President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday night had only one answer to citizens railing against the hunger, inefficiency, corruption and police brutality hounding a lockdown aimed at stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Shoot them dead,” Duterte ordered state security forces in an unscheduled televised address hours after baton-wielding cops dispersed a rally of hungry Quezon City residents.
The President made the threat following an outcry in one of the world’s most active social media landscapes. Legislators, celebrities, academics, activists and ordinary citizens slammed the heavy-handed response to growing hunger in the metropolis of 12 million people.
The furor grew when the National Bureau of Investigation gave Pasig’s young, innovative mayor, Vico Sotto, a summons to explain alleged violations of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. The bureau, an agency of the Justice Department, cited actions that occurred on March 16, more than a week before Duterte signed the new lockdown law.
Sotto had initially allowed privately-owned tricycles to continue ferrying health workers and patients stranded by a transport ban. He immediately complied with orders to desist, modifying plans to meet government lockdown standards. The 30-year old mayor and other peers in Metro Manila have also launched mobile kitchens to give residents easier access to food supplies and put up quarantine centers for potential carriers, initiatives national government agencies have scrambled to adopt.
Instead of acknowledging compassionate attempts to mitigate the worst lockdown effects, Duterte showed anger.
“I am not used to being challenged,” said Duterte. “Do not play hero at this time because you would abet or encourage people to violate the law.”
In contrast with his pained expression when called on to explain the nitty-gritty of lockdown enforcement, Duterte was animated in detailing his response to criticism.
“Shoot them dead’ if they make trouble, he ordered law enforcers, falling back on the trademark “nanlaban” excuse to explain tens of thousands of killings in his war on drugs.
“Do not test the government. We are not weak.”
Duterte ropes in all critics under one category: the Left. He treats complaints of inefficient aid distribution as disrespect of his office, “You are not in government and you cannot be a part of what we are planning to do for the nation,” the President told critics.
He did not deny allegations of hunger.
Instead, Duterte gave a curt explanation that underscored the lack of foresight by drafters of a lockdown now on its third week.
“Ang ating suplay hanggang diyan lang ‘yan ‘yung inabot kasi hindi natin alam ganun kabilis. In two days’ time, patay ka,” he said. (Our supplies are just at that level because we did not know the virus would spread that fast. In two days, you’re dead.)
That remarkable admission displays the fatal governance flaw of a former mayor used to decades of whimsical rule.
The dangers of COVID-19 were apparent as early as January when thousands of deaths forced China, Duterte’s main patron, to impose lockdowns in Wuhan, ground zero of the pandemic, and many other provinces.
His own health officials bared forecasts of a contagion that could infect as many as 75,000 Filipinos within two months. Their findings formed the basis of an “enhanced quarantine program” that has left the national capital region’s 5.6 million low-income earners with no income for at least a month.
Weeks of official briefings have unmasked the government’s inability to see past mailed-fist strategies. Enforcement has been ad hoc, with orders given and recalled within days, sometimes within hours.
The capital’s ports are close to overflowing with unclaimed cargo after overzealous enforcers with no briefing on critical manufacturing supply chains held up delivery of goods. Health workers rush to save lives amid a dearth in protective gear; 17 doctors and one nurse are among the 88 fatalities of COVID-19, which has so far infected 2,084 people.
Lack of testing represents a contagion nightmare. Not only are patients dying before their test results come out; many others suffering from pneumonia and other COVID-19 complications die from without getting tested, a critical information gap.
As community transmission gallops, congested villages where residents earn subsistence income in the best of times face hunger. A policy paper by Geoffrey Ducanes, Sarah Daway-Ducanes and Edita Tan of the Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines School of Economics places the number of vulnerable households at 30 percent of Luzon.
Grassroots bodies overwhelmed
“I have money,’ Duterte boasted in his March 30 address, warning officials of barangays (grassroots governing bodies) to release aid promptly.
That aid has not arrived. Nino Manalo Dionisio, a council member of Barangay Ramon Magsaysay in Quezon City, took to Facebook to appeal for more circumspect presidential announcements.
In Filipino, he pointed out: “We were surprised to learn we had to shoulder people’s food for one month. Our calamity fund is not enough. We already have a hard time buying supplies; even higher local government units have problems.”
“You tell people to get cash-for-work from us. People get angry because they think the money is with us. We are made to look like fools or suspected as dishonest, when we can’t even understand the process.”
“I pity our staff who repack and distribute relief, disinfect the community, do curfew patrols, care for positive patients,” said Dionisio. “People are risking their lives and working hard, then you give pronouncements that raise expectations and we don’t have the answers to our constituents’ questions and demands.”
Duterte barks out orders to kill and blames politicians to cover up his failure of governance.
“The money will arrive. The food will arrive. You will have to be patient and wait for this. You will not die of hunger,” he said.
Simply put, a government that has stripped people of at least a month’s income did not see or did not care about the fallout.
In Duterte’s Philippines, people will die. The only question is which comes first – death by COVID-19, death by hunger or death by bullets.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.