the nation still grappling with COVID-19. Sitio Zapatera showcases the haphazard testing by the DOH and the utter lack of community quarantine facilities for PUIs, PUMs, and hospital accommodation for COVID-19 positive patients. The case of Sitio Zapatera shows how fast novel coronavirus could spread in densely populated communities and that home quarantine is impossible for poor persons infected with COVID-19. But after 135 residents of the sitio tested COVID-19 positive, the health department ceased testing and declared the community as “contaminated”.

The community was literally locked-down and locked-in by a cordon of armed policemen, soldiers and armored personnel carriers (APCs) as if turned into a concentration camp. In this condition, the 9,000 residents of Brgy. Luz was placed in direct danger of being contaminated with COVID-19. After some hours, but pressured by public outcry, the city government resumed COVID 19 testing.

Sitio Zapatera and succeeding, scary incidents in Metro Manila involving policemen and soldiers, senselessly forcing civilians to “follow ECQ rules”, confirm the government is not about to heed the people’s urgent needs and the warnings by DKG and Dr. Wang.
COVID-19 pandemic is a global public health crisis. Thus, solving it should involve the informed and active participation of all the people. This means the people’s health, nutrition and resistance against diseases should not be further compromised. The people, especially the poor majority, have endured so much through the endless wait for food, cash aid, and mass COVID-19 testing, particularly for the PUIs and PUMs; the elderly, PWDs, immuno-compromised; and, the front- liners.

But the daily report by the PNP on the accumulating or increasing “violations” of ECQ rules is overshadowing whatever progress or problems in mass Covid19 testing and contact tracing and the distribution of SAP cash subsidy to millions of poor families.

The most recently reported 133,000 “ECQ violators” are more than twice the 59,928 citizens who have been tested for COVID-19 until April 18. The number of tests for COVID-19 could dramatically increase to reach 10,000 to 20,000 tests per day by the end of April and more by May 15 if only the DOH ceases foot-dragging and instead steadily decentralize testing by giving wider room to LGUs and the Red Cross that are now conducting COVID-19 tests. This is most urgently needed now that the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the country’s primary testing center and laboratory, is now operating below capacity because 43 of its employees tested COVID-19 positive.

The country’s health system capacity is also further limited by the fact that health and medical workers are at direct and high risk of getting infected. Until presently 766 health and medical personnel, including 339 doctors, 242 nurses, and 185 medical technologists, hospital attendants and others have been infected with COVID-19. They include 22 doctors who have laid down their lives. At least, health secretary Duque has admitted that severe lack of PPEs, not patients’ “dishonesty”, is the main cause of this. However, until very recently, Dr. Jimenez, president of Private Hospitals Association of The Philippines, Inc. (PHAPI) was begging the DOH to also provide private hospitals with PPEs.

Our view and proposal

Over one month of Luzon-wide ECQ and various levels of community quarantine in certain cities and provinces in Visayas and Mindanao have been crippling the national economy. Tens of millions are jobless, without a livelihood and other sources of income. Millions are hungry and more people are getting sick due to malnutrition and exposure to infections other than COVID-19, which makes them more susceptible to this deadlier type of coronavirus. But mass Covid19-testing is still far behind the number of people that should be given priority to it.

In view of this, Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (KILUSAN) joins others in opposing further militarization and total lockdown. We propose and support calls for calibrated lifting of Luzon-wide ECQ though considering selective ECQ for specified or defined areas that warrant it based on the scientific and objective study of the results of continuing mass testing/contact tracing.

Because it is necessary to strike a delicate balance between containment and mitigation of COVID-19 contagion and running the economy, KILUSAN proposes that focus should be on ensuring production and efficient flow or undisrupted supply chain of essential goods and services. This is urgent to be able to feed, especially the poor, and ensure the general well-being of the people.

Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (KILUSAN)

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