Unity in the war on COVID-19
Friends ask: “Is the enhanced community quarantine or lockdown legal? Is the declaration of a ‘State of Public Health Emergency’ (Proclamation 922, March 8, 2020) constitutional?”
My short answer is Yes. While laden with economic and social disruptions and with some restrictions on constitutional rights (like the right to travel), these two measures are valid exercises of police power to protect the people’s health and well-being. Nonetheless, their improvident implementation may result in illegalities like warrantless arrests, violations of the right to privacy, and physical injuries.
They are different from martial law or from Proclamation 1017 issued on Feb. 24, 2006, declaring a “State of National Emergency” to suppress “all forms of lawless violence,” portions of which were held unconstitutional in David v. Arroyo (May 3, 2006).
Ruled unconstitutional were government actions against our people. In contrast, the people’s enemies in the war on COVID-19 are not state actions but heretofore unknown microorganisms that originated from Wuhan, China and blitzed all over the world.
Theoretically, the lockdown of EVERYONE for 14 days, or a maximum of 28 days, should exterminate the virus because they have a known life of only 14 days. However, the theory is very difficult to implement. For instance, how do we tend to the quarantined poor? How do we avoid local transmission while securing and delivering food and other necessities to them 24/7?
True, there were some disgusting missteps and things that, in hindsight, could have been said or done better. But while we have contingency plans for earthquakes, typhoons, floods, fires, and even nuclear wars, we had not anticipated this horrific epidemic. The inconvenient truth is that no country had prepared for a pandemic as terrifying as COVID-19.
Yes, let us not fault-find now. Instead of whining and complaining, let us unite, help the front line troops (the doctors, nurses, lab technicians, etc), and cooperate with the government in reducing the burdens of our people, especially the powerless and the hungry.
Let us concentrate on what we can do to help fight the virus. And let us applaud the institutions that help mitigate the epidemic: the churches which canceled Masses but still tend to their flocks, the intrepid media people who work 24/7, and the local government units that dispense food packs to the poor.
Let us also commend some conglomerates. The Ayala Group unveiled a P2.4 billion program that includes wage support for employees, rent condonation for tenants of its malls, salary continuance for displaced workers, and assistance for retail workers, service providers, security guards, and other no-work-no-pay personnel.
The affiliates of the MVP Group, like PLDT, Meralco and Metro Pacific Investments, are advancing the 13th month pay, continuing salaries and benefits of employees, distributing vitamins supplements, and initiating “work-from-home” programs to assure vital services.
Meralco and another MVP enterprise, Maynilad Water, (and Ayala’s Manila Water) extended the payment of bills for 30 days. The 15 MVP-led hospitals nationwide and their health care providers are open all the time.
Jollibee set up an “Emergency Response Fund” of P1 billion to provide benefits for its employees and those of its partners, and separately, “P100 million worth of food products of its seven brands as aid to health workers and on-the-ground checkpoint personnel.”
P200 million was pledged by the Metrobank-GT Cap Group to produce more test kits. P100 million each was set aside by the Lopez Group and the Robinsons Land Corp. (RLC) “to fight COVID-19” and another P100 million by the SM Group to deliver protective equipment and supplies to medical personnel. Along with Ayala, Megamall and RLC, SM waived a month’s rental from mall tenants. All the major banks responded with one-month extensions of loan payments.
San Miguel Corp. assured the availability of its food products (including the unique Nutribuns) for at least six months. SMC’s affiliates that produce or distribute gasoline, beverages, drinking water, disinfectants, electric power, etc. will be available 24/7. “This isn’t about profit, it’s about public responsibility in a national crisis,” it aptly trumpeted for all.
The coming warm weather may help subdue the virus. And let’s never forget the miracles that our fervent prayers can bring. Amen.
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