The Duterte regime is exploiting the Covid-19 crisis to further accumulate authoritarian powers and tighten its grip on power. The pandemic is far from contained. Yet instead of more aggressively undertaking needed public health measures, it is threatening to further mobilize its military forces and place the country under martial law “total lockdown” and establish a fascist dictatorship.
More than a month ago, the Filipino people were made to accept the quarantine and lockdown measures as a means to slow down the spread of the virus with an expectation that the necessary public health measures and socio-economic assistance will be carried out with urgency. However, these measures were not carried out competently, sufficiently and expeditiously. One month after the lockdown was imposed on Luzon and in many parts of Visayas and Mindanao, the Covid-19 continues to spread across the country and infect more and more people. Millions of families suffer hunger, anxiety and uncertainty as Duterte and his inept generals lurched from one ill-thought plan to another.
The regime has failed to carry out the necessary measures to enable the public health system to fight the spread of the virus, and to provide socio-economic support to the millions of families during the lockdown. Government agencies have been sloppy and haphazard in planning a response to the crisis.
It has yet to take steps to systematically carry out mass screening and testing of the population, as the most crucial component in the fight against the pandemic. It has relied on the initiative of private hospitals, organizations, and local government units. It has not realigned enough funds to build new facilities, hire doctors and nurses, train health workers, or set up factories to produce equipment for protection, mass screening and testing. It has prioritized funding to increase the “hazard pay” of police and military personnel, instead of health workers.
After initially bragging that he has the money, Duterte declared that his government is broke as an excuse for the bureaucratic, chaotic and tightfisted distribution of funds for “social amelioration.” Funds for distribution are insufficient. The workers and semiproletariat are suffering the worst from the lockdown and the government stinginess. Middle-income earners are also becoming increasingly desperate with savings running out. With help from private organizations running out, they are being compelled by their economic conditions to defy the restrictions to seek ways to earn a living.
The regime’s Covid-19 response is being led by military officials, instead of public health experts, resulting in a militarized approach to the crisis. There is a rapidly increasing deployment of military forces in the National Capital Region. Military and police forces are exercising martial law powers to “impose order.” Tens of thousands have been arrested and detained for quarantine violations.
Amid the public health crisis, the regime deployed thousands of soldiers in the rural areas to further intensify counterinsurgency, wasting hundreds of millions of pesos in very costly combat operations, bombing, psywar and drone surveillance. His soldiers roam the countryside without proper health precautions, making the so far insulated barrios vulnerable to infection. As in the cities, he set up checkpoints in national and provincial roads, forcing people to unnecessarily stop for useless “temperature checks” which only expose them to possible infection.
Despite the urgent need for economic reforms, the government has chosen to stubbornly stick to the neoliberal measures which, in the first place, has taken away funds for health and public services. It has refused to heed the clamor for suspending debt servicing and instead plans to borrow more money, bury the country deeper in debt and impose new taxes in the future.
To strengthen his authoritarianism and justify his plans to impose more draconian measures, the Duterte regime is blaming the people for the spread of the disease. Duterte puts a spotlight on some recalcitrants to condemn everyone except his own errors, failures and ineptitude. He has resorted to outright lying, falsely claiming to have had the foresight and imposed early the lockdown to prevent the spread of the disease.
The plain truth is that the Duterte government refused to heed the demand of the people as early as January and February to close the country’s borders to China where the virus originated. It imposed the lockdown on Luzon too late and without the necessary accompanying measures to detect and contain the virus, and worse, without sufficient social support to tide the broad masses over the crisis.
Duterte is browbeating the people to make them believe that the virus can be defeated by his authoritarian “just obey” dogma. He is using the people’s fear of the virus to make them bow in submission to his authority, and paralyze them by compelling them to “stay at home.” As the people’s fear of the virus is overcome by their desperation to live and earn a living, Duterte resorts to instilling fear of his wrath backed by his proven murderous record.
Without mass screening, testing and contact-tracing, even with Duterte’s lockdown and checkpoints, the virus has continued to spread undetected and now threatens widespread infection in the congested urban communities. People in the rural areas, especially the hinterland communities, may ultimately be infected in numbers if the government remains unable to detect the spread of the virus.
Wearing face masks, physical distancing, practicing proper hygiene and maintaining sanitation are necessary measures to help prevent or slow down the spread of the virus. However, stopping the spread of the Covid-19 can only be done effectively with mass screening and testing, rigorous contact tracing, and judicious isolation and quarantine measures. It is only through such measures can the chains of transmission be broken.
