ILOILO CITY – The US-Duterte regime has proven once again that it can go deeper in its sinkhole of crisis brought upon the Filipino people. We should see the issue of COVID 19 not only as a health crisis but also an economic one. Health is not only limited to the absence of disease or ailments. It is the overall well-being of an individual that is composed of physical, mental, and social.
The imposition of so-called social distancing is only limited to those who have the space to do so and exposed the vast difference of wealth between the masses and the ruling class. Majority of the Filipino people live in highly populated areas especially in the Metros. Furthermore, factory workers does not have the capacity to distance themselves in the assembly lines. The majority of the people,who are poor, has no time to monitor themselves of any signs of the virus as they are trying to meet day’s end. Duterte advised the people to eat healthy but how can the poor become healthy if they are only capable of buying food that lacks nutrients? In essence, this is not only a discussion on health but of job security, economic disparity, humane working conditions, affordable housing, and quality social services.
The neoliberal structure of our economy has worsened the health conditions of the people. Prices of basic goods and commodities continue to skyrocket while wage is on its lowest and social services remain rotten that decrease the chance of survival of the poor against COVID 19. As a country that has an import-dependent and export-oriented type of production, our country is vulnerable in facing economic and job losses. The capitalist will have the opportunity to manipulate prices while workers will be forced to be jobless as massive lay offs were launched by airlines and ports as it seize major operations, dwindling of stock markets, productions, and overall profit of businesses. The imposition of lockdown is also inapplicable to our country as we will face economic losses due to this.
While the people are panicking on the pandemic, Duterte seized the opportunity to pass laws that sell our resources to foreign capitalists and accumulate profit in the form of House Bill(HB) 78 and House Bill(HB) 59. HB 78 aims to amend the Public Services Act that will give 100% foreign ownership on our public utilities such as media, telecommunications, and transportation. On the other hand, the Congress aims to amend the Retail Trade Liberalization Act of 2000 thru the passage of HB 59 that will give foreign companies enter our country’s retail trade e.g. malls, bazaar, and other retail selling. This together with the existence of Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law, will further burden the majority of the people.
The prioritization of the US-Duterte regime is to solidify its dictatorship thru fascism and neglects social services such as healthcare. In its 2020 budget, DOH has faced a P10 Billion budget cut as well as a 56% decrease on disease surveillance(P263 Million to P 115.6 Million). While our health sector has faced tantamount budget cut, the regime allotted P36 Billion to fund its institutionalized red-tagging and criminalizing dissent thru NTF-ELCAC. The US-Duterte regime together with its control of the Legislative branch has railroaded its fascism thru the passage of policies such as Mandatory ROTC, Anti-Terrorism Bill and the franchise shutdown of ABS-CBN.
Duterte is swift to mobilize the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police to fight against the pandemic instead of prioritizing and mobilizing our health workers. He has also imposed lockdowns nationwide in which the AFP and PNP guards the checkpoints. This is not new to the regime as it approaches everything thru fascist and militaristic tactics. The US-Duterte regime used the enhanced community quarantine and lockdown as a rehearsal for Martial Law. Imposing curfews, prohibiting mass gatherings such as protests, and even giving the military the “shoot to kill” directive to those who seek for aid and show dissent. In the span of 3 weeks, human rights abuses by the AFP and PNP were reported. Duterte and mercenary troops will further use the virus to forward their fascist interest.
In summary, the COVID 19 crisis exposed the rotten and unjust system in our country. Duterte and its fascist regime worsened the virus thru its unjust economic policies and neglect towards social services. For the poor, it is either be killed by hunger, the virus, or the current semi-feudal & semi-colonial system lead by Duterte. In this unjust system that we are living, it is right to stand up and call for a dictator’s ouster.
Writer Justin Madriaga is a Former People’s Struggle Committee Head or the UPV USC and the incumbent Spokesperson of Anakbayan-Panay.