DUTERTE’S MISHANDLING OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

The first confirmed coronavirus infection was confirmed on January 21 when a Chinese woman arrived in the Philippines from Wuhan, China, with cough and fever. Appearing before Congress, on January 29, Health Sec. Duque was asked why travel ban on China was not ordered. Duque testified that diplomatic relations with China may sour if Philippines decides to bar mainland Chinese from entering the country as part of preventive measures against the spread of the COVID-19. He added that it would be unfair if only Chinese tourists are barred from entering the Philippines.

In early February 2020, Pres. Duterte in a press conference said: “Don’t be afraid of a pandemic…Tayo ang the most resilient. Palagay ko hindi aabot dito yan. (We are the most resilient. I’m sure it won’t get here.). In a subsequent speech, Duterte called COVID-19 as “idiot” coronavirus threat. He further stated: “So if you say it’s a matter of contamination, we will just have to rely on how strong the antibodies of the Philippines,. Filipinos don’t get sick easily.” Duterte’s ignorance and making fun of the serious effects of COVID-19, makes one stomach’s churn.

Duque, instead of being concerned about Filipino public welfare, mimicked Duterte’s sentiment in Congress so as not to offend China, by refusing to order a travel ban premised on sycophantic excuse that it would not be fair to China. What’s even more dangerous, was Duterte’s false pronouncement about the nature of COVID-19 which put the country at severe risk, by portraying there was no sense of urgency for the public to worry. Instead of mobilizing the health agencies to ready the population and prepare for equipment like testing kits, mask or protective gears, Duterte and his people negligently sat on their hands.

With 107 million population, the Philippines only had 2,000 testers at the start of the outbreak. It is only just days ago that the Philippines received 2,000 testers from China and 500 from South Korea. As many more people are tested, it is foreseeable the Philippines will have more coronavirus patients and deaths.

This month, upon realizing that COVID-19 was spreading exponentially, Duterte imposed a lock down of Manila. Duterte’s TV appearance to calm the country, had the opposite effect – panic and fear. Thousands of people crowded boundaries of Manila to go to work defying “social distancing;” panic buyers emptied groceries; check points of police in full battle gears, were deployed but became “choke points.” The cause of confusion – no guideline accompanying the lock down.

The entire Luzon is now on a “community quarantine” where about half of the country’s population are ordered to stay home. Thousands of businesses have shut down where thousands have lost their jobs. Most of these workers are waitresses, janitors, cooks, mall employees, drivers, masseurs, clerks, messengers, call center operators, etc., who are classified as “no work no pay” employees. They are one paycheck away from abject poverty. Duterte has failed to put forth a concrete plan to help unemployed workers and has not proposed a general strategy on how to address the looming economic downturn. Legislators have no clue either. In Congress, there is no agenda to address the plight of laid off workers and any plan to fund projects that would fuel the economy in the event of recession.

Duterte cannot simply ignore the plight of these workers. Philippine businesses, large or small, are literally not in operation which means that there are no goods and services produced. Also, expect dollar remittances from OFWs to be substantially reduced as many of them will be coming home due to global recession. Long story short, the Philippines is headed for economic difficulties for an indefinite period of time depending on the duration of the pandemic.

Duterte should initiate bold moves by providing cash assistance to workers who had lost their jobs due to the COVID-19; extend loans to small businesses; and even rescue businesses like those in hotel, travel and tourism industries to prevent them from bankruptcies.

Without an aggressive move by Duterte to stimulate the economy, he should be ready for a breakdown of order in the country as thousands of out of job Filipinos, without incomes, will not stand idly by, and blindly follow Duterte’s order of “OBEY” while their children’s stomachs hurt from hunger.

Addressing the nation, Duterte said he received assurances from food conglomerates that there would be sufficient food supply and that no one will get hungry. But to buy food, people needs money. “Go to your barangay” for help is not a policy that will cut it. Perhaps Duterte could turn to his friend Xi Jinping to spare him a few more Chinese Yuan.

At the end of the day, COVID-19 outbreak has exposed Duterte to be an incompetent head of state to manage a crisis of this proportion.