Luzon lockdown, a bane to the toiling masses

Workers and odd jobbers bear the heavy brunt of the month-long lockdown imposed by Rod­ri­go Du­ter­te across Luzon on March 17. He prohibited all modes of public transportation and obliged workers to “stay at home,” a measure that denied them their right to earn a living without providing sufficient compensation.

This restriction primarily affects drivers and operators, and workers as majority of them rely on public transport. This has immediately affected about three million workers who are employed in Met­ro Ma­ni­la but live in nearby provinces.

Health workers who are obliged to go to work are most affected by this restriction as no public utility vehicles are available to ferry them to hospital and clinics. Even residents could not go to the market to buy basic necessities. Local government officials already admitted that they do not have sufficient resources and vehicles to address the needs of their respective constituents, especially those who have special needs such as the sick and elderly.

Due to the restrictions, many workers lose their daily incomes and layoffs are imminent. Many are already complaining that they could no longer feed their families, especially that most of them mainly rely on meager daily wages.

Band-aid measures

To defuse the people’s anger, the regime plans to implement various band-aid measures including the distribution of minimal financial aid and creation of limited and temporary jobs.

The regime is bragging about its Covid-19 Adjust­ment Mea­su­res Prog­ram (CAMP) which will purportedly allocate a ₱1.3-billion aid to regular workers who could not work due to the lockdown. Each worker will purportedly be given ₱5,000 each (or ₱161 per day) as compensation.

The amount is extremely low and insufficient to make ends meet for affected families in Luzon. If the overall budget were to be divided to the amount of the monthly aid, it would appear that only a maximum of 260,000 workers would be able to access the fund. The projected number of beneficiaries is less than one percent of the total 26 million workers in Luzon, and less than five percent of 5.8 million in Metro Manila.

On top of being meager, the amount of aid per worker also falls short by 73% of the estimated ₱597-budgetary requirement nee­ded to sastisfy the nutritional needs of a family. This estimate is based on the state’s own nutritional stan­dards in May 2019. The aforesaid amount is higher today due to inflation.

The regime also allocated ₱180 mil­lion for its Tu­long Pang­ka­bu­ha­yan sa Displaced/Underprivi­le­ged Wor­kers (TUPAD) program which will supposedly provide temporary employment to informal sector workers as health workers. The budget is extremely low as there are already millions of informal sector workers in Metro Manila alone. The budget is only sufficient to provide empoyment to not more than 16,000 workers.

The regime also plans to borrow millions of peso from from foreign financial institutions to fund its increasing spending in its effort to contain the spread of Covid-19 in the country. On March 13, the Asi­an Deve­lop­ment Bank approved the regime’s application for a $3-million loan (₱150 milion at an exchange rate of $1=P50). The regime also submitted an application to tap ­into the World Bank’s $12-billion fund for third world countries affected by the pandemic. These two institutions are notorious for exploiting disasters to accumulate profit by imposing usurious interest rates.

Artificial shortage

The lockdown, which is essentially a widescale socioeconomic blockade, immediately created an artificial shortage which further pushed up the prices of basic commodities.

Its impact is felt in Metro Manila as cargo trucks that deliver produce, such as vegetables, from provinces are stuck at checkpoints. This continues to happen despite Duterte’s declaration that farmers and cargo truck drivers that deliver their products to urban centers are exempted from the lockdown. As a result, market prices of vegetables in Metro Manila have doubled.