Lockdown in the Philippines: discrimination and abuse are on the rise and the cash program is dubious

On Wednesday, April 01, 2020 President Duterte has ordered law enforcement and the military to kill citizens that do not comply with the rules established with the country’s coronavirus lockdown.[1] While human rights violations committed against citizens by President Duterte’s administration are not new, the President’s direct tone and orders of using violence to combat the virus has created a breeding ground for discrimination against healthcare officials and a lack of focus on properly eliminating COVID-19 from the country. Before President Duterte’s announcement of orders to kill citizens, healthcare workers suffered discrimination from people such as, landlords and neighbors. Hospital staff, including cleaners, have reported that landlords have notified them to vacate their homes and that they were denied public transportation in fear of spreading the virus.[2] Some eateries have even put up signs refusing to serve hospital workers.[3] 

 

Discrimination of healthcare officials has also occurred, including through physical force. On Friday, March 27, 2020, in Cebu, central Philippines, two men on a motorcycle injured a nurse by throwing chlorine as he was returning home.[4] The following day on Saturday, March 28, 2020 in Sultan Kudarat in the island of Mindanao, a healthcare worker was attacked by five men who threw bleach on his face while crossing the street on the way to the hospital.[5] It is unclear if the attackers responsible for both incidents were in association with each other, however, it is clear that discrimination against healthcare officials are violent. Chemicals such as chlorine and bleach are used as antiseptics, therefore the weapons of choice that the attackers used indicate their views of healthcare workers polluting the country with COVID-19.

 

On Monday, March 30, 2020 President Duterte stated that the doctors and nurses who have died of COVID-19 are lucky to have died for a good cause to the country.[6] With the President’s focus on using violence to combat the virus to control citizens, instead of readability laying out the foundations for proper medical care and funds, it is no shock for the Philippines to see an increase of hospital staff resigning or unavailable due to the dangers and lack of respect for their profession. As of Wednesday, April 8, 2020 at least 21 doctors have died and 740 medical staff fell ill due to patients lying about their condition and/or a lack of proper protective equipment (PPE) that is distributed to private hospitals.[7] 

 

 

The strict implementation and enforcement of quarantine standards in the Philippines has incidentally contributed to an increase in suspected human rights violations of its citizens. [8]Reports of violations of the strict curfew involve the detention of citizens in dog cages. On March 20, police forced five youths into dog cages in Santa Cruz in Laguna province as a result of violating curfew and social distancing regulations[9]. A Philippine police captain also forced three LGBTQ people to kiss and perform a ‘sexy dance’ as punishment for violating curfew.[10] In addition to this, children are also being subjected to absurdly abusive treatment from the Philippine government for violating curfew and quarantines rules imposed to limit exposure to COVID-19[11]. Even daily exercise in many parts of the country could be met with jail time, in the city of Taguig residents were warned that outdoor fitness and leisure activities would be met with arrest for as long as the lockdown is instituted.[12] The lockdown measures have gone far beyond measures implemented in most of the other countries worldwide and with far more serious consequences if ignored. Despite these measures being put in place, the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, on Wednesday, April 8, 2020, 206 new cases were confirmed by the Dept of Health.[13] Some areas have remained relatively unaffected but concerns remain about the continuing spread despite the extreme measures being taken by President Duterte.

 

The Philippine Congress granted Duerte emergency powers which allows for law enforcement to punish those who spread false information about COVID-19, extending to local officials and owners of private hospitals as well as its civilians. Such punishments include a two-month jail sentence or a fine of ₱10,000 to ₱1 million, equaling roughly 200 to 20,000 dollars.[14]These government crackdowns also harbour implications for journalists and social media users who are critical of the Philippines’ response to COVID-19. Not only do the dissenters face judicial and financial penalties, the crackdown also threatens citizens’ media freedom, rights to free expression, and access to information[15].

