Duterte is the virus who will kill the struggling masses — Kabataang Makabayan

A time line of Duterte’s failures in the face of the pandemic

Rodrigo Duterte is a fascist, war mongering tyrant who is using the COVID-19 pandemic to establish his dictatorial rule. His compounded stupidity, incompetency, and neglect threatens the entire nation and our collective future.

Last 30 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). But today, a humanitarian crisis, more than just a public health issue, haunts the lives of Filipinos every day; and no one is to blame but the Duterte administration’s negligence and downright apathy.

The pandemic came as a surprise and a challenge for governments and people around the globe. Unsurprisingly for Duterte, he responded only with the narrative that he knows best – feigned understanding of the situation and incompetent resolution-building, coupled with the brute force of the police and military. Yet again, he failed to enact effective preventive and precautionary actions and resorted to drastic countermeasures, at the risk of the lives and well-being of the Filipino people. Instead, he created the perfect recipe for a national crisis; and he used these 3 main ingredients:

1. Neglected weak healthcare system

The Duterte administration’s disconnect from the Filipino people and apathy towards the societal and economic problems plaguing it failed to even take into account the poor healthcare system in the country.

“I assure you, even without the vaccines, it will just die a natural death.” These were the words of Duterte during his February 3 media interview, one of the earliest among his media and public addresses regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. On the same day, the WHO released its Strategic Preparedness and Research Plan (SPRP) highlighting the importance of mass testing, accurate information, “communicating critical risks, and identifying, isolating and caring for patients early on.” All the things Duterte failed to do. Still, Duterte had the gall to face the press and the public, and with all his hubris and stubbornness, downplay the looming public health crisis.

Two weeks after the country’s first confirmed COVID-19 case and while the rest of the world is trying to limit interaction with one another, Duterte on Valentine’s Day encouraged Filipinos to “travel with him around the Philippines” as a campaign to promote domestic tourism. Also, three months after and despite growing public clamor, the government has only just started launching a mass testing program for the country, still nowhere near close to being comprehensive. Moreover, almost 8,000 confirmed cases and more than 500 deaths later, the Department of Health (DOH) is yet to release its “finalized” guidelines on the proper use of personal protective equipment for health workers (PPEs) – a clear disservice to the health workers risking their lives everyday and the Filipino people who are desperately trying to keep themselves and their families safe.

The lack of PPEs also factor into the quickly growing number of health workers infected with the novel coronavirus, intensifying the already bad conditions of healthcare in the country. The most recent count showed more than 1,000 healthcare professionals infected with the virus. 26 have died.

All the irresponsibility shown by Duterte’s administration merely magnify the problems we already have. When the outbreak first started, the country had to send all its samples to Australia for COVID-19 screening. It was only a week later, 29 January, that the DOH announced that it can now conduct testing inside the country. But at that time, it was capable of only 300 tests a day and since then, it has improved to only 5,000 to 8,000 tests a day – a far cry from other countries’ 20,000 tests per day.

Yet, given the chance to allot a sizable budget for the procurement of medical equipment including PPEs and testing kits, the Duterte administration decided to prioritize their own pockets, press releases, and stalling techniques.

But of course, Duterte’s crisis recipe will not be complete without his second ingredient.

2. Economic unrest

Farmers are throwing away their crops because of low demand and unavailability of transport. The working class is experiencing what might be the largest mass unemployment in recent years. Students are struggling with extreme levels of stress due to graduation rites and promotions put on hold. The Filipino masses are hungry and anxious. And Duterte’s government is doing next to nothing to alleviate the situation.

It started as a Php27.1-billion package to fight the novel coronavirus. Released a day before the official start of the enhance community quarantine (ECQ) on Luzon, it was not without controversy. Included in the package was a Php14-billion allocation for tourism which Duterte’s economic team defended to be the “most affected” sector.

While health workers were being offered a meager Php500 daily allowance (below minimum wage in the National Capital Region) for volunteering to work in COVID-19 designated hospitals, a questionable Php14-billion tourism allocation was reported by the Department of Finance (DOF) to help in the recovery of the estimated losses to be incurred by the tourism sector during the COVID-19 fight. It was also disclosed that it was to be sourced from the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) – funds that have been allocated even before the COVID-19 crisis started in the country. This raises the question: what merited the said allocation in a budget specifically for the COVID-19 fight?

