‘Filipino lives matter’
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - August 7, 2020 - 12:00am

Admittedly, this is a takeoff from the rallying slogan “Black lives matter” movement that started in the United States. It was the offshoot of the fatal police manhandling of an Afro-American suspect George Floyd, 46, who died after being roughly arrested by Minneapolis cops outside a shop on May 25.

In the case of the Philippines, it was House minority leader Benny Abante who first broached “Filipinos lives matter” in pushing legislative measures to help stop the spread of the 2019 coronavirus diseases, or COVID-19 pandemic. Abante first presented his bills he collectively called “Filipino lives matter” during our virtual news forum Kapihan sa Manila Bay last July 29.

In this week’s Zoom Webinar of the Kapihan sa Manila Bay, we pursued Abante’s initiatives and asked the response of Malacanang through Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, as the co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), and, the National Task Force (NTF) on COVID-19, Lt.Gen.Guillermo Eleazar, the Task Force Shield commander.

As of Wednesday when we had our Kapihan sa Manila Bay virtual news forum, Eleazar counted we were on 142nd day of the COVID-19 community quarantines imposed all around the country in varying degrees though of mobility restrictions. In the particular case of Metro Manila, Eleazar noted, we were on the second day of the two-week modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).

This was after President Duterte acceded to the requested “time-out” by healthcare workers (HCWs) by reverting Metro Manila back to previous stringent lockdowns. Under the national capital region (NCR), Metro Manila along with Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, and a few others were originally placed by the IATF in less restrictive general community quarantine (GCQ) supposedly until Aug.15.

Like the HCWs, Gen.Eleazar cited, the uniformed personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) are also in the “frontliners” in the battle to stop the spread of COVID-19 contagion nationwide. Unlike the HCWs, however, Eleazar credited the men in uniform of the PNP for not falling to so-called “quarantine fatigue” or “quarantine burn-out” in the on-going fight against this public health crisis.

For his part, Nograles doused public impression that President Duterte “caved in” to the demands of the disgruntled groups of HCWs. “Not caved in but the President listens to feelings and sentiments of our healthcare workers,” Nograles noted. Likewise, Nograles strongly took exceptions to the criticisms of “militarized” composition of the IATF than doctors and medical experts.

“It’s not accurate because we have medical experts as advisers, epidemiologists, technical advisers, mathematicians, statisticians. (But) the fight against COVID is not only a medical fight, or fighting it on the medical front because it is not simply a health pandemic,” Nograles pointed out. On the contrary, he argued, the government applies a multi-sectoral, “whole of nation” approach to contain the pandemic from testing, contact-tracing, building isolation or quarantine facilities, and increasing hospital capacity to treat COVID-19 patients.

But various groups of HCW — mostly coming from government hospitals — pressed for the reversion to hard lockdown following the sharp increase of COVID-19 cases which they claimed has been overwhelming them, including quarantine and treatment facilities dedicated to COVID-19 patients.

While their situation is quite understandable, methinks, however, complaints of not being consulted by the government — or in particular the IATF — were obvious politically colored statements made by certain HCW groups. There have been, in fact, direct consultations made no less by President Duterte himself in the IATF meeting at Malacanang where he invited representatives from various medical society groups.

The latest one was when the President sought out their opinions on July 25 when the clamor to revert the NCR under MECQ was first raised by the doctors and research experts from University of the Philippines-OCTA Research. The NCR at that time was among those already under GCQ when the COVID-19 infection cases spiked steeply due to less lockdown restrictions.

The following doctors and health experts attended that IATF meeting with the President at Malacanang, namely: Dr. Edsel Maurice T. Salvana, of the National Institutes of Health UP and consultant and member of the COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group; Dr. Marissa M. Alejandria, member COVID-19 TAG; assistant professor Ranjit Singh Rye, MPA Department of Political Science UP and Fellow, OCTA Research; Professor Fredegusto Guido P. David, PhD Institute of Mathematics UP and Fellow, OCTA Research; Professor Michael L. Tee, MD, MHPED, MBA UP College of Medicine Chair, Philippine One Health University Network; and, Dr. Troy Gepte, consultant of the Senate committee on health chaired by Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go.

During the meeting aired live on state-run PTV-4, the Chief Executive originally agreed with the recommendation to revert the NCR to MECQ. However, NTF chief implementer retired Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. asked the President to reconsider it, based on the stand made by Metro Manila Mayors to allow them instead institute “localized lockdowns” at specific barangays in their respective areas where there are high of COVID-19 cases.

On that basis, presidential spokesman Harry Roque announced the NCR will remain under GCQ but that it will be reverted to MECQ if COVID-19 transmissions will not slow down after the two-weeks interval of the lockdown review being done by the IATF. “Pero ito po ay matapos nang napakahabang diskusyon kung saan binigyan po natin ng pagkakataon ang mga taga-Metro Manila na patunayan na kaya po nilang ingatan ang buhay para sa hanapbuhay,” Roque cited.

Beyond these medical concerns, the country’s economic growth has further shrunk.

This we saw for the second quarter this year since the pandemic lockdowns started five months ago. Undoubtedly, as far as President Duterte is concerned, the Filipinos lives matter.

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