MANILA -- The Philippines rolled out Wednesday its ‘draconian’ war chest against COVID-19 pandemic, seeking to contain the pandemic that claimed thousands of lives worldwide and threatened to sink economies into recession.
Officials presented the plan after a new law granted President Rodrigo Duterte additional powers to address the "national emergency." It includes health measures and economic guidelines.
Under the plan, the Inter-Agency Task Force will serve as the policy-making body for the government’s pandemic response while the national task force (NTF COVID-19) will function as the main implementer.
Members of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council will determine members of the national task force to be headed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. Day-to-day concerns in relation to pandemic concerns will meanwhile be addressed by the National Incident Command.
"Mga kababayan, this is a war that will be fought on many fronts, and your cooperation and support are crucial in our efforts to beat COVID-19 and to save lives," said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, spokesperson of the IATF on COVID-19.
The plan was released over a week since the Philippines declared a state of calamity due to the pandemic that saw Luzon placed on a month-long lockdown until April 12 that required people to stay at home and suspended mass transportation.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año justified the government’s need to implement "draconian" measures to control the spread of the disease.
"Draconian measures ang kailangan natin para mag-flatten ang curve and ma-contain natin, if not eliminate, the spread of the virus," said Año, a former Armed Forces chief.
(We need to implement draconian measures like these to flatten the curve and contain, if not eliminate, the spread of the virus.)
“If we do not implement draconian measures like these, we would be ending like at least half of Italy’s condition now,” he said in reference to the Mediterranean country which recorded the highest number of COVID-19 deaths worldwide.
Nograles said the government hoped that by the end of the lockdown, it could shift its focus from arresting the spread of the disease to treating patients sick with COVID-19.
“What we would have achieved by April 12 is we would have been able to contain the virus. We would probably have been able to identify what communities are negative so siguro, we want to see more communities na negative, na walang COVID-19 cases,” Nograles said.
“Basically the victory we want to happen is hindi na siya mag-spread and hopefully there will be no new cases happening,” he added.
To help Filipinos with the economic fallout, the national government ordered the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office to transfer P420.59 million to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) to cover COVID-19 related medical expenses of the public.
Some 18 million poor families will receive cash aid for 2 months to help them rebuild their lives from the pandemic. The monthly subsidies, ranging from P5,000 to P8,000 per family are part of the "Bayanihan to Heal as One Act" which also gave Duterte more powers to deal with the contagion.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development will lead a technical working group to identify beneficiaries of the subsidy program.
Nograles said with the signing of the law, the government can immediately tap into P400 billion in funding to respond to the pandemic and its effects.
“Malaking chunk ng pera ang mapupunta dito [sa subsidy], and that’s cash assistance and food assistance sa mga marginalized, sa mga kababayan natin na nangangailangan,” he said.
(A huge chunk of the funds will go to the subsidies and that's cash assistance and food assistance for the marginalized, for our countrymen who need it.)
For Filipino migrant workers, the Department of Labor and Employment meanwhile was directed to release P1.5 billion in cash assistance for those who will lose their jobs.
Local donations to the government will be managed by the Office of Civil Defense while foreign aid is subject to the evaluation of Duterte’s economic team.