On the same day that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country breached the 40,000-mark, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the controversial Anti-Terror Bill into law without much regard to the clamor of people for a dialogue and to veto the bill.
The promise to pass a new Heal As One Law II to alleviate the suffering Filipino people due to the pandemic has been overshadowed when President Duterte declared Anti-Terrorism Bill as a priority bill, and yesterday, finally sealing it with his signature. A very misplaced priority indeed.
As we call for systematic, efficient, and humane solutions in this time of crisis, the nation was instead “gifted” with this despicable bill, intended to control and manage the growing dissent of people for the government’s failure to address the problems of the poorest Filipinos during the pandemic.
This law will subvert our fundamental rights and liberties, paving the way for a much worse situation than the Martial Law period. The dark days of Philippine history will come to haunt us all over again with this legal measure. It will be like the Damocles sword hanging above us, ready to fall and chop-off our heads.
PMPI will push for the repeal of this "Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020" and join other groups to question its constitutionality. As part of a broader civil society movement that advocates for upholding our bill of rights contained in the fundamental law of the land, as well as laws protecting the rights of the vulnerable groups, we oppose this measure because its vagueness and over-broadness is prone to abuse and can be used to suppress dissent and our activism.
We, the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI), condemns in the strongest sense the signing of this Act. We believe that this law will further assault whatever democracy is left in the country. A democracy which has been slowly eroded by this President and his minions in Congress since their assumption to power. This is an attack to our failing democracy. Almost a final nail to the coffin.
Thus, even as we foresee that our work to journey and support the struggle of our partner mining affected communities, peasant and fisherfolk communities as well as the urban poor communities, and even our work to defend the environment, can be easily red-tagged or branded as acts of terrorism, we shall not waver at our commitments.
We will not be fooled by false posturing of peace, compassion, and care for people nor be intimidated by violent and threatening language. We will not submit to fear. We will continue to fight for the rights of people and the environment especially in this crucial time.
We are anxious and enraged. We are worried but definitely not cowed.
Quezon City, Philippines -- One month after network giant ABS-CBN got shut down by a cease and desist order from the National Telecommunication Commission, Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa was convicted over cyber libel charges, Monday, June 15. The Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 46 sentenced Ressa to a minimum of six months and one day to a maximum of six years in jail.
The social development network, Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc (PMPI) expressed “dismay and outrage over these turns of events. In a statement it said that the right of people to access information is violated by these actions and is a de-facto government crackdown on media perceived to be hostile to it. The need to provide a balance information, not only government propaganda is healthy for society’s democracy. Democracy is founded on the capability of its citizens to critical information.
PMPI National Coordinator, Yoly R. Esguerra further said that “The indictment of Maria Ressa and the continuing cases filed against her, are not only about Maria, or Rappler, or even just an issue of press freedom. It is the asphyxiation of our democracy, an indication of a sick and manipulated justice system, of legislative lapdogs, of a control-freak and vindictive executive branch.”
She adds “that information should be considered as an “oxygen of democracy”. The ability of citizens to participate effectively in the social and political life of the nation depends, in obvious ways, on the breath of information it receives.”
Echoing statements of many rights group, it says that this is another nail in the coffin for our already strangled democratic rights and a clearly an intimidation to all dissenters of the Duterte administration. It further said that the indictment is an attack to press freedom, especially since President Rodrigo Duterte has been very vocal against the online news outlet, he even banned Rappler from Malacañang because of its supposed 'twisted' reporting in 2018.
"These developments are very disconcerting, to say the least. We are being pushed to the slope of authoritarian rule – all using the semblance of law, which is not meant to serve the common good but to entrench the ruling power. Any voice of protest is being shut up. Independent thought is being muffled. And fear is being instilled in many," Manila Bishop and PMPI Bishop Convenor, Broderick Pabillo stated from his Facebook post.
"The work of Maria Ressa, Rey Santos and the rest of the Rappler team is like any other media institution - to tell the truth and tell it when and where it matters. The decision of the courts to find them guilty of cyber libel sets a chilling effect to all media outfits. We are outraged by the decision and we stand by Maria Ressa, Rey Santos, Rappler, and press freedom. We want the truth and the freedom to openly express the truth. We cannot let press freedom be continually threatened with suppression and fear," PMPI Co-Convenor for Luzon and Advocacy Officer of CODE-NGO, Sandino Soliman said.
