A case study in Central Visayas
Luke Duma1, Cristina Genosa2, Ellen May Reynes3, Huberto Zanoria4
1 Guidance Office, Matias H Aznar Memorial College, Cebu City, Philippines
2 Senior High School Department, Cebu City Science High School, Cebu City, Philippines
3 Environmental Planning Department, Matias H Aznar Memorial College, Cebu City, Philippines
The most populous countries in ASEAN are Indonesia and the Philippines with also the highest numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths. The Philippines though has higher number of the region in terms of reported deaths per million of population. Poverty and income were the strongest indicators of disease risk and infection prevalence. Existing studies suggests the need to critically analyze government’s targeted response and innovative programs to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 with focus on poor families/ communities. Existing pro- poor and sectoral interventions were analyzed. Programs like conditional cash transfer (CCT ), social amelioration program (SAP ), assistance to returning overseas workers ( OFWs ) and displaced local workers and those from informal sectors were included in this study. In Central Visayas Region. Initial implementation of new and fine-tuning of current programs encountered difficulties in touching base with primary beneficiaries. Issues like identification of targeted groups, limited personnel to implement the different programs, competing /different information technology support, skepticism of some community leaders and bureaucratic inefficiencies of both Local Government units (LGU) and national service departments. There is also a need to fine-tune the predominant top- down and militaristic approach to a more community- based participation of stakeholders. It should incorporate user- friendly information-education drives, identification and testing of cases, usage of innovative information technology tools, provision of related health services to ‘psychological first aid’ to affected families.
Key words: Socio-demographic variables; social development programs; bureaucratic limitations; target beneficiaries; and community-managed programs
JEL classification codes: I15, I38, J18, J24
COVID-19 has appeared first in China and was first introduced as an internal problem. It gained rapport in the international scene after the virus was able to spread its reach through Europe. The spread of the virus continued on toward America, Africa, East Asia, and South East Asia. Its effects have warranted a devastating effect on countries which are prosperous and not very much developed alike. This virus did not discriminate in any way or form. It has eventually burdened the healthcare systems around the world, and this allowed for countries to see what policies were much efficient and what policies needed more looking into. This called for a reassessment of a lot of policies, especially the welfare state and social policies already in place in most of the countries. In the Philippines, policies regarding healthcare systems, employment regulations, and precautions taken for the most vulnerable groups are the concentration of reassessment by lawmakers to better respond to the pandemic and against a possible future outbreak.
This study aims to discuss the social and economic policies that were implemented to assuage the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This study postulates that a properly informed decision making and a strategic formulation of social and economic policies or re-enhancement of it may greatly assist in the mitigation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This study examines the effectiveness of the local government unit’s of the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of its established social policies and economic policies to relieve the affected sectors of the government during this time of the pandemic. This research paper will touch on; the first transmissions of the Virus in the Philippines, how the government has responded to the spread of the virus, international assistance, policies which were instrumental to the flattening of Central Visayas’ curve, and the issues behind certain strategies and implementation of policies.
Acknowledgements: The authors would like to express their thanks to the people who have been helping and supporting them with this work, and acknowledges the valuable suggestions from the peer reviewers.
Conflict of interest statement: There has been no perceived conflict of interest of the authors.
I. Conceptual Framework
The diagram of the study shows that COVID-19 was recognized as a pandemic by both the national government of the Philippines and that of Cebu City. The diagram further shows that the national government is working closely with Cebu City in responding to this pandemic.
The diagram also shows us that the national government and Cebu city were not only responding to one aspect of society but had to respond to the effects the pandemic brought to the different sectors of Philippine society. These are namely, the economic sector of the Philippines, which is the bloodline of the nation, the public health sector which pertains to the citizen’s health, and the different health sectors that need the aid and direction of the national government and the local government unit of Cebu City, and public security, which ensures the safety of the Filipinos in this time of crisis.
Lastly, the final aim of this study is to ascertain whether the City of Cebu’s strategies have been effective in mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic and to be able to provide recommendations for the sole purpose of providing insight to the creation of future effective mitigating strategies for a pandemic.
