The lockdown nobody asked for
Here we go again with a “modified enhanced community quarantine,” with only a runaway ostrich (and friends) to distract us from our weariness. Perhaps the flightless bird is an apt symbol of our times: deprived of freedom as we are, and just as desirous to escape our miserable situation, with an ever-spiraling number of COVID-19 cases and sickening revelations of PhilHealth corruption.
The MECQ declaration was spurred by health care workers’ associations coming together to demand radical changes in the government’s approach to COVID-19. “We are waging a losing battle against COVID-19 and we need to draw up a consolidated, definitive plan of action,” they wrote, calling for a “two-week ECQ” among other recommendations. Just a day before the letter was released, our gasoline-endorsing President had given a speech in which he essentially asked people to “endure” until a vaccine is available: “I promise you by the grace of God I hope by December we will be back to normal … let’s just wait for the vaccine.”
Dude, waiting for a vaccine to be developed by “races other than Filipinos” is not a plan. In fact, as health experts warned, having a vaccine this year is not guaranteed, and even a vaccine is not guaranteed to end the pandemic. Don’t tell us that we can’t control the pandemic without a vaccine, because other countries have done so.
Harry Roque dismissed the frontliners’ appeal outright—“The strict lockdown in Metro Manila has served its purposes”—but many others listened, with the Catholic Church, the Senate, the Supreme Court motu proprio announcing that they’ll revert to ECQ mode. Responding to the political pressure, the President grudgingly declared MECQ on Metro Manila and the four provinces that surround it: Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, and Laguna.
Surely, however, what the doctors had in mind—most of them, anyway—was far from the nightmarish lockdown that we lived through, and seem to be experiencing anew. In retrospect, they should have avoided terms like “ECQ,” given the government’s penchant for interpreting them to mean draconian measures like curfews and checkpoints in what Randy David calls “optics of power,” and given the chaos, such declarations precipitate. The prescription of Dr. Gene Nisperos et al. of a “demilitarized medical quarantine” would have been more apt, as it preempts tyrannical tendencies in all levels of government (e.g., Quezon City official Rannie Ludovica’s asinine “shoot to kill” threat).
As for the word “timeout,” which some have disingenuously interpreted as HCWs wanting a break, it was meant to be a basketball metaphor: Last two minutes, two points behind, the coach meets his players, they hold an intense 20-second meeting, desperate to rescue the game with a plan to make a final, decisive three-point shot. In the case of health workers, it was a sixfold plan, including ditching rapid antibody tests in favor of RT-PCR, bolstering contact tracing efforts, ensuring public transport for essential workers, and crucially, providing social amelioration for the poor.
Will the government finally listen to these recommendations—some of which the Department of Health has been saying all along? Will it finally act on evidence, and not resort to baseless measures like those dangerous motorcycle pillions? And will it finally recognize the expertise and sacrifice of our health care workers, instead of (victim-)blaming both them and the so-called pasaway for our sorry state?
To be clear, we still need a disciplined citizenry to observe public health measures—and, at least on this particular point, the MECQ declaration seems to have had an effect, with more people wearing face masks and staying at home. Law enforcement, properly and compassionately applied, has a role in this pandemic.
Ultimately, however, such discipline will never come from a government quick to defend the likes of Debold Sinas and Ricardo Morales, but just as quick to punish ordinary citizens for the littlest offense. Such discipline will never come from a government that asked people to go on lockdown while it busied itself with crackdowns and the ABS-CBN shutdown. Such discipline will never come from a government that threatens people with COVID-19 with shame instead of treating them with support and compassion.
It will only come from the knowledge that policies are crafted thoughtfully, rules are applied fairly, and that the government is working hard so that our sacrifices—this new lockdown included—will not be in vain.
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