 

The nationwide quarantine has led to an uptick in domestic violence a pattern which has been identified in most nations currently in quarantine. Duterte has not made any mention to domestic problems caused by extended periods at home such as domestic violence or child abuse. The Human Rights Commission has called on the government to adopt new measures to bolster protection in cases of domestic violence[16] however no measures have been implemented yet. Currently, hotlines exist for those facing abuse or violence, but activist groups are calling for improved infrastructure in the form of shelters and continued processing of legal measures such as restraining orders.[17] It has recently been estimated by the Center for Women’s Resources that a woman or child is abused in the Philippines every 10 minutes.[18]

 

On April 5, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) started the distribution of cash aid to those affected by the lockdown in the Luzon region.[19] Cebu province also received cash aid, and delivery options are being considered.[20] DSWD has been tasked to distribute subsidies to low-income families who are affected by the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) as part of the government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP).[21] The monthly allowance of between ₱5,000 (about $100) and ₱8,000 ($157) is based on regional minimum wage rates. The program is expected to run between April and May over a two months period. Local government units (LGUs), Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been instructed to provide assistance if needed. The Land Bank of the Philippines has also pledged ₱6.07 billion($132 million) for around 1.2 million conditional cash transfer beneficiaries of the DSWD, and is expected to deliver an additional ₱2.66 billion($51 million) to around 333,000 public utility vehicle drivers.[22] 

 

According to President Duterte, the budget and the emergency fund allocated for low-income families are insufficient to address the needs of the country. In his address to the nation on April 6, Duterte ordered Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III to ‘generate’ more funds amid the Covid-19 outbreak and urged the country’s wealthy to help provide financial assistance to the poor.[23] It is unclear how this will be received as his relationship with the business class has been controversial in recent months. In January, he called for “crazy rich people” to be killed amid disputes over water concession agreements.[24] Duterte also responded favourably to the appeal of Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla who asked for the subsidies to be extended to middle-class families from his province.[25]

 

The government is also considering reallocating funds to meet the needs of the coronavirus crisis. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has identified ₱189.823 ($37 million) billion in unreleased appropriations from the budget in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 that may be discontinued and used to fund the government’s efforts against the coronavirus crisis.[26] In his monthly report to Congress, President Duterte said ₱186,500,169 ($3.6 million) from the 2020 budget and ₱3,322,920 ($65,000) from the 2019 continuing appropriations may be used to fund COVID-19-related interventions.[27]

 

On April 7, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles stepped in to deny that Duterte had approved reclamation activities in Manila Bay in exchange for food assistance.[28] In February, Duterte said that he would no longer allow land reclamations by the private sector until the end of his term in 2022.[29] Concerns about transparency relating to budget allocation have been raised.[30] The ‘Citizen’s Budget Tracker’ started by Kenneth Abante, a research faculty at the Ateneo de Manila University, provides a tool to keep track of the funds and as of April 7, the status of “cash sources” was still unclear.

 

The need for funds or any type of aid will likely increase in the next few weeks as the lockdown has been extended until April 30 and economic uncertainty will continue for an extended period of time. When Duterte decided to look outward for help, Russia and China were the expected options as relations with both countries have been steadily growing over the past few months. In March, the Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev revealed that the Russian pharmaceutical company Polysan was ready to donate a medicine called ‘Cycloferon’ for the treatment of the virus’ symptoms.[31] China has been more proactive and has already delivered medical supplies, including over 100,000 test kits, 300,000 surgical masks, 30,000 medical N95 masks, 5,000 medical protective suits, 5,000 medical face shields, and 30 non-invasive ventilators. On April 5, a Chinese 12-man anti-epidemic medical expert team arrived in Manila.[32] Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has expressed concern over the April 3 sinking of the Vietnamese fishing boat by a Chinese coast guard vessel in the South China Sea. Any tension emerging from political issues might undermine future cooperation.