The experience of South Korea, Vietnam, Venezuela, Iceland, Canada, Taiwan and other countries prove that the spread of the virus can be controlled or slowed down through detection and isolation, even without the overly restrictive measures against travel and work and certainly without the heavy-handed use of military and police to enforce people’s compliance with public health measures.
The spread of the Covid-19 in the Philippines has already reached a relatively advanced stage with the number of infections reaching more than 6,200. Thus, there is need to urgently conduct screening and testing, as well as contact tracing on a mass scale. This requires the mobilization, training and equipping of tens of thousands of health workers in order to scour communities, factories, schools, and so on. The scientific community must be mobilized and heeded in order to determine how to systematically and effectively conduct this campaign. The machinery must be built with the help of local government units, civic and religious associations, scientists, doctors and health workers, and people’s mass organizations. There must be open consultations and everyone must be encouraged to do their utmost to defeat the spread of the virus.
To their credit, some local officials have gone against the orders of Duterte’s generals and aimed to carry out widespread testing, contract-tracing, loosening of quarantine measures, as well as distribution of financial aid. These efforts, however, will be in vain if these will be done in isolation from each other. There must be initiative on the ground with fund support, push and coordination from the top.
In other words, to surmount the Covid-19, democracy must be unleashed, not suppressed. No amount of Duterte’s tyranny can defeat the spread of the Covid-19. On the contrary, without mass testing and contact-tracing to detect and isolate the virus carriers, Duterte’s lockdown and quarantine restrictions are blind measures and mere fascist tools designed to suppress democracy.
In the face of the Duterte regime’s continuing failure to control the spread of the Covid-19, it is incumbent on the Filipino people to more actively demand the government to carry out widespread mass screening and testing, and contact tracing, and oppose the indefinite extension of the military lockdown and checkpoints which has caused an intolerable humanitarian crisis.
At the same time, they must push for immediate and sufficient social support as recompense in the form of cash distribution. They can push the government to allot funds enough to provide every family with the equivalent of the daily minimum wages set by the government. The Filipino people have been demanding Duterte and his inept generals to answer for their failed Covid-19 response. Failure to heed these urgent demands will only further stoke the people’s demand for Duterte’s resignation or ouster through direct democratic action.
Amid the lockdown, economic hardships and lack of government support, the people’s mass organizations must continue to carry out mutual aid efforts in their communities and strengthen people’s solidarity to bring together their efforts to help each other surmount the economic and health crisis. They can continue setting up community kitchens, collective buying of supplies, cooperative stores, production of face masks for the community, and raising funds through donations and other means. They must identify and give extra effort to help those requiring extra assistance and care, such as the elderly and infirm, pregnant women, single-parents and others.
Unions must demand that workers be paid compensation to cover their cost of living in the past month under lockdown. Workers in factories, restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies and other establishments must demand safety measures in their workplaces to protect them against Covid-19 infections. Contractual workers must demand assurances of continued work and job security.
Market vendors, as well as small shop owners can demand rent reduction or suspension for their stalls. Farmers must demand state subsidy for the purchase of rice and other farm produce to save them from bankruptcy and help ease consumer prices. Local government units can demand greater funds to respond to the urgent demands and needs of their constituencies.
The Party calls on all its committees in the cities to further strengthen and consolidate themselves, and help guide and lead the people and their organizations to confront the crisis.
In the countryside, the Party calls on the New People’s Army to give priority to responding to the public health and economic needs of the people. The extension of the ceasefire in response to the United Nation’s call for a global ceasefire will give all NPA units the opportunity to expand its reach among the masses to conduct a public health campaign to help the peasant masses prevent Covid-19 infections and prepare for its possible spread in their villages. They must continue to conduct information drives, at the same time, help train the community in screening, preparation of the necessary facilities and equipment for isolating and treating patients, and emergency transportation to city hospitals. They must moreover assist the masses in waging antifeudal struggle and raising production in the face of an imminent economic downturn.
At the same time, the NPA must be on high alert in the face of the intensified operations of the AFP. While maintaining the strictest secrecy to avoid detection, they must be ready to engage in battle the fascist forces who are determined to prevent the people’s army from extending its support and service to the people.
The Filipino people must seek to overcome the state of social paralysis that they have been forced into by the Duterte regime’s lockdown. They must find ways to express their voices and take collective action. They must not only overcome their fear of the virus, but shatter as well the terror of Duterte’s de facto martial law rule.