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.