 

Violators of the lockdown imposed in the Philippines until April 30 face harsh physical and psychological punishment, including possible death by the hand of law enforcement and the military. Discrimination against healthcare workers is on the rise and there is a real risk that the curfew leads to an increase in abuse cases across the country.

 

The CTG recommends for healthcare workers to take precautionary measures while travelling to their place of work, and when out in public places, like eateries and when using public transportation. The numerous cases of  physical punishment and President’s Duterte’s aggressive tone should be considered as a sign that the lockdown might become justification for additional abuse and discrimination across the country. The chaos that seems to surround the cash funding program is also concerning as the number of people who will lose their income in the next few weeks is likely to increase significantly. This could lead to tensions among the population, as recent cases of citizens' arrests have shown.

________________________________________________________________________________________

The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1] “Shoot them dead”: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte orders police and military to kill citizens who defy coronavirus lockdown, CBS News, Christina Capatides,  April 02, 2020, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/rodrigo-duterte-philippines-president-coronavirus-lockdown-shoot-people-dead/

[2] Attacked & underpaid: Medics in Philippines battle stigma, virus, Aljazeera, Ana P. Santos, April 02, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/attacked-underpaid-filippino-nurses-battle-virus-200402010303902.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] Attacked & underpaid: Medics in Philippines battle stigma, virus, Aljazeera, Ana P. Santos, April 02, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/attacked-underpaid-filippino-nurses-battle-virus-200402010303902.html

[5] Ibid.

[6] Duterte draws flak after saying frontliners ‘luck to die’ for PH, Rappler, Sofia Tomacruz, March 31, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/256457-duterte-draws-flak-saying-frontliners-lucky-die-philippines

[7] Coronavirus: 21 doctors die in Philippines, AA, Ekip, April 8, 2020, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/coronavirus-21-doctors-die-in-philippines-/1796826

[8] Philippines: Curfew Violators Abused, Human Rights Watch, March 26, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/26/philippines-curfew-violators-abused 

[9] Coronavirus: People who break curfew held in dog cages in Philippines as human rights group warns against ‘cruel’ mistreatment, Independant, Samuel Lovett, March 26, 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/coronavirus-phillippines-lockdown-curfew-dog-cages-latest-a9427621.html 

[10] Philippines Police Captain Forces LGBTQ+ People to Kiss and Perform a ‘Sexy Dance’ for Violating Coronavirus Curfew, Vice News, April 8, 2020 https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/dygbzw/philippines-police-captain-forces-lgbtq-people-to-kiss-and-perform-a-sexy-dance-for-violating-coronavirus-curfew

[11] Philippine Children Face Abuse for Violating COVID-19 Curfew, Human Rights Watch, Margaret Wurth and Carlos H. Conde, April 3, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/03/philippine-children-face-abuse-violating-covid-19-curfew 

[12] Taguig residents jogging in public to be arrested, CNN Philippines, April 9, 2020 https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/4/9/Taguig-enhanced-community-quarantine.html

[13] Philippines' COVID-19 recoveries rise to 124, deaths at 203, CNN Philippines, April 9, 2020 https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/4/9/philippines-coronavirus-cases-recoveries-death-toll.html

[14] Jail time, up to ₱1-M fine await peddlers of fake COVID-19 news, CNN Philippines, Xave Grego, March 25, 2020, https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/3/25/Fake-news-peddlers-P1-million-fine-under-Duterte-special-powers.html 

[15] Philippine Authorities Go After Media, Online Critics, Human Rights Watch, Carlos H. Conde, April 6, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/06/philippine-authorities-go-after-media-online-critics# 

[16] ‘Government must help victims of domestic violence’, Manila Standard, April 05, 2020 https://manilastandard.net/news/national/321120/-government-must-help-victims-of-domestic-violence-.html

[17] PH gov't urged to protect women, children vs domestic violence, abuse amid lockdown, CNN Philippines, April 6, 2020 https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/4/6/Coronavirus-quarantine-domestic-violence-child-abuse-hotlines.html

