Fascism in the time of a pandemic in 7 steps

First, disregard the threat posed by the Covid-19 against the people’s health and livelihood. For more than two months, until the first week of March, Duterte and his Inter-Agency Task Force shrugged aside information that the virus was already in the country and was probably spreading in provinces, particularly in Central Visayas.

Second, scare and shock millions of people. Duterte put the entire Metro Manila under lockdown on March 12, and Luzon on March 16. He did this without prior research, local preparation or even warning. Within 24 hours, Duterte swamped the cities with thousands of police and soldiers under the guise of checking the body temperature of travelers. Factories and other workplaces were shutdown, aside from what they deemed “essential” and businesses that cater to foreign clients. Local officials in almost all cities and provinces scrambled to declare their respective lockdowns. Checkpoints were put up across the country where millions are hailed on their way home, to work, to buy essentials, to hospitals or anywhere they would go to. Those who defied the police and military were arrested, detained, punished, and on some instances, gunned down.

Third, paint an image of a “war” and put the police and military on top of the government’s response to the pandemic. People are held at gunpoint by Duterte even when the enemy is “invisible.” He bombarded and confused people through daily, many and often conflicting press conferences to condition them to “just follow” his regime’s measures. He calls “undisciplined” those who defy his lockdown to earn income, look for food or escape extreme boredom. They are brutally punished and humiliated. Duterte earlier ordered the military and police to shoot-dead anyone who will defy his lockdown. The declaration came after a protest of urban poor residents to demand aid. The marching order emboldened the police, military and even local officials to abuse and disregard people’s rights. Twelve- and 24-hour curfews, 48-hour barangay and sitio lockdowns and other arbitrary and anti-people ordinances and resolutions were imposed.

Fourth, give the AFP and its generals command over the daily implementation of the lockdown. Duterte assigned Delfin Lorenzana as chief of the National Task Force Against Covid-19, Eduardo Año as second in command, Carlito Galvez as chief implementor and Rolando Bautista as head of aid distribution. All of them are trained in counterinsurgency but not one has a background on public health matters. Duterte assigned the Office of the Civil Defense to lead regional task forces, and most controversially, the authority to buy and distribute medical equipment to health workers and hospitals.

Fifth, grab emergency powers for additional authority. This includes the power to realign billions of funds to the office of the president, takeover private companies who refuse to render service or allow use of its facilities, and silence critics under the guise of stopping the spread of “false information.”

Sixth, starve the people and have them line up for limited aid. To cover up the shortage in funds, Duterte puts the blame on local officials who are struggling to address their constituents’ plight including unemployment and loss of income, lack of sanitation and public services, hunger and other socio-economic damages caused by the lockdown. Duterte then used the anarchic aid distribution to push for the implementation of the National ID System.

Seventh, make fascism palatable as the “new normal” where restrictions on people’s mobility and other rights are maintained. The said system is not different to the old one, but with worse forms of exploitation and oppression against the people. This includes intensified surveillance on meetings and gatherings in the name of monitoring the resurgence of the virus.