OPINION: Governance by pogrom

Inday Espina-Varona -- scaRRedCat

Posted at Jul 23 2020 02:51 PM

In the latest police gospel on the COVID-19 pandemic, neighbors are told to tattle about kin and friends.

Region 7 police chief Brig. Gen. Albert Ignatius Ferro has followed Interior Secretary Eduardo Año’s call for community gossips to tell on neighbors suspected of being COVID-19 carriers.

"Even the smallest detail ng storya about a person's movement... kung siya ba'y may lagnat, siya ba'y nagkaubo—those are the important things. We make use of those stories, we make use of those details that will help each and every Filipino save lives," he added.

(Even the smallest detail of a story about a person's movement whether he or she had fever or coughs—those are the important things.)

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On the surface, it sounds laughable. Health officials continue to discourage people from leaving their homes. While businesses have re-opened, many families remain separated for safety’s sake. Certainly, neighborly incursions into people’s homes remain a no-no.

It isn’t just unscientific. It is a danger to people’s lives. It is part of the government’s pasaway (disobedient, recidivist) narrative, which blames citizens for the local spread of COVID-19.

That belief comes with deadly consequences: house to house searches for COVID-19 positive persons, troops bristling with arms and escorted by armed personnel carriers, and warrantless arrests of supposed violators of quarantine rules.

The latter hinges solely on the discretion of police officers, who see expressions of protest as criminal even when dissenters follow guidelines on masks and physical distancing.

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The regime threatens citizens because it is reluctant to fulfill its duties to them.

“We’re looking for innovative ideas to fight COVID. But this? It reflects the reliance of some policemen on snitches and 'assets' to solve crime instead of forensics,” Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon points out. “We need science to fight this pandemic.”

Pasaway. A study by YouGov, in partnership with Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London, has disabused that claim. Results show that 91 percent of Filipinos wear a mask when leaving with homes, the second highest percentage worldwide after Singapore. Some 83 percent of Filipinos also practice frequent hand-washing, an impressive figure given water woes in many urban poor communities.

Pasaway is a cover-up. And there’s plenty the government wants to hide.

From day one of the world’s longest lockdown, also considered among the most brutal, national officials claimed all policies reflected World Health Organization guidelines. Yet health department refused to test potential carriers, except for those already showing symptoms. This policy extended to health workers and even kin of confirmed patients. Among those tested, there is a validation backlog of more than 20,000 positive cases.

Officials showed off huge quarantine centers. Yet the requirement for skilled human resources, including for crucial tracking and monitoring systems, fell by the wayside. The government called for volunteers instead of permanent hires, never mind that state blueprints had long mandated narrowing the medical worker-population ratio.

The combination of lack of tenure, the early dearth in physical protection equipment, and the government’s testing policies were disincentives for health professionals to abandon jobs they had been forced to take in other industries.

Those problems continue to dog Filipinos today as they slowly return to work, for sometimes only half of their former pay while facing grave risks due to lack of safe public transport systems.


According to Ferro, we should trust the police to sort out good gossip from the libelous.

And there you have it: the police acting like the judiciary, the police taking the mantle of health experts, with unvetted gossip as arbiter of decisions. Forget due process.

It has been so in the last four years. Tokhang, which has killed tens of thousands of poor drug suspects, started with a knock on the door. During round-ups, the innocent had no choice: they either confessed to being drug abusers or pushers, or else. The police made up lists of targets from whispers and, later, from drop boxes.

Those with an axe to grind against neighbors could finger anyone for arrest or death. Some had no choice. “Palit-ulo” forced families to point at betray neighbors to get their loved ones from under a death sentence.

Duterte took advantage of people’s legitimate fears of crime to make them turn against each other. This obscene COVID-19 game expects people afraid infection to turn into dogs, snarling and biting at each other for survival.This also looks like a prelude to a similar program against “terrorism”.

By lies and half-truths they aim to spread panic, gathering fodder for a killing machine. This is governance by pogrom, the state sanctioned violence that also whipped up citizen madness during and before the global world wars.

A pogrom works by creating categories of “enemies”. Duterte says drug users are less than human. Duterte implies the sick are the culprits behind the pandemic. Duterte accuses critics of his failed government policies being terrorists.

All these target mainly the poor. Unfortunately for Duterte, the poor have turned against him.

He can still enjoy having segments of the middle and upper classes as collaborators. But when the poor turn on the “betters” who cheered at their descent to hell, Duterte will also see support vanish from that sector. 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.