[18] Philippines urged to combat escalating domestic violence cases amid virus lockdowns, Philstar, April 6, 2020 https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/04/06/2005855/philippines-urged-combat-escalating-domestic-violence-cases-amid-virus-lockdowns

[19] Coronavirus: Philippines starts cash aid distribution under Social Amelioration Program, Gulf News, April 5, 2020, https://gulfnews.com/world/coronavirus-philippines-starts-cash-aid-distribution-under-social-amelioration-program-1.1586070070585 

[20] Over 240K 4Ps beneficiaries receive cash aid from DSWD 7, Sun.Star, April 6, 2020, https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/1851539/Cebu/Local-News/241000-Pantawid-Pamilyang-Pilipino-Program-4Ps-beneficiaries-receive-government-cash-aid-from-social-amelioration-program 

[21] Initial list of beneficiaries of the social amelioration program for drivers April 6, 2020, http://ltfrb.gov.ph/index.php/2020/04/06/initial-list-of-beneficiaries-of-the-social-amelioration-program-for-drivers/ 

[22] Duterte worries over funding needs for COVID-19 cash aid program, Xave Gregorio, CNN Philippines, https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/4/7/Duterte-eyes-more-funds-for-poor.html 

[23] Duterte asks finance chief to ‘generate’ more funds for COVID-19 response despite P275B budget, Jeline Malasig, Interaksyon,  April 7, 2020, https://www.interaksyon.com/politics-issues/2020/04/07/165899/duterte-asks-finance-chief-generate-more-funds-for-covid-19-response-despite-p275b-budget/ 

[24] Duterte: 'Rich people who are crazy should be killed', Sofia Tomacruz, Rappler, January 24, 2020, https://www.rappler.com/nation/250105-duterte-says-crazy-rich-people-thieves-should-be-killed 

[25] Duterte: Appeal to give cash aid to middle class 'valid', CNN Philippines, April 7, 2020, https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/4/7/Duterte-middle-class-income-cash-aid-COVID-19.html 

[26] DBM taps P189.8 B in unreleased budget to boost COVID-19 funds, Argyll Cyrus Geucos and Genalyn Kabiling, April 7, 2020, https://news.mb.com.ph/2020/04/07/dbm-taps-p189-8-b-in-unreleased-budget-to-boost-covid-19-funds/ 

[27] P189-B in unreleased funds at hand for COVID-19 response –Duterte report, Erwin Colcol, GMA News, https://www.msn.com/en-ph/news/national/p189-b-in-unreleased-funds-at-hand-for-covid-19-response-%E2%80%93duterte-report/ar-BB12fXx9 

[28] No consent from Duterte to push through with Manila Bay reclamation projects —Nograles, GMA News and Public Affairs, April 7, 2020, https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/metro/732971/no-consent-from-duterte-to-push-through-with-manila-bay-reclamation-projects-nograles/story/ 

[29] Duterte rejects 'massive' Manila Bay reclamation by private firms, February 16, 2020, ABS CBN News, https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/02/16/20/duterte-rejects-massive-manila-bay-reclamation-by-private-firms 

[30] ‘Where did the budget go?’ Duterte asked a week after he signed anti-COVID ‘Bayanihan’ act, Catalina Ricci S. Madarang, March 30, 2020, https://www.interaksyon.com/politics-issues/2020/03/30/165359/where-did-the-budget-go-duterte-asked-a-week-after-he-signed-anti-covid-bayanihan-act/ 

[31] Russian pharma company offers to donate free medicine for treatment of COVID-19 in PH, CNN Philippines, March 12, 2020, https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/3/12/russia-pharma-donate-medicine-coronavirus-ph.html 

[32] China's medical expert team arrives in Philippines to help fight COVID-19, April 5, 2020, Xinhua News Agency, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-04/05/c_138949480.htm 

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