IBON: Gov’t should rectify, ramp up COVID-19 aid

March 29, 2021

by IBON Foundation

The Duterte administration should immediately distribute emergency aid and strengthen pandemic management now that an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is reimposed in the National Capital Region, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna, research group IBON said. Government should right its bungled response from a year ago when it imposed an ECQ without corresponding containment measures, said the group. This resulted in the dislocation of some 14.5 million working people after just two weeks of slow, insufficient and insensitive response.

The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act or Republic Act 11469 granted the president emergency powers to respond to the pandemic swiftly, including giving aid to 18 million poorest families. But according to the President’s April 13, 2020 report on Bayanihan implementation last year, only 3.7 million targeted households were given aid while only 286,027 of 15.9 million workers and non-agricultural informal earners were helped after three weeks since lockdown started. Also only 9% of targeted drivers and 3.3% of IBON-estimated farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk in need received assistance.

Despite the public health emergency, government response was severely lacking. IBON recalled that on top of an already weak pre-pandemic health system, only 24,755 individuals have been tested three weeks since the start of lockdown. There were only 11 testing centers out of 78 targeted by the health department. Only 8,973 have been contact-traced. Quarantine, isolation, and treatment facilities remained insufficient and unready for rising cases. At that time, cases were at 4,076 and deaths at 203.

The reimposition of ECQ finds COVID-19 cases at 703,000 and 13,149 deaths after a year of same government ineptitude and insensitivity to the suffering of millions of vulnerable Filipinos, IBON said. Among its Southeast Asian neighbors, the Philippines experienced the worst economic collapse and counts among the countries with the weakest government COVID response. Unemployment reached an all-time-high of 5.8 million combining the official count and IBON estimates on the invisibly jobless. The combined number of unemployed and underemployed even worsened to 10.5 million in January 2021. IBON also estimates 18.6 million families in distress and without savings.

Government can not deny the inadequacy of the health system brought about by years of government neglect, IBON said. Testing at 40,000 per day fall s short of the 50,000 per day target. The current national average tracing ratio of 1:7 is way below the 1:37 national target. Vaccination rollout is chaotic and appears way behind the 250,000 average inoculations per day needed to fulfill government’s plan of having 70 million adults vaccinated by yearend.

Reimposing an ECQ will only aggravate the health and economic crisis if the Duterte administration does not rectify its scrimped, militaristic and increasingly politicized response, IBON said. Government should come up with fast and real action, starting with prompt aid distribution to all affected households, said the group. 

IBON said that for this, the Duterte administration should heed specific calls for new stimulus. The research group recommends and has already identified sources of financing for a Php1.5-trillion urgent expansionary fiscal response. This includes emergency amounts for the poorest families, Filipino-owned, domestically oriented MSMEs, cash-for-work programs, agriculture, informal earners, the health sector, and distance education. Government can also take a look at similar proposals forwarded by lawmakers such as the Makabayan Bloc’s People’s Strategy for Strengthening Health, Social Protection, Economic, and Local Industrial Development (SHIELD) and the Bayanihan To Arise As One Act (Bayanihan 3).