Let science, reason and our bayanihan spirit overcome this contagion.

Akbayan supports the government, especially our health workers, in their efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic now gripping our country. We do not believe that militarized measures are necessary. We should trust our people and their community spirit.

What we need from the government are clear and strategic containment measures to minimize the spread of this disease with adequate budgetary appropriations. These measures should be designed to limit societal disruption especially to the poor and vulnerable.

Akbayan supports the view that we need aggressive testing, monitoring, isolation or quarantine regimes. Social distancing in itself is not enough. But government must provide the funds to do it immediately.

We need the President’s leadership, not mumbled and confusing explanations two hours late. We need clarity in the government’s response. Policy pronouncements should be timely, easy to implement, easy to understand. Panic and fear result from muddled and mumbling statements.

What needs to be immediately addressed is providing protective equipment to front liners – doctors and nurses in hospitals, but also police and military manning checkpoints.

We should not be tempted by draconian measures like forced quarantines or technology to track people’s movements on the scale used by the Chinese government. Although the President said travel restrictions are not martial law, the stage management of the president’s press conference, and his repeated reference to the police and the military, are cause for concern.

Whatever his personal preferences, the President should not consider authoritarian methods. Government has all the legal and lawful means in its arsenal to combat this public health crisis. Authoritarianism is no cure to the virus.

The gross inequality in our society translates into inequality in our health system. There are already stories circulating of poor people being refused service in hospitals because they are busy attending to VIPs. Redressing inequalities in our health system will take time. For now, the rule should be simple, those who need the most care: older persons, pregnant women, and people who are symptomatic or immunocompromised, should be given priority regardless of socioeconomic status.

Some of our government officials have misunderstood social distancing as distancing themselves from social realities. The remarks of Spokesperson Salvador Panelo claiming that nobody dies of hunger and DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez who urged informal workers to just rent in Manila for a month is insensitive to the worried public. We need our government to assure the public with the right messages and policy lenses that respond to their needs for food, health and livelihood.

Akbayan believes that the magnitude and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic needs mitigating measures now rather than later. Government has to increase and expand its social safety net programs, including unemployment subsidy to formal (some) and informal sector workers, and tax relief to the business sector. The safety nets for the targeted poor and vulnerable sectors include cash or in-kind transfers, social pensions, and public works related to health.

Our demands:

1. Supplementary health budget allocation as soon as possible. We need the slashed health budget restored to a level sufficient to cope with the need for aggresive prevention, testing, and treatment systems.

2. If necessary discretionary intelligence funds should be used. The Office of the President has P4.5 billion to release to fill in gaps for protective equipment for health workers and production of more testing kits.

3. DTI needs to monitor compliance of price freeze on basic goods. DTI should handle issues of hoarding and price hikes of PPEs, alcohol, and other needed medical items.

4. Guaranteed access to clean water in communities for handwashing.
5. Guarantee of free or low-cost, healthy provisions in food banks for communities with confirmed cases.

6. P10K cash aid for the most vulnerable working families, contractual workers and no-work-no-pay employees.

7. BIR tax filing extension beyond April 15 considering the disruption of income for workers.

8. Mortgage suspension or loan amortization payment holiday for SMEs.

9. Flexible working hours, telecommuting or hazard pay for workers to ease traffic in public spaces.

Government and its citizens must work together to prevent this epidemic from becoming a national disaster. We can survive this contagion only if we get our acts together, think responsibly, and move decisively using science and our bayanihan spirit. #