Today however, the Php27.1-billion fund in question seems to be nothing next to the expected Php1.4-trillion budget. The new fund reportedly aims to support the government’s “4-pillar socioeconomic strategy.” Namely: (1) emergency support for vulnerable groups and individuals; (2) expanded medical resources; (3) fiscal and monetary actions; and (4) economic recovery plan. But, this new budget outline remains to be nothing but an exaggeration of Duterte’s earlier deceitful funding package.

Scrutinizing the so-called “4 pillars” of Duterte’s fight against COVID-19, we see that only the first two pillars are aimed at directly aiding in the pandemic’s economic fallout and public health problems. The third pillar merely alludes to loan programs, prioritizing only business firms and companies, while the fourth pillar focuses on the aftermath of the pandemic. Between the first two of the “4 pillars”, neither have so far been effective.

Even though Duterte’s “social amelioration program” has started rolling out in the past few weeks, less than 1/3 of the government’s targeted 18 million families have received aid and relief despite the continuing and extending ECQ in some areas. Other families received aid only from private institutions and individuals while complaints about the inefficiency of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and Social Security Service (SSS) keep coming in floods. Secondly, in spite of the budget allocation for medical resources, there still has been an astounding lack of PPEs and it still has not helped the cause of mass testing.

Everyday, more and more Filipinos realize the extent of Duterte’s indifference toward the plight of the masses and are forced by hunger and desperation to break quarantine rules in spite of their own worries about contracting the virus. Meanwhile, Duterte goes on using his weekly media addresses to slander his political enemies, chastise his critics, and make empty promises and futile attempts to pacify the restless public.

Still, a growling stomach is louder than a foolish president’s echoing words. And when Duterte’s twisting tales start to fail, he uses the ingredient he is most familiar with.

3. Opportunistic fascist rule

Ruthless violence and abuse of military power has always been Duterte’s signature dish ever since. As the people had been made privy of, Duterte let the Philippines’ drug issue, a public health problem, be handled by trigger-happy men in uniform who would jump at the chance to get a shiny gold medal for shooting another alleged drug pusher. Children, minors, elderly. Their bullets chose no one, spared no one.

Unfortunately for Duterte, his medieval machismo will not save the country from the public health problem it faces. It did not work in the first three years, it will not work today.

It was on 12 March when Duterte first announced the imposition of the lockdown on Metro Manila due to the declaration of Code Red-Sublevel 2. The decision caused panic and confusion in the entire metro – with people scrambling to get home to their provinces and residents flocking to supermarkets to stock up on supplies, all in nervous anticipation of the lockdown.

The snafu continued until 16 March when news headlines all over the country told of the utter failure the Metro Manila lockdown turned out to be. Military checkpoints, instead of being a way to “ensure peace and order” and practice physical distancing, saw hundreds of individuals and motorists crowded together. People who were determined to reach their homes outside Metro Manila walked for days on end with little to no food, sleeping only on the sidewalks when their feet could no longer carry them. People’s health are worsening and risk exposure is at an all-time high.

Thus, Duterte decided to act. But instead of issuing clear guidelines for the Metro Manila lockdown, creating preventive recommendations on a local and national level, and focusing on public health as he should have in the first place, he announced the start of the ECQ on Luzon, putting the military and police at the forefront of its execution. According to him, it was due to the “worldwide trends” that demand “stricter measures” for containment of the virus. However, as early as 10 February at a meeting with local chief executives, he already stated intent to use the military and police to maintain people’s obedience in the case of a pandemic.

“This is not martial law. Don’t be scared,” Duterte said. Yet just 10 days afterward, a police official in Manila was caught on video threatening to shoot those who would be caught breaking quarantine and curfew protocols. And things only got worse after Duterte’s 01 April speech when he told military and police to shoot to kill uncooperative quarantine violators. Since then, the media has erupted with issues of policemen disrespecting and completely disregarding the rights of civilians.

There have been two cases of policemen barging into private residences in two cities in Metro Manila, with firearms and without warrants. More recently, barangay task force members were also seen beating a fish vendor for breaking quarantine rules. A mentally challenged retired military was shot dead at point-blank range by policemen who then reasoned that they thought he was reaching for a gun. The same policemen then ignored procedure when they took the victim’s bag without the presence of Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) then later claimed that a .38 caliber gun was recovered from his personal effects.

