Health or security crisis?
The devastation brought by the current pandemic rivals the destruction caused by man-made disasters like wars. It easily surpasses the havoc wrought by natural disasters like powerful earthquakes.
We don’t see demolished houses and buildings, but the coronavirus has withered the hustle and bustle of life in our homes and offices. We don’t see ruined crops, but hunger is spreading fast in our communities. We don’t see weapons of dread, but fear envelops our neighborhoods.
The coronavirus has forced our government to resort to actions that would have been readily challenged and condemned as unlawful if these were normal times.
One glaring example is the executive department’s ban on doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals from leaving our islands to work in more prosperous countries that are equally in dire need of their services, and that are more than willing to compensate them many times more than we can. The ban is unconstitutional because it violates a person’s right to travel and it is confiscatory of economic rights. It amounts to a conscription in our medical institutions, an unprecedented move because a mandatory draft has only been applied to military service in the past.
The ban can even be considered as involuntary servitude (forced slavery) because its admitted purpose is to compel our health workers to work in our local hospitals. While it does not explicitly coerce health professionals to render forced labor, it nevertheless amounts to a dictatorial edict because they’re only given a choice of which local labor camp to slave in. With the lack of alternative jobs and the pressure to earn for their families’ survival in these dire times, our health workers have no other choice but to toil in domestic medical institutions.
There have been no reported cases filed in court to challenge the embargo on our health care professionals. Is it because the ban has the quiet but overwhelming support of a public that fears an acute shortage of health workers who will minister to us if we get sick? Is it another demonstration of the servility of Congress to the executive branch, given that the power to define policy in this regard is a legislative prerogative? Is it because health professionals consider going to court a useless exercise, expecting that our courts would sit on their petitions until the health crisis disappears?
And then there’s the self-help initiative of policemen to legislate crimes in order to arm themselves with coercive power in apprehending motorists who violate health protocols. The Philippine National Police has unilaterally expanded existing penal rules — the nonwearing of face masks and the noninstallation of motorcycle barriers would be cited for “reckless driving” with penalties ranging from P1,000 to P10,000; those who are not authorized to back-ride would be charged with “overloading of passengers,” which carries a penalty of P1,000; and drivers who are not classified as authorized persons outside residence would be meted out with the violation of “driving without a valid license,” which carries a fine of P3,000.
We hear no protestations to challenge this police initiative that expands their turf from law enforcement to lawmaking. As a result, the PNP has succeeded in imposing its designation of the pandemic as a security issue rather than as a health crisis. But instead of the criminal penalties of detention and fine, during this time when there are virus outbreaks in prison facilities and we are all in dire financial straits, shouldn’t violators be made instead to sit in one-hour seminars on health risks and protocols? The inconvenience of confiscated time will be equally effective in curbing errant behavior, and would rightfully frame the crisis as a health issue.
Finally, we have a ragtag group of public officials and private individuals who want the current administration to declare a revolutionary government by deposing its legitimate self and replacing it with an illegitimate identity. Members of this motley group pose security and health risks to our country — they belong to a combined criminal and mental institution.
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