HomeCommentaryCompassion, not heavy-handedness

Compassion, not heavy-handedness

From the looks of it, the lockdown of most of Luzon island, including the National Capital Region, due to the COVID-19 pandemic is not likely to be lifted after two months, or by May 15.

Mayors of the 16 cities and a municipality in Metro Manila suggested three recommendations: for the lockdown (aka “enhanced community quarantine” or ECQ) to continue as is; be downgraded to a notch lower, which is the general community quarantine or GCQ; or further downgraded to a combination of ECQ and GCQ where only areas or communities with high COVID-19 cases will continue to be subjected to lockdown for a specific period.

Regardless of how the national leadership decides on the issue, what is important is for the government to handle the public health crisis with the appropriate policies until a cure/vaccine has been developed.

The very nature of the crisis requires deft handling. That means the health aspect and the economic dimension should go hand-in hand.

The goal of the health aspect is to flatten the curve, as the experts are saying. That means accelerated mass testing, more temporary isolation facilities for suspected and probable virus carriers, and provision of enough face masks, personal protective equipment or PPEs for hospital personnel and front-liners.

We are glad that amid the crisis, foreign governments as well as humanitarian groups and generous individuals here and abroad have donated much-needed face masks, test kits, PPEs, ventilators and other medical needs.

Front-liners, including doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel, have responded to the health crisis with dedication beyond the call of duty, with some even paying the ultimate sacrifice. We commend them for putting their lives on the line just so they can help others.

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The Catholic Church has likewise stood in the frontline of efforts to help the poor and needy survive this crisis through food donations as well as temporary shelter for the homeless.

We likewise commend the government at both the national and local levels for extending cash assistance to the poor who have lost their jobs and sources of income due to the closure of offices, factories and business establishments since mid-March.

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Recipients of the government’s cash aid program wait for their turn to receive their money in a village in Manila. (Photo by Mark Saludes)

The social amelioration program (SAP) undertaken by the Department of Social Welfare and Development is a timely intervention that has allowed the poor to put food on the table and provide for their daily needs. This should continue until the lockdown has been lifted.

But we must also point out that in enforcing the lockdown necessary to stop the spread of the deadly virus, the government needs to be even-handed and show utmost compassion especially for the poor.

It has been observed that we have the strictest lockdown procedures not only in Southeast Asia but even in the entire world, yet draconian measures have not achieved the ideal, which is to reduce the number of infected people.

President Rodrigo Duterte sent the wrong signal to state security forces when he told them that in dealing with troublemakers in checkpoints, then they should not hesitate to “shoot them dead.”

Which is what exactly happened to an ex-army man who stepped out of his residence with no face mask on and was accosted by policemen who shot him dead because they thought he was about to get a gun in his sling bag. There was no firearm in his possession.

In another incident, a fish vendor who also had no face mask on was beaten black and blue by village security because he did not want to be taken to their headquarters for questioning as he said he had done nothing wrong and was only trying to make a living.

Another example of overzealousness on the part of government personnel tasked with enforcing quarantine restrictions is that of a hospital nurse who was a backrider on her brother’s motorcycle. She was not allowed to proceed to her destination because of the prohibition on backriding under current quarantine rules.

Amid the ban on public transportation during the lockdown, the police could have made arrangements to bring her to the hospital where she worked, instead of sending her home in tears.

Village-level officials are just as strict in accosting and detaining residents and even punishing residents in urban poor communities who need to go out to buy food and other provisions but could not show quarantine passes or do not wear face masks.

While government is there to compel obedience to laws and ordinances, law enforcement should be tempered with compassion and understanding toward people already under severe stress from lack of income, hunger and deprivation under lockdown conditions.

After two months of lockdowns and yet another 15 days of more restrictions in the horizon, Filipinos deserve a welcome respite from heavy-handedness and the mailed-fist approach to what is primarily a public health emergency.

Ernesto M. Hilario writes on political and social justice issues for various publications in the Philippines. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of LiCAS.news.

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