In a blatant attack to free press, Duterte’s administration ordered the cease-and-desist of the operations of broadcasting corporation ABS-CBN. Duterte couldn’t have doen this without his attack dog Solicitor General Jose Calida, also the culprit behind the ouster of former Chief Justice Lourdes Serreno; Duterte’s minions in Congress, who are culpable for their neglect of duty; and his massive troll army attacking ordinary citizens and even personalities speaking against the company’s shutdown.

As if the state got no shame, NCRPO Chief Debold Sinas was exposed throwing a party in the middle of the lockdown, drawing ire from various government and other personalities. Impunity is evident under Duterte’s regime. His cronies and allies walk away scot-free, while most Filipinos suffer from his grave actions. Two citizens are already arrested after airing out that they want the murderous president dead, a teacher was arrested by barangay officials, while the shameless Koko Pimentel threatens those who had spoken against him with libel cases.

Yet Duterte has remained silent on these cases of abuse of power and neglect of duty. Instead, he is using lies against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) to cover up his failures and real objectives. The people is growing tired of Duterte using the revolutioanry movement as a scapegoat for his failures when in fact the masses know that since the beginning of the pandemic, the Communist Party had directed its revolutionary organizations to aid the broad masses in responding to the national crisis.

On 27 April, Duterte made a show of thanking his military men for allegedly helping local government units and agencies in delivering food and aid to the people in far-flung areas. He then went on raving, like the madman he is, about how the CPP-NPA has been attacking the same soldiers who were “only helping.” Predictably, Duterte threatened to impose martial law if the NPA’s “lawlessness” were to continue.

What Duterte intended to conceal was the fact that in the two instances he mentioned, it was the operations of his soldiers that caused the clash between the groups and that it absolutely did not involve delivery of relief goods and aid.

In the first instance on 19 April in Negros Occidental where three soldiers were killed and four were wounded, Duterte failed to mention that the involved 94th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) initiated the attack against the NPA 10 kilometers from a barangay where residents were scheduled to collect aid from the DSWD.

Two days later in Aurora, two more soldiers were killed and three were hurt in what they claimed was a “ruthless and treacherous” ambush by the NPA, but what was in reality an active defense reaction to the nonstop counterinsurgency operations being conducted by the 91st IB in the area in the area since the start of March, not letting up even when Duterte declared a ceasefire.

The CPP had since released a statement to refute Duterte’s words and even question the AFP’s excessive use of their helicopters during this pandemic – one hour of a Huey helicopter flight costs at least Php110,000. Aerial bombings have been incessant in areas like Sarangani province.

While NPA units have been abiding by the ceasefire declaration by the CPP, set to last until 30 April, they have also been focusing on launching medical service campaigns in their areas to help the masses cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. To support the concrete actions of the guerilla revolutionary fighters, the CPP has also been demanding accountability from Duterte and his administration and calling for more focused and comprehensive measures.

This COVID-19 pandemic would only go on to reveal how inutile and apathetic Duterte is. Even in the Filipino people’s darkest and most difficult days, Duterte cradles only his military and police. The hungry working class is as good as left for dead. The government is prioritizing debt and tourism over monetary aid and relief goods which could be the difference between life and death for the urban poor. He declares a pretentious ceasefire while continuously endorsing and promoting violent counterinsurgency operations to harm not only the NPA but also the masses in the countryside.

The country is writhing in pain due to a public health crisis that cannot be solved by fascist policies. Still, Duterte is determined to stand by his martial law-like quarantine. He hurls the word “lawlessness” in the wind as if it will not blow right back to him and his uniformed men. He is using the problem as an opportunity to solidify his dictatorship and he is not intent on truly solving the crisis as long as it serves him well.

The revolutionary forces are yet again reminded of the truth that crises, no matter the form, shows only the inefficiency and injustice of the reigning global system. This time of the COVID-19 pandemic calls on all of us to raise our consciousness and take our place in the revolution to strive towards a country that can provide effective healthcare to all its citizens and support all their economic needs. We are demanded by this shared time of struggle to fight for a society that will give genuine power to the people.

The national democratic revolution remains to be the only solution to the problems faced by the Filipino masses today- and the only thing Duterte does, in all his arrogant and vicious demeanor, is to prove exactly that.