Being locked down and locked out
General Santos City—Like all the rest of the country’s major cities and municipalities, this city is in the midst of a lockdown, courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lockdown has caused figurative convulsive fits among those who are listed as “vulnerable” and “high risk,” and city government officials have not provided anything to calm them down. Instead, they have locked them out from entering public places like shopping malls.
Times like these serve as a test of the management mettle of our leaders, and many of them have shown they shouldn’t have been elected to their offices in the first place. On March 16, 2020, General Santos City Mayor Ronnel Rivera issued Executive Order No. 18, Series of 2020, prohibiting the entrance to shopping malls and other “public spaces” by individuals belonging to the “vulnerable” and “high-risk” sectors. Rivera’s EO lists the following to be barred entry to shopping malls: children below 17 years old; elderly from 60 and above; pregnant women; persons with special medical needs; and “immunocompromised” individuals.
I have nothing against this prohibition, because it is aimed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among these groups. However, giving an order like this without a massive information drive, and appropriate personnel to ensure that these sectors are not allowed to enter malls is just giving an order for order’s sake. But without making serious efforts to make this order fully known to all of the city’s constituents, it remains an empty claim.
Moreover, if there are no medical personnel to check on “special medical needs” and “immunocompromised” individuals, how can the entry of these people be checked?
Last Friday, March 20, I experienced a different form of discrimination, owing to my advanced age. Upon entry to one of General Santos’ biggest shopping malls, one of two burly-looking men barked at me and my husband: “You are seniors, you are not allowed to enter the mall!” His partner continued with the same rude tone, “This is the order of the mayor!” And he shoved us away. But I noticed that one person familiar to me was getting out of the mall with a cart full of groceries. She is a fellow retiree from the state university I used to work in. So the guards did not check her ID, and just believed whatever she told them about her age, even if it was a lie.
On the other hand, some other vulnerable sectors of the city population are complaining that the barangays have reneged on their duties of providing assistance, even of vital information about this crisis to them.
One family friend told me that in his purok (zone), the daily wage earners are already starting to get restive; their barangay chairperson has not done the rounds of the different zones to explain what is happening and how to assuage them of their fears. Some of them said that getting COVID-19 is more far-fetched than going hungry for being isolated and unable to earn a day’s wage to feed their families. If the city-wide lockdown continues longer than two weeks from now, they do not know how to respond to their children’s need for food on a daily basis, and they might resort to desperate means. Local chief executives are expected to do scenario planning, especially during critical times like the present. Issuing orders of lockdown and keeping people out of public spaces without provisions for social safety nets for the next few months will just exacerbate their constituents’ fear of the unknown. It is certainly not part of an assiduous planning based on compassion and empathy for the vulnerable sectors of the city. Unless the local chief executive cares for his vast real properties more than he does for his constituents.
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