Wary of COVID-19 emergency powers, groups call for comprehensive medical solutions
Photo dated March 17, 2020 shows commuters scrambling for a ride in Commonwealth. The government suspended public transportation following the president's declaration of enhanced community quarantine.
The STAR/Michael Varcas
Wary of COVID-19 emergency powers, groups call for comprehensive medical solutions
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - March 23, 2020 - 7:40pm

MANILA, Philippines — In the wake of Malacañang's call for emergency powers, groups on Monday slammed the Palace bid at securing emergency powers for President Rodrigo Duterte and called for comprehensive and health-centered solutions to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak instead. 

Congress on Monday held a special session to tackle the proposal to grant sweeping powers to President Rodrigo Duterte to address the outbreak.

Asked about possible abuse of power during the session, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea claimed that military rule in Mindanao "came and went peacefully.” He said that this was proof that the executive would not abuse the powers that Congress is seen to readily grant.

Save our Schools Network, which supports and runs Lumad schools in remote areas of Mindanao, said that during this period, some 35,533 individuals including teachers, students, parents reported being threatened, harassed and intimidated by soldiers and paramilitary forces.

This, while 16,866 members of Lumad communities were forcibly evacuated and 5,000 students have stopped schooling due to forced school closures.

The Lumad schools have been accused of being recruitment areas for communist rebels, an allegation that they and their foreign NGO partners have disputed.

"Medialdea's lie is a slap to us and to the Lumad students and teachers who had their schooling and lives disrupted by martial law," they said. 

The network said that this could easily be the case should the president wield similar power this time around. 

"Seeing the incompetent and incoherent steps taken by the national government in countering our ever-worsening health crisis — from quarantines, checkpoints, arrests of violators, failure to implement mass testing — this draconian measure cannot anymore provide medical solutions for the people," Save our Schools said. 

READ: For Lumad schools, even holding class is a struggle

"Emergency powers can be abused and misused by the authorities, as we see now how citizens are being harassed and arrested for violating curfews and community quarantines."

'Failure to combat COVID-19'

Rights group Karapatan echoed a similar tone in a statement issued that same day as the group slammed the Chief Executive's failure to present a comprehensive plan on his course of action should emergency powers be granted by Congress. 

Karapatan, which is affiliated with the national democratic activist movement, has also been accused of being a front for communist rebels.

In their statement, the rights group pointed out what they said was the president's "propensity to use and abuse his power as Chief Executive to violate people’s rights" and cast fear that the worsening outbreak could be used as an excuse to further do so. 

Amid concerns of abuse of power, Malacañang said the president was not asking for emergency powers despite an explicit mention of it in an express provision in Sec. 3 of the proposed House Bill 6616.

"From the very start, the Duterte administration has been and continues to be lacking in a comprehensive, people-centered and rights-based plan to address the full breadth of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Filipino people, particularly its socio-economic dimensions," their statement read. 

"He has employed a dominantly militarist approach by imposing draconian measures that have put people's civil and political rights in peril."

"After actively downplaying the outbreak for the past weeks by bragging that we are a 'model country,' the irony of this bid for emergency powers is that it is an admission of the administration's failure to combat this pandemic," Karapatan added. 

Measures for children urged

For their part, child welfare organization Save the Children Philippines in a statement sent to Philstar.com on Monday said that amid an enhanced community quarantine, children have the right to age-appropriate information about the pandemic to inform them on the reason for the community quarantine to ease anxieties they might be experiencing.

“Sharing age-appropriate information about the COVID-19 pandemic will also help children understand that complying with mitigation measures will contribute to the national and global efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19,” Atty. Alberto Muyot, Save the Children Philippines Chief Executive Officer said.

“While LGUs implement precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19, these measures must be implemented with the best interest of the child in mind,” he added. 

The group also called on the Department of Education and LGUs to implement comprehensive plans to enable remote learning for students who miss out on school, and ensure children will have access to appropriate care such as routine healthcare services in the event an adult caregiver requires hospitalization. 

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