A Wrong Approach to the Pandemic

I continue sharing the analysis by Senator Leila De Lima of how the Duterte administration has seriously bungled the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last Tuesday, I summarized Parts I and II of “Anatomy of a failed pandemic response.” Today, I share Parts III and IV of the De Lima analysis, entitled, “Duterte administration’s medical response and health care support” and “Human rights repression in the name of peace and order,” respectively.

In Part III, De Lima observes that despite stories about an emerging contagion in the neighboring countries, the Duterte administration – by acquiescence, by neglect and by tolerance – failed to heed the early warnings. The borders were not immediately closed. Having seen other countries shutting down their doors, the people begged the government to shut down its borders and to stop issuing visas on arrival. The Health Secretary, who should have been apprised of the risk, declared before the members of the House of Representatives, how our relationship with China holds more weight than the threat of the virus. Our people’s right to health and safety was sidelined in order to uphold our diplomatic relations with China.

The chaos escalated after the first death outside China was recorded in the Philippines. This after the Health Secretary turned a blind eye from the residents of Wuhan who continued to arrive in the country against the behest of the Filipinos to shut down the borders. It was only on March 16 that the entire Luzon, with all its 57 million inhabitants, was placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and our ports and airports shut down.

According to De Lima, the government, in ignoring the warning signs from our neighboring countries, failed to implement the best practices in contact tracing and in isolating patients to keep the numbers at bay. As the rest of the world focused on interventions, our officials remained oblivious of the policies that had to be implemented. It empowered the uniformed men as if the enemy is not the unseen force, the very men who would later breach quarantine rules to stage a party to celebrate a birthday; while families had to painfully say goodbye to their loved ones and grieve from a distance. As Japan and Korea doubled their efforts in contract tracing, Secretary Francisco Duque declared that the government would instead focus its efforts strengthening the capacities of health facilities nationwide. Contact tracing lags behind. Despite trillions in spending and debt, the country has now become one of the worst hit in South East Asia with more than 200,000 infections.

Perhaps, the most articulate image to symbolize how ill-prepared and ill-equipped the country is to survive this crisis is the fact that the health workers were the first to fall to the virus. But it was only after they begged for support that the country started procuring Personal Protective Equipment at questionable exorbitant prices. According to De Lima, it is unbelievable how quickly the PPEs and supplies ran out despite the amounts disbursed. The frontliners were left to their own devices, she says.

Part IV discusses the incidents of human rights violations committed by state forces during the period of extended lockdowns, weaponizing the law as a tool to commit human rights violations. De Lima points to an appalling number of human rights abuse cases committed because of and during the pandemic. Among others, she chronicles specific incidents of human rights violations committed by state security forces and local government officials against violators of quarantine and public health protocols.

In her analysis, De Lima accuses the government of weaponizing the law and used it as a shield to systematically curtail all forms of human rights, including freedom of speech amidst the pandemic. It is like witnessing again the dark days of our country combined with a health crisis. To her, the Philippines’ longest lockdown was in fact a crackdown. The vulnerable sectors faced harsher penalties when they are the hardest hit by the pandemic. Compassion was only given to those in position who are administration allies. As the courts were closed, not all had access to legal remedies. It is evident that the government’s priority during the ECQ was to mobilize the police and military and to acquire emergency powers for the president, she concluded.

To end, August 27 –being the 61st birthday of Senator De Lima and her fourth birthday illegally detained – I would like to publicly greet her and thank her for everything she has done and is doing for the country. She will be freed soon, I hope and I expect, and I promise to be there in the gates of Camp Crame to welcome her back to the Senate and beyond to continue her good work for the country.

Visit this website to access the article.

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