II. The Philippine scenario
The Philippines is one of the many nations severely affected by the virus’ outbreak. In response to the pandemic, the government’s first response was by selectively placing individuals under quarantine, and on the 2ndof February 2020 they had their attention on OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) returning to the Philippines. However, Philippine’s DOH (Department of Health) has not confirmed any COVID- 19 cases despite them monitoring a number of persons who were under investigation for the disease during the month of January (Department of Health, 2020).
It was then later confirmed on the 30th of January that a 38-year old female Chinese national arriving from Wuhan via Hong Kong, admitted in a government hospital showed pneumonia like symptoms and it was then made public, raising much concern for the general public and to health workers alike. (Edrada, Lopez, et al., 2020)
On the 7th of March 2020, the first local transmission was reported by the DOH of a patient who had no travel history, thus prompting them to raise the alert level to Red sublevel 1. President Rodrigo Roa. Duterte upon the recommendation of the health secretary issued proclamation 922 on the 8th of March, declaring a state of national emergency in light of the threat of the COVID- 19 pandemic. This proclamation has stressed that all agencies are to be required to render full assistance in the response of the COVID-19.
On March 13, 2020 quarantine was announced for the National Capital Region (NCR) which encompassed 16 cities, and as the COVID-19 pandemic began its rapid spread, the government implemented a Luzon island quarantine or famously known in the Philippines as Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) on the 17th of March. This ECQ has air, land, sea transportation banned, and only the transportation and flow of essential goods and services were allowed to operate during this time. Only medical personnel, essential goods such as food and the like, the conducting of sanitation operations and emergency cases are free from the restrictions of mobility.
In congruence to what has been transpiring in Luzon, the mayors of Cebu City, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu on the 13th of March suspended classes in all levels for both private and public schools as a preventive measure against the spread of the virus. On the 15th of March, Mactan-Cebu International Airport, and the Port of Cebu would suspend all arrivals and departures of domestic passenger travel effective on the 17th of March 2020. On the same day of March 15th, 2020, Cebu was placed under GCQ (general community quarantine) from March 16to April 14th, 2020. Under the GCQ, checkpoints were established to monitor incoming and outgoing flow of people in Cebu City which were manned by military and police personnel. As soon as Cebu City declared GCQ and made an effort to contain the virus, other Cities in Cebu also followed suit. Mass public transports were then suspended and restrictions on travelling by land and sea were also implemented.
In light of these restrictions to mobility and the eventual halting of some transportation services, especially the essential mode of public transportation, the “Jeepney”, companies and workplaces have looked into the possibility of moving physical workloads to online means, converting the nature of most jobs home-based. The choice of most companies to pivot to online work has made a clear effort in lessening the congregation of people in the workplace in the hopes of stopping the virus from spreading quickly. As the quarantine period was nearing its expiration on the 14th of April 2020, IATF-ED (Inter Agency Task Force for the Emergence of Infectious Diseases) advised the president, to extend the quarantine period until the 30th of April 2020. With the impending extension of yet another lockdown, the Philippine economy has now had its economic power slumping back to a record of 9.5% as it implemented the longest and most stringent lockdown in the world (Pillar, 2021), greatly stifling the economic growth of the country, and has only placed the economy at an all time low. Despite the measures of strict lockdowns, the number of infected people would continue to rise over the course of just weeks. Cebu City being located in the Province of Cebu has its main economic driving force in manufacturing, with major industries in the region of agriculture, hunting and forestry, wholesale and retail trade, and manufacturing, all of which are now being affected by the COVID-19 virus, and had many Cebuanos losing their jobs. Due to the low demand of labor and some companies closing down their doors due to the lack of economic movement around, 8.7 million jobs were lost from March to May 2020(Pillar, 2021).
