Duterte uses COVID-19 pandemic to further fascist rule

April 29, 2020

From the May-June 2020 issue of News & Letters

Manila, the Philippines—The Filipino people stand together with the rest of the people of the world in battling the COVID-19 pandemic that takes lives especially among the poor and the working class. This health crisis is doubled by the authoritarian and militaristic approach of the Rodrigo Duterte administration. The government had no emergency plan, problems producing personal protective equipment for front-liners, and disorder in imposing a nationwide Public Health Emergency that led to a Luzon island-wide lockdown while trying to institutionalize social amelioration measures.

When the government confirmed the first case of COVID-19 on Jan. 30, Duterte brushed aside the emergency and said on Feb. 3 that there is nothing to be scared of. He even urged Filipinos to travel around the Philippines to its tourist destinations. By March 9, he changed gear and questioned where the virus came from in a joking manner, while assuring that the government had billions to respond to the pandemic, plus foreign funds and aid also worth millions. But on April 6 he announced that there are no more funds. What happened to the billions for the pandemic?

Only on March 14 did Duterte declare a national Public Health Emergency. On March 24 he was granted emergency powers by the House of Representatives upon his request. The new “Bayanihan Act—We Heal as One,” to last for two months, enumerated programs and policies to quell the spread of the virus and address the economic needs of the populace. But the law emphasizes police and militaristic mechanisms, instead of the medical needs of the citizens. Millions of poor and working-class citizens have not received the promised economic relief.

Then Duterte created the National Action Plan, a group that will implement the “Bayanihan Act.” It is composed of five military generals. Although the government does not explicitly say the country is under martial law, Duterte is actually implementing a “Martial Law-Type” of response that is violating basic human rights.

MASS ARRESTS, NOT MASS TESTING

Checkpoints manned by police and the military were set up all over. Citizens are issued Quarantine Passes (QP) by local officials. Social distancing was required to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases. During lockdown, only one with a QP can go out to buy necessary supplies. Instead of focusing on medical approaches like mass testing, the government launched mass arrests of those who go out to work or find food for their families, saying that they violated the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) law.

The “Bayanihan Act” is basically a starve or be shot policy. Duterte vowed to shoot to kill ECQ violators. Now, aside from COVID-19, hunger and bullets will be the cause of death for Filipinos. Socialized hunger is the effect of the social distancing for the poor and the working class.

After the April 30 deadline the ECQ will be implemented as a “total lockdown” of the original ECQ declaration. The government is considering its extension in many areas of the country. The army and the Philippine National Police will be the main enforcers. Thousands have been arrested, detained and killed in police shootings after being perceived as ECQ violators.

What we need now is free mass testing to help flatten the curve and an economic relief package to address hunger. Not fascist rule.

—Human rights activist

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