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Competent and compassionate leadership to address COVID19 crisis, not emergency powers -iDEFEND

Monday, 23 March 2020

Long queues at ATMs and groceries, panic-buying and empty shelves, three-hour daily market schedules, food shortages, heated arguments at barangay checkpoints- these are now the usual scenes in every community since the government imposed the Luzon lockdown and the enhanced community quarantine, supposedly meant to address the rapid spread of COVID19.

While the poor and homeless struggle to comprehend why they are suddenly being driven away from accessing vital assistance and food, day wage earners and contractual workers have yet to receive financial aid promised by the government.

On the other hand, the midnight press conferences by the President provided no coherent plan, save for the successive peace and order measures, and garbled orders to stay at home. Conflicting guidelines were accompanied by macho threats to people who are found not complying. Far from offering confidence, these press conferences increasingly exposed government’s ill-preparedness and single-minded militarist approach to any national crisis.

President Duterte asked the local government units (LGUs) to strictly follow the guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), but this left LGUs to figure out on their own how exactly these are to be implemented. Duterte’s marching orders lacked critical details or workable instructions to the LGUs. Among the crucial tasks given to local officials included finding ways to ensure residents were fed and essential workers could be brought to their workplace.

More than a week into the lockdown no mass testing has been undertaken, no increased support to hospitals and medical personnel were made to help them deal with the influx of cases. Instead a wave of VIP testing has taken over the health department, hampering the crucial work on the frontlines. Additionally, no distribution of resources such as financial subsidies for people who are unable to work due to the absence of a coordinated system for the delivery of food in every households that are mostly affected.

Increased human rights violations such as illegal arrests and detention, including of minors and mostly the poor, exacerbate the already stressful situation.

Given these mounting problems President Duterte chose to increase his power over companies and services by forcing Congress to approve emergency powers, instead of focusing on getting government’s act together. A comprehensive plan to deal with the COVID19 pandemic remain absent. Without a transparent accounting of the funds and resources allocated to COVID19 response, the proposed emergency powers still aim to provide Duterte authority to re-allocate the national budget to wherever he deems necessary.

The Duterte administration demonstrated that it does not have a clear, comprehensive approach to the pandemic, yet seeks to take advantage of the crisis to appropriate extra-Constitutional powers, neglecting to use existing laws such as on disaster response and on calamity allocations. President Duterte has the highest budget in the history of the Office of the President, at more than 8 billion pesos, none of which is being diverted to support COVID19 responses.

iDEFEND recognizes the grave situation of COVID19 and joins the whole nation in seeking to address the pandemic even by extreme measures. However, government responses are unnecessarily putting a tremendous stress on our freedoms and are testing the limits of its human rights obligations.

Uncalled for emergency powers without a plan of action, implemented with questionable competence, is simply taking advantage of the fear of the people to install a dictatorship.

Left to fend for themselves, and even as communities are already burdened by quarantine, food shortages and suspended wages, the people are still called upon to level up their vigilance and demand the proper medical responses- free mass testing for COVID19, roll out subsidies to support and protect medical workers, disburse financial aid to affected families, etc.

iDEFEND continues to receive reports of human rights violations during the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine, even as it urges the government to stop misinformation about human rights during a declared state of emergency. A strengthened human rights approach stands as the most effective measure to build confidence and trust in public governance.


Photo credit: Photo: Jonathan Cellona/ABS-CBN News / Coconuts