IV. COVID-19 Impacts and Philippine Government’s response
The Philippines is among the most affected countries by COVID-19 in ASEAN. According to a survey by UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), in Metro Cebu those whose households have an income of PHP 10,000 and those in the PHP 10,000- 30,000 bracket depended on temporary informal jobs such as but not limited to: contractual work, street vendors, sari-sari store owners, etc. The proportion of informal work increases as income decreases. This pandemic has brought families who are already struggling to feed themselves even deeper into income poverty and vulnerability. There was an income decline in most households of up to 83%, among those earning below the 10,000 mark. 44% totally lost their income among those earning 10-30,000; about three fourths lost at least half and as a result, may have likely fallen below the income poverty line. One study by Mark Alipio (2020) postulated that regions in the Philippines with high poverty incidence, subsistence incidence, and expenditure would most likely have high COVID-19 cases. It was found out those regions with high proportions of poor Filipinos whose income according to Alipio (2020) is not enough to meet even the basic food needs, would be most vulnerable to COVID-19.Alternatively; regions with high proportions of Filipinos whose income can meet basic food needs would most likely have low cases of COVID-19. The study also found that income was negatively correlated with COVID-19. This suggests that regions with low annual accumulated income would have high cases of COVID-19 cases. Conversely, regions with high annual accumulated income would most likely have low cases of COVID-19 (Alipio, 2020).
A. Bayanihan Heal as One Act
The national government in the hopes of mitigating the effects of the pandemic on the economy, to the workers, and to the poor, saw president Duterte signing into law the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Republic Act 11469) on the 23rd of March 2020 declaring a national health emergency as a result of the COVID-19 situation. The ultimate goal of the act is to protect and promote the welfare of the Filipino people which include:
- mitigate and contain the transmission of COVID-19;
- immediately mobilize assistance for the provision of basic necessities to families and individuals affected by the enhanced community quarantine, especially the poor;
- undertake measures to prevent the overburdening of the country’s healthcare system;
- immediately provide ample healthcare, including medical tests and treatments, to COVID-19 patients, persons under investigation (PUIs) and persons under monitoring (PUMs);
- undertake a recovery and rehabilitation program as well as social amelioration program and other social safety nets to all affected sectors;
- ensure adequate, sufficient, and readily available funds to undertake the above-stated measures and programs;
- partner with the private sector and other stakeholders in the quick and efficient delivery of these measures and programs; and
- promote and protect the collective interests of all Filipinos.
Through the Act, the President is authorized to follow, adopt, and implement World Health Organization guidelines and best practices to suppress further transmission and spread of COVID-19 through effective education, detection, protection, and treatment.
This enacted law allows for the procurement of additional equipment and manpower, and to allow facilities such as hospitals, health care centres and facilities to function as quarantine facilities if needed. Most importantly this law has the purpose of providing compensation and insurance for front line health workers, and also provides social financial assistance to low income households as well as enforce laws on profiteering and price manipulation (Vallejo B, Ong R, 2020).
The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act includes the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) to those who are suffering the most from the enhanced community quarantine especially the poor and those with barely any resources or savings to draw from. The SAP identifies low income households and provides a minimum of at least PHP 5,000 to a maximum of PHP 8,000 either in the form of cash or kind, for the course of two months (April- May 2020), households were identified and were given the Social Amelioration Card for identification and verification. The distribution of monthly subsidy was dependent on the prevailing minimum wage rate of the beneficiary’s region of residence, as for Central Visayas, the minimum daily wage would be PHP 404.00, this would be equivalent to a monthly subsidy of PHP 6,000to be given by the local government units (Reyes, Asis, et al, 2020). The subsidy provided from the current conditional cash transfer program and rice subsidy is also taken into consideration in the computation of the emergency subsidy.
