The Philippines: Genuine Service to the People Needs No Emergency Powers

March 26, 2020

In the days following the declaration of community quarantine, some LGUs have established practices which prove that controlling the outbreak is possible using the systems and procedures already in place. There are ordinances against panic buying and hoarding. Some city halls allow the free use of their vehicles for health workers. The conversion of hotels into quarantine facilities. The research and establishment of a testing center for constituents.

Multiple organizations and individuals have also risen to the task, putting up relief drives, information campaigns, and other similar initiatives to help vulnerable communities. These public services needed no emergency powers to come to fruition.

Emergency powers for whom?

Congress convened on the evening of March 23 to grant Duterte emergency powers to supposedly address the pandemic. Heavy-handedly called the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act”, the act grants the President 30 emergency powers to address the local spread of COVID-19—policies which under careful study need no emergency powers to implement as proven above. It is to be primarily fueled by the P275B unused public funds Duterte is entitled to tap despite the lack of a clear breakdown.

If anything, the new law makes it easier for Duterte to exercise absolute power in the face of the regime’s standing callousness to the people’s plight. His granted dominion is strengthened by the formation of the National Action Plan (NAP), chaired mostly by a group of military men from the DND and DILG, assigned to “reinforce the efforts of the Department of Health (DOH) in containing COVID-19”. These agencies and personalities to date have so far been at the forefront in the relentless red-tagging, surveillance, and harassment of citizens and organizations who exercise the freedom to speak out and act against injustice.

Frontliners and the Filipino poor

The poorest of the poor in our society are the ones hardest hit by disasters, scarcity, or epidemics. Already, the effects of the ongoing “enhanced community quarantine” without social safety nets for these sectors are felt all around the country: by small farmers, peasants and food producers, by fisherfolk, by workers and contractual staff, by vendors, drivers, and other people comprising the informal economy, by the rural and urban poor who face the daily struggle for survival without any surplus means to tide over the lockdown period. Duterte’s emergency powers are for naught if these sectors are not given help and aid now.

We are equally alarmed over the continuing failure to prioritize the calls for expanded mass COVID-19 testing for priority groups: patients already with symptoms, health workers attending to the sick, and communities with confirmed cases. The mandate of the World Health Organization (WHO) is clear: test, test, test. Identify and isolate the sick so they can be given proper treatment while the rest can take precautions.

The next few days are critical; leaders should respond to the people’s clamor for food, medicine, and expanded mass testing. Without PPEs and other forms of assistance, the health and service workers at the forefront are being left to die. As of 24 March, four doctors have succumbed to COVID-19 according to the Philippine Medical Association. As of today, its reach has extended to the arts and culture community. The number of cases has climbed to 636 with 38 fatalities, excluding those who died without having been tested. Instead of following WHO by supporting DOH, Duterte has been busy consolidating power.

While we are told to follow quarantine rules, we do so with utmost vigilance. As it already is, giving Duterte full authority to disburse billions of public money to combat COVID-19 clears all obstruction for plunder. Also, giving him full power to engineer the nation’s response to this crisis via draconian measures is prone to abuse.

To the arts community and the public: let us not tire of speaking truth to power and calling out what should be done on the ground. Together we fight the invisible enemy and together we safeguard our democracy, our rights, and the nation’s coffers. Let us show this government that we are keeping a watchful eye on their promises. If they fail, we fight back.

We urge everyone to report any abuse or failure of government officials to deliver our much needed protection and aid. We’re all in this fight for the long haul.

Concerned Artists of the Philippines

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