Inconsistent, inequitable crisis management
Within more than two months of varying modes of quarantine, the Philippines has seen consistently increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases. This has happened despite the enforcement of draconian measures like lockdowns and enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). Of course, government authorities are quick to the draw in using the “pasaway” phenomenon to rationalize the increase in the number of cases; that some “undisciplined,” “hard-headed” groups of people defy quarantine guidelines by insisting on going out of their homes. This has contributed to the daily increase in the number of infected persons. Yet, many of those who have been vilified as pasaway have just made a choice between the proverbial Scylla of possibly dying of COVID-19, and the Charybdis of seeing the members of their families dying because of hunger. And for many of them, the former option may not be as pressing as having to live or die on empty stomachs.
However, regular updates on the extent of COVID-19 infections from the national and regional interagency task forces on this crisis have exposed government’s propensity to be inconsistent in its pronouncements. Last week, the national government announced the easing of quarantine regulations in some provinces, including those in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and its two cities. On May 12, some local government executives in Region 12 or the South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos (Soccsksargen) region announced that the whole region will be subject to border lockdowns. This meant that contrary to the national announcement of easing general community quarantine modalities, local governments are even tightening up their respective borders to external travelers.
Quarantine guidelines for General Santos City are also inconsistent. An executive order provided for barangay clustering, where residents of one cluster of at least two or three adjacent barangays can only cross the barangays within its cluster, for purchasing essential food or grocery items. Residents of one cluster where huge shopping malls and markets are located are lucky. But our cluster of barangays has one hospital and four funeral parlors, with a few drugstores and convenience stores in between. Another order was released to schedule the “marketing day” in local supermarkets. Residents of our barangay are scheduled to do marketing only on Tuesdays, but this presented a problem to us. An earlier order was also issued for number coding of cars, and in our case, since our car’s plate number ends in 1, we are only allowed to use our car on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. But our market day is Tuesday!
The provision for assistance in many localities in Mindanao was also inequitable. In some barangays, only rice was given (at least three kilos); but in others, people received packs of spaghetti sauce (without spaghetti noodles), and the usual three tins of cheap sardines, and four packs of cheap instant noodles. Some barangay residents received a few kilos of fresh pork. Muslim residents were told that the city government will soon distribute dressed chicken. But until now, they have not received a single kilo of dressed chicken.
Also in General Santos, a public school teacher was arrested in the early days of the quarantine period when she posted on her social media page an alleged “inciting to sedition.” Actually, she only articulated the complaints of her neighbors who were kept clueless about the food assistance to be given to those who are not able to go out for their daily work due to the lockdown.
Yet they have turned a blind eye on celebrities and government officials, like National Capital Region Police Office chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas who recently was feted with a “mañanita” to celebrate his birthday. In that event, some of his guests were seen drinking beer and sitting at tables without observing quarantine regulations of physical distancing and the wearing of face masks.
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