“We need to Hold the Line. There is no room for fear if we want to have our rights. Our rights are all fruits of the struggle by people who dared to tackle the Goliath. Rights will not be served in a silver platter. We should be like David, unmoved by the giants”, the statement ended.
Many of us are distraught at the government’s state of response to the continuing challenges of managing the virus spread in our country. We are worried at how slow the measures are being put in place to contain the spread of the virus.
It has been more than two weeks now since the entire Luzon was put in a lockdown or "enhanced community quarantine". By this time, we had hoped that the entire national structure of government down to the local level have been efficiently mobilized to act together and that a comprehensive, well thought-out plan is laid down to 1) manage the rising number of infection, 2) protect better its frontliners, and 3) support its citizens who have no means of sustaining their family’s needs as they are forced to stay home for the quarantine period.
But until now, these most important and urgent concerns have not been addressed sufficiently.
Free Mass Testing
Day by day the number of people under investigation (PUI), people under monitoring (PUM), and COVID-19 positive are increasing while the testing of PIU and PUM is slow and can’t keep-up to these growing numbers. Until April 1, we can only manage to test 3,000 plus people compared to our Asian neighbors who have conducted more than 10,000- 30,000 plus covid tests. General Carlito Galvez, Jr. also announced recently that the mass testing will happen on April 14, but this will be too late if and when the lockdown on April 15 will be lifted. Mass testing should be done now.
Protection of Frontliners
The death of health practitioners continues to rise; 17 doctors have died. And even as we honor them for their service, it is depressing to hear the government romanticize their untimely deaths by saying that they've died as heroes while performing their sworn duty. Lest we forget that they died because of the government’s failure to protect them. We dare say that an inefficient system killed them.
What adds more to this injury is when you see health frontliners beg and call out to private groups for more personal protective equipment (PPEs) because the government fails to provide. But their ordeal doesn’t end here. Many who have no private transportation must endure long walks to their workplaces despite the free point to point rides provided by the government. Their experience of harassment and ostracism from misinformed citizens.
But the frontliners are not only in the health or medical field. The workers, stevedores, drivers who ensure steady supply of food in Luzon coming from our farmers. The cashiers, baggers and staff in grocery, drug stores and banks, the people manning the checkpoints. They are all frontliners and needing the same attention and protection being equally exposed to the dangers of contracting the virus.
Support to the Most Vulnerable Population
The clamor for food support is escalating. The informal sector like the ambulant vendors, drivers, construction workers who are mostly living in urban poor areas, as well as the middle income wage earners like the workers in non-essential industry like shopping malls and restaurant, either, have yet to receive any form of help or have received only once in the span of two weeks from the government, not to mention the numbers of street dwellers and families who thrive on alms and doing menial work for the private and public commuters on the road.
Few Government Leaders as Beacon of Light
True, there are few national and local government leaders serving like a beacon of light and hope to us citizens as they perform far beyond what this government is doing. However, their initiatives have become suspects. They are from time to time haunted by the blind followers of the government who can’t seem to tolerate those who are efficient, innovative, independent-minded, and would not blindly follow orders from the higher-ups. They tend to perceive these efforts as stealing the limelight from them and regarding them as competitors and enemies.
The social amelioration fund that promises P5,000 to P8,000 cash to 18 million low income families, among the Bayanihan Law’s centerpiece project is in disarray as the authority to disburse was recently removed from the local government. Graft and corruption that abounds in the local governments prompted the transfer of mandate to the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD). Yet, critics believe that the DSWD has no capability to implement it because it has no work force at the local government level. Thus, up until now, we are still in the stage of drawing-up the list of beneficiaries aside from the Pantawid Pamilya list.
To Bear and Tolerate the President
We ask, why the President’s penchant to thank China, forgetting that the spread of the virus was China’s attempt to control the information from going-out in the public realm, plus our own government’s dilly-dallying to close our borders from the Chinese which started this menace to spread. Lest we forget that the first case of COVID-19 infection and the first death in the Philippines is a Chinese national.
