This is the week that the reality of the coronavirus sinks in, hits home. The social media feeds are now starting to pop with stories of loved ones dying, friends and colleagues testing positive, frontliners subjected to avoidable risk, and ordinary people subjected to unnecessary indignities in the course of one of the world’s strictest lockdown measures to defeat the virus.
What was once mere annoyance at official incompetence is transforming into righteous anger over double standards in conducting the lockdown: how high-level officials exempt themselves from government orders of strict quarantine and testing, while ordinary people are left stuck in their homes with no income and without adequate medical attention.
President Duterte’s periodic reassurances will ring hollow if his deputies continue spewing unempathetic ignorance about our current hardships and his allies continue flaunting their privilege before the public.
In a recent resolution, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases exempted all high-level officials from the three branches of government, elective and appointive, including their close-in staff, from coverage by the current enhanced community quarantine. This reeks of palpable privilege in the face of public inconvenience over strict checkpoints around the country, as we wonder how these numerous exempted personnel can actually contribute to national efforts.
On the other hand, the interior department continues to assault the public with ignorant assertions about the situation in our communities. Its spokesperson first blamed the supposed stubbornness of the public for why the enhanced community quarantine was implemented. Second, he urged families living in subdivisions to stop expecting government aid, as if all subdivisions are as wealthy as Forbes Park, oblivious to the reality that many families in these areas are composed of senior citizens, retirees, and persons with no income.
Due to public and congressional scrutiny, the special powers law was significantly revised to include clear program priorities and very specific limitations on the President’s power during the coronavirus crisis. A new provision was also introduced providing a grace period for the payment of mortgages and rents, among others. This is a good first step, but a more robust foreclosure and eviction relief program should be undertaken for working families.
However, despite the new emergency law, the Department of Health initially said it can only pay new medical personnel P500 per day for their contribution to the national effort against the pandemic, despite exposing themselves to serious health risks. If the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives waive a month’s worth of salaries and allowances, they will be able to fund at least 1,800 (for 30-days) or 2,250 (for 24 days) health workers at double the proposed paltry allowance for the next three months.
Waiving the salaries and allowances of the President, Vice President, members of the Cabinet, and high-level presidential appointees for a month will further narrow the gap between what government offers and the actual premium our health workers deserve as frontliners in the COVID-19 crisis.
Mr. President, the public’s frustrations are boiling over. While the food packs can relieve hunger, are they enough to address indignity and injustice?
This is a fight that all of us would like to win, together. But we would like to be assured that the ones holding the ball know that all of us are as much part of the team as they are. That we are not mere spectators—not when loved ones are being lost, and not when our frontliners are being decimated. Let us all get through to the other side, together.
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Terry Ridon is a former legislator and former urban poor chief of the Duterte administration. His wife, mother, brother, and father are physicians serving the country’s hospitals.
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