Duterte report shows govt COVID-19 response is insufficient, insensitive

Research group IBON said that that the Duterte
administration’s first official report on COVID-19 efforts only underscored
just how government response to the worst public health crisis the country has
ever faced is slow, insufficient, and insensitive. The group said that the
report failed to show clearly what the government’s plan is and even just what
is being done.

Pres. Duterte submitted to Congress the first official
report on COVID-19 response efforts. These weekly reports are required under
the Republic Act (RA) 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and are
supposed to monitor how the emergency powers granted to the president are
utilized.  The reports should include all
response actions carried out by the president in the preceding week, as well as
an accounting of the funds used for these. The report submitted, however,
covered efforts since the start of the military lockdown.

IBON said that it is now the third week of the lockdown, and
the report exposed how government efforts are slow, insufficient and leave out
much-needed measures particularly towards bolstering the health sector and
urgent socioeconomic relief. It also showed government’s insensitivity to
overwhelmed and unprotected health workers, and millions of Filipinos left with
little or no means to meet their families’ basic needs during the lockdown.

As of yesterday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in
the country has risen to 2,084 with 88 dead from 138 cases and 12 dead as of
March 15. Undermanned and overburdened hospitals strain health workers and
unduly exposed them to COVID-19. The Philippine Medical Association has already
reported 17 doctors dying while battling the virus.

The government has already acknowledged the poorest 18
million households in the country needing assistance. Meanwhile, IBON estimates
14.5 million dislocated workers and informal earners, and up to 7.5 million
low-income families vulnerable to shocks to their livelihood just in Luzon.

IBON said that government measures to bolster health
response and protection for health workers are severely lacking. The report
only mentioned the Bureau of Customs (BOC) releasing just 48 boxes of personal
protective equipment (PPE), six ventilators, and 97,600 test kits. The
Department of Science and Technology (DOST) produced 500,000 face masks.

The group noted that the report did not mention such
critical tasks like increasing the number of health workers and mass testing.
It did not include giving any additional hazard pay, setting up isolation or
quarantine facilities, and medical assistance for indigent patients. Apart from
mentioning six ventilators, nothing else was said about expanding facilities
and equipment for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, said the group.

With regard to socioeconomic relief measures, IBON said that
this is coming down in trickles if at all to the most vulnerable Filipino
families. Based on the report, the group noted that of the 18 million
households that government acknowledged as needing assistance: only 0.04%
(6,314 beneficiaries) received cash, food, and non-food aid from the Department
of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), while only 1.1% received 194,467 food
packs prepared for maybe two to three days. There was also no mention of
emergency support for the 5.6 million senior citizens nationwide.

Meanwhile, millions of Filipinos whose livelihoods and
earnings have been affected are also neglected. IBON noted that only 8,641 or
just 0.08% of the up to 10.7 million affected workers nationwide received
Php5,000 in COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) financial assistance
under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Only 51,293 or just 1% of
up to 5.2 million affected informal earners nationwide became beneficiaries of
DOLE’s Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers
(TUPAD) work-for-pay programs. However, there was no report of any financial
assistance given by the Department of Agriculture (DA) to the country’s 9.7
million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk.

IBON said that the lack of or minimal efforts on COVID-19
crisis shown in Pres. Duterte’s first official report bodes ill for the
country. It only reflects the disorganized, confusing and chaotic government
response so far.

The group said that the pandemic in the country can be
contained and overcome if the government replaces its militarist population
control-biased approach. Its measures should instead prioritize virus tracking
and surveillance, substantially build the public health system, and address the
socioeconomic needs of the population, especially the most vulnerable.

Immediate steps can include health interventions such as mass testing and monitoring, and substantial provision of PPE and other support for health frontliners. Urgent socioeconomic interventions can include the immediate and substantial provision of emergency relief packages, unconditional cash transfers, wage subsidies, and financial assistance, among others, said the group.

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