Suspicious that the special powers asked by the President can make a difference, we are now very disappointed, that in his public report, a week after the so called Bayanihan Law was passed, the President can only report to the nation that all his powers were given to respective agencies and only two, most specifically on directing business, were left to him, and which he will use only when needed. All accomplishments are in general terms and have no real numbers.
The President’s fondness to use military-police solutions and continuing threats and sermons to the LGUs and the people will not do the trick to manage the situation. The authoritarian style of Tatay Digong will not be enough to manage this crisis. We need leaders with the mettle and skill to unite frightened people into action, not out of fear but coming from an inspired prodding of a firm but a compassionate leader. In this depressing and chaotic situation, we do not need threats but a clear guidance and direction on how every member of this nation can help fight the pandemic.
To address the situation, we request that the following measures be given consideration:
1. There should be a free mass testing now. As we try to procure testing kits outside the country, we ask that the government invest in funding our own testing kits made by our very own scientists and doctors from University of the Philippines. The mass testing should prioritize the PUMs, PUIs, Senior Citizens (vulnerable sectors), the medical personnel and all other frontliners – the medical personnel. Workers in the key service sector, military and police manning the checkpoints, and media people. All of them risking their lives everyday performing their sworn duty to the people.
2. The health frontliners including the new 600 health volunteers should be properly protected and cared for. Complete PPE and a halfway house where they can stay near their workplace should be provided, along with a living allowance and hazard pay according to law.
3. Release of the P200 billion to the most vulnerable groups – the informal sectors and the daily wage earners should be prioritized now. A cooperation of the LGUs and DSWD should provide check and balances as well as efficiency so that it can reach the beneficiaries the soonest time possible.
4. Capacitation and mobilization of communities, of health personnel down to the barangay levels should be effected. All barangay health workers should be mobilized, activated and capacitated in monitoring, tracing and care of people with mild symptoms in their barangays. If possible, find a healing place, a center, a house where local or barangay PUI and PUM can be housed. Let barangay leaders conduct house to house education and information campaign to their constituents not only to manage the spread of the infection but also lessen social ostracism of those infected, PUIs, and PUMs.
People as the Primary Source of Hope
What stands out and holds us together as a people in the midst of these chaotic situation are the resilient spirit of our people who have endured catastrophes and disasters the past years, the generosity of people and groups who directly help and provide for the poorest communities without asking for recognition, the creativity and small initiatives of individuals to share something to their neighbors in need and the valiant stance of many health frontliners, food production workers and utility service workers to be out of their homes and make lives livable for all of us in this time of crisis. We salute all of you, including those who stayed at home and suspended many of their life’s comfort just so that others may live too.
Thus, we say, that the people in general should not be treated as helpless and weaklings in the face of this pandemic. If people are properly informed and the barangays are properly oriented and capacitated the fight against COVID-19 will not anymore reach our last line of defense, which are the hospitals. Disclose and explain fully to people the dangers we are addressing. Provide them the necessary tools and information to protect themselves. Ensure that they will not go hungry during the quarantine period. Give local communities spaces to support each other. We are seeing how people in the spirit of bayanihan have been helping to meet the many gaps and holes that our government cannot provide.
Requisites for an Extension of ECQ
The extension of the ECQ should be carefully reviewed and assessed. Another week to ensure that we have accurately traced and monitored possible areas of infection is crucial and important. Ensuring that another wave of infection will not happen again should be a topmost agenda now. However, better planning and execution of support to the most vulnerable groups should likewise be in place when the extension happens or is decided. Likewise, managing and ensuring localization or containment of risks including therefore opening of international flights should be thoroughly reviewed.
Drawing out initial lessons from this experience, we are indeed ill-prepared to fight a pandemic. In 2015 the late Senator Merriam Santiago filed a bill to deal with a Health Pandemic, but this never came to light. Maybe after this episode we will be able to consider looking into our laws, administrative orders, local ordinances that can address a health pandemic/epidemic like this. We need to strengthen the health care system from the national to local. Currently, the ratio of doctors in the Philippines is 1:33,000 while the world average is 1:1000.
