Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Published by Bayan Metro Manila

The police which enforced Tokhang and terrorized our communities want us to feel safe and cheer ‘arrests without warning’, intensified troop deployment, and repressive lockdown restrictions.
General Archie Gamboa warned the public that police are now ordered to arrest quarantine ‘violators’ without warning as part of the government’s campaign to flatten the COVID-19 curve. He added that police visibility has been enhanced, more troops are now deployed in communities, and they will work with local officials in enforcing quarantine protocols. Gamboa said these measures are being applied because of pasaways who are spreading the virus infection.

There are many disturbing aspects in these pronouncements which are based on wrong premises.

The general is echoing the self-serving Malacanang spin that the cause of rising virus infections is the so-called pasaway who are allegedly violating quarantine rules. He and Palace propagandists are malicious in blaming the public for the continued spread of COVID-19 cases.

What they refuse to admit is that the public health crisis was exacerbated by government shortcomings. Ask the 14 senators who enumerated the many sins of Health Secretary Francisco Duque. And if Duque is liable for failed leadership, the same accusation can be levied against President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte and the pasaway gang belittled the COVID-19 threat, they refused to order a travel ban against China, they did not conduct mass testing and contract tracing, they did not procure enough protective equipment for frontline workers, and they acted late in establishing testing laboratories and testing centers.
When the pasaway gang got special powers from Congress, they were slow in drafting a comprehensive program on how to roll out medical measures and distributing emergency relief to displaced workers. The delay in the arrival of aid forced many residents and informal workers to seek help and livelihood outside their homes. For those living in congested communities, social distancing is practically impossible to implement.

A militarist lockdown without mass testing became a prolonged detention that does not resolve the COVID-19 outbreak.

Authorities are now hyping the pasaway narrative to make people feel, think, and accept the blame that their actions are causing the spread of the virus. Not the reluctance to conduct mass testing, not the delay in the arrival of aid, but the instinct to feed their families and seek assistance in the community.

Another dangerous assertion of the police is that the overkill deployment of troops will curb the number of infections. The people have been clamoring for mass testing, tracing, treatment, and building of quarantine centers but the government decided instead to send the platoon into our communities. It would have made more sense if the government deployed a battalion of health workers instead of uniformed personnel in boots carrying high powered arms.

Intensified police visibility will add to the anxiety of residents in forced quarantine. After all, it’s not the first time the police invoked public safety to justify their expanded role in local governance. The last time it happened led to bloody Tokhang operations which terrorized communities but did little to end the drug menace.

We fear the Martial Law-type of lockdown restriction is the government’s paranoid preemptive measure to deter people from expressing anger over the non-arrival of aid and the lack of social protection and medical programs in the campaign against COVID-19.
The militarist solution to the pandemic betrays the government’s lack of confidence in addressing the public health crisis. Duterte’s desperate recourse is to impose draconian social control and manipulate people to accept and be grateful for the inadequate assistance the government is providing.

Lacking is the government’s complete strategy in addressing the pandemic. What is the program for those who lost jobs and livelihood? What will the new normal look life for various sectors.
The government can start by listening to the demands of the people. It should remove the bureaucratic gridlock and ensure the fast distribution of relief. It is unacceptable that after more than a month of lockdown imposition, millions have yet to receive the emergency aid from the government.

We reiterate our demands for medical solutions and an inclusive, comprehensive social protection package. We reject Martial Law-type lockdown and other repressive restrictions as a model to fight COVID-19

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