On March 16, President Duterte announced the implementation of an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) or Total Lockdown in Luzon to contain the spread of COVID-19, few days after it declared the community quarantine in Metro Manila.
The lockdown includes the suspension of all public transportation, heightened presence of military personnel, regulated food and essential health services, and suspension of work (with exemptions). This militarist solution of the Duterte government exposed the lack of a comprehensive response that will ensure that no one is left behind. Its major lapses and inconsistencies resulted to further difficulties.
Those who have the means, went into panic buying and hoarding of essential goods. A large number of people went into exodus to provinces, crowding terminals and public transport, increasing the risk of spreading the disease. Poor families can simply panic and thread between fears of passing through checkpoints, continuing work to feed their families and being exposed to the spreading disease.
“This health crisis deepens economic divide in our society. It has the hardest impact on hand-to-mouth wage workers especially those under the “no work, no pay” scheme and the informal workers whose daily meager income is their only source of survival,” said Daisy Arago, CTUHR Executive Director.
In the 2 days of the implementation of the ECQ, CTUHR has been receiving reports of workers being stranded; BPO employees are still being forced to report to work, or stay at work to avoid getting stranded; export industry workers required to work and displaced workers worried sick about how to feed their families. Health workers and frontliners had difficulties of going to work, even having to walk for long hours because public transport was suspended.
“We appreciate the government’s intention to stop the and spread of the disease, but we are greatly disappointed by the lack of reality understanding and sensitivity of the measures being undertaken. Threatening to arrest and detain those who could not immediately comply is uncalled for. It adds to the mental stress and anxiety that these workers have endured,” Arago averred.
Arago observed that there is a lack of clear guidelines and plans as to how workers and frontliners who are exempted from the quarantine will go about their daily commute to their jobs or how are those displaced will have access to government support, except that responsibilities are handed over to local government units. Arago also lamented the low budget allocated for financial assistance for affected workers. The Duterte government was reported to have released a Php27.1 billion package for Covid-19 response, but only Php1.3 billion is allotted to assist the displaced workers compared to a whopping Php14 billion allotted for tourism programs and projects.
On March 17, 2020, DOLE released the Department Order 209 or the Guidelines on the Adjustment Measures Program for Affected Workers Due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019. It includes the much awaited financial assistance for affected workers. The Order says that affected workers of micro and small businesses will be provided Php5,000 one-time financial assistance in lump sum, non-conditional, regardless of employment status. Meanwhile, large businesses are only urged to cover the full wages of their affected workers in the duration of the 1-month total lockdown in Luzon.
The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) welcomes this development, but continues to assert that the government should mandate the suspension of the ‘No Work, No Pay’ Policy of companies. It should also oblige large companies to pay the workers their wage for the quarantine period. CTUHR also calls for the strict implementation of a “No Retrenchment Policy” to protect the workers’ job security. DOLE must also ensure that workers who are exempted from the quarantine receive proper protective equipment and are provided hazard pay by their employers. Free testing for COVID-19 must also be made available for workers and communities
The Center also appeals to companies providing basic services such as water, electricity and internet to suspend the payment of bills, at least during the 30-day lockdown period, as a humanitarian act, especially to informal workers, daily wage-earners and everyone disadvantaged by this crisis.
As of March 18, 2020, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country is 187 and there have been 14 deaths, making the Philippines the country with the highest COVID-19 fatality rate at 8%. As minute update on television and radio is announced and known personalities get tested for infection, the poor majority cannot help but wonder, in testing for COVID-19, a reflection of class as well?
The Center calls on all Filipino workers to remain vigilant, be accurately informed and assert for their rights, amidst this confusing and trying times. “Protect your health and your rights!” the Center ended.###