Likewise, we need to re-asses our development paradigm as well. We need to see the connection of the diseases in the way we use the environment for the sake of human development. Scientists noted that most of the diseases are coming from animals and wildlife that we toy with – study or consume as products for the benefit of mankind. When the balance is tilted heavily in our favor, there will be a point of reckoning. And scientists say that it would be fatal to human species in the end. Nature needs to be respected like human beings. The Rights of Nature perspective needs to be examined and integrated in our economic, political and everyday life.
Which brings me to another important point.
The worldwide pandemic also showed us how to live in a new way that can manage the climate crisis we still face today. Scientists noted that with the halt of massive production and air and land transportation, the earth’s temperature significantly lowered. This however will not be sustained when we go back to business as usual mode after this pandemic. In the Philippines, the closing of huge malls has definitely reduced consumption of energy and water and lessen environmental pollution. It’s as if our environment is also in a quarantine mode, doing some self-organization and self-renewal. One thing that this pandemic made us realize is that we don’t need shopping malls carrying signature clothes, shoes etc. to open daily, only stores that carry basic needs like food and medicine. A life where basic and barest minimum as the norm is indeed possible.
Quezon City, Philippines - Rather than be enlightened and feel safe, people have become more frustrated and confused, following President Rodrigo Duterte's press conference last night, 12 March 2020 as indicated in many social media postings. The press conference was most awaited given the prior announcement by the World Health Organization that the spread is now pandemic and the continuing increase of monitored numbers in the country. People expected to hear the government’s plans to manage the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The President declared a one-month community quarantine starting March 15 until April 12. However, he just read through the resolution proposed by the inter-agency task force on COVID-19 and promised that an executive order with more details will be released soon and giving to different government agencies the task of detailing measures of stopping the spread of the deadly virus.
“This is unacceptable. What we want to hear from a President is a decisive and concrete plan of action to stop contagion specially detailing measures for the most vulnerable constituents of his country. Giving a lead time to implement the lockdown is opening-up a wider window to spreading the virus all over the country and not containing it," Yolanda Esguerra, PMPI National Coordinator said.
In the midst of the continuous and fast increase of the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths, it seems the Department of Health (DOH) grapples at monitoring, tracing, reporting of cases.
“The Filipinos need truthful and fast reporting of cases. We understand the principle of confidentiality of those infected. But in the minimum, we expect a full disclosure of the location of these cases to make communities aware and take extra care in their social engagements,” Cecil de Joya of Medical Action Group said.
Citing positively the quick responses of schools and some local governments concerned, the group reiterated that children, senior citizens, persons with health challenges should be identified and taken-cared of in the barangay or local government level. Reporting and monitoring structure in the barangay level through the BHW’s should be incorporated in the plan. Aside from the vulnerable groups in a community, the needs of the poorer communities and sectors like the urban poor, ordinary workers who will lose their daily wages because of the quarantine in NCR should receive support from government.
“Are we being conned? Even as the government announced that the test will be shouldered by Philhealth, in actual practice we learned that treatment of the disease was not subsidized, and people will have to be burdened by paying for high cost of testing kit. This is not only a pandemic but a pandemonium. Treatment should be free or at least socialized especially for people who cannot afford it.” Alice Murphy of Urban Poor Associates said.
Madeline Suarez, president of APOAMF in Pasig expressed, “this issue has become a class issue. It is the urban poor communities, those who are living from hand to mouth, that will be greatly affected by this health emergency. The daily earners will be jobless and those with small and informal businesses will have no customers because of the work suspension as well as the work from home arrangement.”
Even as PMPI calls for better protection of the poorest in society, it calls on government to ensure the general safety of the public. They call on government to increase or release a supplementary budget soonest to add to the meager health budget allotted by our lawmakers to the department. They call on the DOH to establish clearer guidelines on establishing a nationwide structure for monitoring, reporting and caring of PIUs, involve the barangays. They also ask for DOH to develop an e_consulting platform where the public can report and asks questions on Covid19.
