Philippines: Partido Lakas ng Masa statement on Duterte's declaration of a state of public health emergency over COVID-19

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UPDATE March 12, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — We are now being informed the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police have started preparations to enforce any lockdown in the capital once health authorities raised Code Red sub-level 2, deploying thousands of troops as the coronavirus disease spreads. The authoritarian Duterte regime, responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of urban poor youth in a war against the poor, is resorting to a military solution to a health emergency. We need to deploy tens of thousands of health workers into the barangays and public health system, not troops. Once again the urban poor, who are still suffering the trauma of Duterte’s killing fields, will be the most vulnerable and endangered by these measures. PLM calls on all progressive forces to join us in resisting Duterte’s lockdown.


March 9, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a state of public health emergency throughout the Philippines in view of the Department of Health’s confirmation of the local transmission of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in the country. Previously, the DOH has issued “Red Alert Sublevel 1” after a sixth case of a Covid-19 victim was found, a victim who has not travelled at all to a foreign country, highlighting the possibility of local transmission and spread.

The declaration is not specifically clear on what the emergency means and how the government and its various agencies should react to it, except in very general terms. We believe that the state of public health emergency should be clearly defined. It should be in favor of people needing state assistance and protection from the disease.

We should have a clear reporting on the spread of the virus. According to the DOH, the number of infected has reached 10 persons today. This could be underreporting especially if there is no testing of the population for possible infection. In fact, many countries today are not only reporting the number of suspected cases of coronavirus, but undertaking large scale testing of population for possible infection.

If there is an emergency, we should inform the public – especially those displaying symptoms of the disease – on where the testing centers for the virus are, the necessary testing kits and reagents, and other paraphernalia to test for the virus. We also must have our own laboratories for validation of tests. The earlier report was that we were still sending them to Australia.

In order to prevent and contain an outbreak, the government should not only be checking on the health of dozens, but on tens of thousands of people. This requires setting up testing centers at the barangay level, and we should mobilize paramedics at every barangay to start the process. Better yet, send doctors and nurses who can guide the medics. We should get a record of the health status of everyone in the barangays and prioritize assistance to those who are sick. Socialist Cuba has been doing this a long time ago; Cuba should be a model for disease prevention at the community level.

This is an opportunity to shift the culture of killings, where poor barangays are turned into a killing zones for suspected drug addicts and drug pushers, into a culture of caring, of health care and disease prevention.

Universal health care program is a must for prevention and containment. This does not only mean free consultation or hospitalization for indigents in public hospitals already burdened with lack of staff, facilities and medicines with hundreds of people flocking to them for medical care. Universal health care must cover free consultation, facilities, medicines, and medical care for all. The PhilHealth insurance, with very limited coverage, is not a universal health care program.

Under the state of public health emergency, the government should open up private hospitals for free services and shoulder the costs of services rendered.

The government should not impose a ‘lockdown’ of communities without understanding what it means. It is not hamletting and isolating the community. Lockdown should only be resorted to after ensuring that the necessary requirements for health assistance are in place. Under a lockdown, the people in the community should be enabled to focus on their health and well-being, and access free hospital services, such as check-up and testing. Hospital beds should be provided for those who need to be admitted. Workers should be given time to stay home from work. Price control on basic commodities should be imposed. There should be provisions – especially for the elderly – who cannot go shopping for their needs. The state should provide transport and other related assistance. Some of these measures had been put in place in Wuhan, other Chinese cities, and also in Italy. We have to declare though that we have no confidence on this government to implement a pro-people lockdown. Given the authoritarian nature of the Duterte regime, a lockdown can only mean a dictatorial response that would harm, rather than protect, people’s interests.

We can survive the coronavirus crisis. There is no need to panic and to be racist against the Chinese who are being blamed for originating the disease. Let us foster our biggest weapon in the fight against calamities (this time, diseases) – through people’s unity, solidarity and the spirit of bayanihan. The main problem of the government response is the government and the system itself – a capitalist system run by a government of elite, oligarchs, and corrupt politicians who only care about their profits and power. We have declared a public health emergency, and yet the government has already cut down on the health budget this year. Instead of laying off the 7,000 nurses as announced this year, the government should instead massively increase the number of health workers.

Ultimately, the only recourse to save lives and to ensure our future is to change the system and establish a genuine government of the masses, by the masses, that can truly serve the interests of the masses.