Duterte’s pandemic response: a socially distanced government

Words by Celeste Samin

We have been told numerous times for the past year to fulfill our role and wait until the “key” to the pandemic arrives. A year and a blotched vaccine acquisition and deployment plan later, the responsibility of handling the pandemic has again been transferred to the shoulders of the Filipinos.

The reminders to do our part, although proper and needed, has now come with an extreme “or else” as seen in the recent post of St. Luke’s Medical City where they showed pictures of people, actually following protocols, next to positive COVID-19 individuals in critical care. This is in addition to various official’s continuous statements blaming the Filipinos for the rising cases.

This government continues to focus on “masking up”  because it’s the only thing they are not responsible for. It enables them to shift blame on individual morality as they hide in their distorted bubble paid for by the people’s taxes. Take Duque for example, instead of focusing on proper vaccine rollout, he decided it was much wiser to go into the streets, attract a crowd, and remind people to wear their masks as a palpable and futile attempt to appear useful.

On the other hand, many of those in the private sector refuse to acknowledge the role of the government in this pandemic or the lack thereof. They are focusing their efforts towards putting pressure on the people instead of the officials, adding to the false narrative that the pandemic can only be solved when people strictly follow the health protocols. What’s missing from the narrative is how comfortable the government was in allowing it to happen with no medical-centered approach of reform. It is in their power to create effective and data-driven policies relating to both the public health crisis and the crashing economy, but they opted to conduct crackdowns and spill the blood of the people they’re supposed to be serving. To claim and condemn the people, despite already proving to be compliant, even ranking second out of 29 countries as surveyed by the New York Times, is a false and malicious act.

What can the Filipinos, in light of the news when the international community sounded the alarm for the UK variant, do? It is entirely on the hands of the government and yet the effects of their incompetence are passed on to the people. We are being punished for the decisions we did not make.

The “pasaway” narrative is part of the government’s propaganda to deny their direct role in the worsening crisis. They are swift to label certain actions as “irresponsible” and assert this as the cause of the rising Covid-19 infections. The actions they pertain to are actually responses of the people to the lack of substantial financial support that should have been provided by the government due the rising unemployment rate and rushed imposition of city-wide lockdowns. It is unrealistic to expect people not to work unless they are government officials, apparently. Certain jobs require manpower and not everyone has access to a private vehicle, requiring them to take the unforgiving public transportation and travel to be able to earn money and survive.

Not everyone can be privileged enough to survive comfortably. Many people cannot afford having their groceries delivered straight to their homes and not all environments (nor jobs) are suited nor healthy for the “work-at-home” or “study-at-home” setting. The comfort of the quarantine life of the few is afforded by the struggles of the many. A year of being locked in has already taken a toll on the mental health of individuals, hence some scientists have referred to the next health crisis as the “mental health pandemic” and still each do their best to survive in the way they can and sadly, in the way they are allowed to.

Left with no information or support, every Filipino has devised their own way to follow the protocols given the resources that they have. The information campaigns of the Department of Health (DOH) are not sufficient to reach the poor communities with no means to establish an online presence nor access to technologies and protection gears, leading to an incorrect observance of the health protocols. With no funds to purchase masks, people settled for makeshift masks out of banana leaves, water jugs, plastic bags and even diapers. In comparison, certain officials chide the public with their masks below their noses, providing and encouraging false practice. Despite having the means to purchase it, the position to punish, and the degree to shallowly validate their competency, many officials are still unable to wear their masks properly.

This double standard is continuously being imposed along with the pressure applied to the Filipinos to “just follow protocols.” From the Department of Justice clearing Senator Koko Pimentel of quarantine breach to Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas getting promoted as chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) after violating health protocols, it’s simply rational to demand for accountability and put pressure on the government to mask up as well. If we are doing our jobs as Filipinos, they should start doing theirs.

President Duterte has been reiterating for a year that vaccines are the key to the pandemic. It is not the Filipino people who are mishandling the procurement nor distribution of the “key”, but blame is still being placed on the Filipinos regarding the worsening crisis in the country. This government masked everything from local networks, activists and stolen health insurances except their nose and mouth. It is more than time to remind the government to do their job and view the pandemic as a public health crisis that can be solved by a medical approach and not a militaristic one. So as we do our part and continue to mask up and observe social distancing, we should also hold the proper people accountable and stop jumping into the bandwagon of the officials who could only blame the Filipinos. [P]

Photos from PCOO, Sonya Castillo, Isabel Pangilinan, Cyril Chan
Collage by Vince Dizon

The UPLB Perspective is accepting opinion articles that touch on relevant issues concerning news, politics, culture, and personal experiences. Send your articles or queries to opinion.uplbperspective@gmail.com

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