The group also lauded our doctors and scientists from the University of the Philippines who have developed a testing kit that is so much cheaper than sourcing it outside the Philippines. They call on government to immediately allocate and release the necessary budget to increase local production of the test kit to make it available to as many Filipinos possible. We need not depend only on exporting costly test kits and to rely on other countries like China to help us, according to the statement.
Further, it calls on the people to cooperate and ensure that cleanliness and safety within their own capacities are practiced. Staying at home should be the norm for now. To go out only when needed, to buy supplies and food for the family. For the workers in the food production line, strategic public services and health sector who continue to provide for the needs of the people, that their protection be prioritized.
The group also says that when government is failing to respond, as in many cases in the past, the people themselves need to step-up. Filipino’s resiliency and spirit of cooperation during crisis is the surest way to solve this crisis.
Hb No. 78 – A Strike Against the Poor
Amid these trying times in our public health situation because of the sudden rise of cases of COVID-19, our lawmakers in the House of Representatives have the temerity to pass in the third and final reading the proposed House Bill No. 78 or the Public Service Act (PSA) of Albay 2 District Rep. Joey Salceda, like a thief in the night.
We, from the Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. (PMPI), a network of civil society organizations, rights groups, peace and faith-based institutions believe that HB 78, which seeks to amend the Commonwealth Act of 146, to allow full foreign ownership in telecommunications and transportation is another anti-poor law.
The mere fact that it attempts to remove restrictions on several economic areas is another hit to the labor force and consumers as foreign companies could easily dictate numbers and prices. HB 78 could also put our national security at risk, since foreign-owned telecommunication companies could possibly control our strategic business sector.
In our 1987 Constitution under Article XII, Section 11 prohibits full foreign ownership of various business and industries. The proposed amendments of HB 78 to the current PSA, will try to outmaneuver the 1987 Constitution by providing a concrete yet sneaky definition of what 'public utility' is, which in effect allows telecommunications and transportation companies to be fully owned by foreigners. This is clearly a violation of the fundamental law of the land.
Lawmakers who are pro HB 78 reason out that there is a need for a drastic change in our telecommunications and transportation services, and the proposed bill is trying to attract more foreign direct investments, better competition, economic growth and even more jobs. Surely these sounds like a sound solution to a problematic service sector. However HB 78 clearly surrenders the primacy of public interest and diminishes congressional scrutiny over these critical regulated sectors. Such act which gives too much immunity to foreign capitalists could lead us into a pit instead of real comfort.
Anti-Terrorism Act – an outright assault to democracy
Another measure seeking to give more teeth to the Human Security Act of 2007 is the Senate Bill No. 1083 or Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 passed in the Senate last March 3.
Still not content at the rate where several democratic institutions have shrunk and have being controlled by the ruling political party headed by the President, the anti-terrorism act will further try to constrict people’s freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, liberty and movement as well as the right to privacy.
PMPI condemns this proposed measure, this is a clear pretext for a de facto martial law and will add up to more human rights violations. This has implications to the work of civil society organizations who are critical of the anti-poor actions of this government. It could likewise paralyze and affect the work of some humanitarian groups in vulnerable communities aswell as rights defenders due to irresponsible and widespread practice of red-tagging done by people in government and military including those propagating fake news online.
SB No. 1083 will certainly exempt no one, whether you are a lawyer, media , indigenous people, part of a labor union, farmer, church people, and more so if your are a political dissenter.
Our lawmakers should know better that a problem lies in the definition of terrorism, especially if you are working under this current administration that is intolerant of criticisms and dissent. We urge on our lawmakers to take this into consideration, not turn a blind eye and instead provide real safeguards for the people from the abusive authority.
The gravity of being labeled as "terrorist" by a mere suspicion, and be detained for 14 days without judicial warrant of arrest is surely distressing.
And all these are happening and skipping our radar of concern while we are all distressed and anxious about COVID-19. As we urge the public to be aware, take measures and be extra cautious of the COVID-19 virus, we also urge everyone to be more extra vigilant and observant of development in our political affairs. As the adjournment of session in both houses of Congress comes to a close, our lawmakers are also inching on their political influence and interests and to the detriment of the Filipino people.