The SAP was used to remedy the impending problem of income reduction or loss of it for almost 18 million low-income households including those with members in the subsistence and informal economy. In addition to money subsidies, the government has also distributed Food and Non-Food Items (FNI). The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), in close coordination with concerned local government units, with the assistance of the Armed forces of the Philippines and the PNP (Philippine National Police) have moved to provide food and essential personal hygiene item packs to augment or sustain the basic needs of affected households. The distribution of said goods was continued until the community quarantine was lifted. The DSWD’s ongoing program called Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS) was also instrumental to mitigating the effects of the pandemic. The AICS provided assistance in the form of outright cash amounting to PHP 3,000 to families with at least one member, or PHP 5,000 to families with two or more members belonging to the so called vulnerable or disadvantaged sectors. These families include, Senior citizens, persons with disability, pregnant and lactating women, solo parents, overseas Filipinos in distress, indigent indigenous peoples, underprivileged sector and homeless citizens, and informal economy workers. In addition toall of these, the government has yet another program that aims to help a poor Filipino household, and this is known as Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), the sole purpose of which was to identify poor households and provide assistance. The 4Ps was expanded under the ACT and became the Expanded and Enhanced 4Ps which provided cash or in kind directly to households with no income or savings to allow them to purchase basic goods and food. This was to adapt and enhance the program to better answer the needs of the Filipino during this enhanced community quarantine.
The private sectors in the Philippines specifically Cebu City has also been receiving aid from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). This was in the form of COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP), which offers support to individuals working in the formal sector affected by the crisis. CAMP is a one-time financial assistance of PHP 5,000, and is granted to affected formal sector workers regardless of their employment status. Before receiving such assistance from DOLE, workers must be employed in a private establishment implementing flexible work arrangements or experiencing monetary closure because of the COVID crisis. However, before the worker could receive his/her assistance from DOLE, the establishment or company concerned must submit a set of requirements, and documents to DOLE for them to avail of this financial assistance, which means, that if the company did not apply for the sake of their employees then they would receive no such assistance from DOLE. In addition to that, the affected workers will also be given access to available labor opportunities through referral, job matching, employment coaching, and placement services. The Act also authorized to move statutory deadlines and timelines for filing official documents, payment of taxes, and other fees beyond the quarantine period. Banks and other financial institutions, both public and private, were mandated to extend payment of all loans and credit card payments without incurring interests, penalties, or other charges.
As for the farmers in far flung areas, they too have a one-time monetary assistance given to them, but they have to be registered under the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA) and have a farm size of one hectare or below. Just like that of the CAMP, the farmers will be receiving PHP 5,000.
More than 76,000 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) from Central Visayas received assistance from the governments’ repatriation program to go back to their home provinces. OFWs who lost their jobs abroad received a one-time cash assistance of Php10,000.
The Philippine Congress ratified the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act on 20th August, 2020 which gave the government more funds to create programs and aid packages to counter the health and economic problems caused by the pandemic. This included a Php140-billion aid package for affected sectors and a Php25.52-billion standby fund for the government. Local Government Units (LGUs) have been given by the national government the freedom to address whatever it is that they deem as the most urgent concern for their constituents and are given freedom to decide on what drastic measures to employ. Autonomous as they are, LGUs can now access the funding in their Local Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund (LDRRMF) and their Local Development Fund (LDF). Funds can be used to finance assistance programs and efforts, acquire materials and manpower necessary to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and the enhancement of risk reduction efforts and planning. “Ayuda” (Assistance/help) is a common sight to see during the stringent lockdown of Cebu City, often times the LGUS distribute these “ayudas” in the form of relief packages consisting of canned goods, rice, and other forms of consumables, and as an autonomous body, some LGUs also opted to provide their constituents with financial assistance instead of converting it to daily consumables. In Cebu City another form of assistance was given in the form of cash was given to Senior citizens with the target beneficiaries of over 82,000 seniors with an amount given to each being PHP 3,000. LGUs also provided its constituents with services namely, mobile markets, community kitchen, transportation services, and disinfection services (Reyes, Asis, 2020).
V. International assistance
As of 28 April 2021, the Philippines has borrowed USD18.4 billion (roughly P886.5 billion)for COVID-19 response including USD6.93 billion from multilateral sources such as the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. (Cordero, 2021)
These loans include budget support to augment the national budget to fund the governments’ programs and project support. This includes liquidity support, credit creation (interest rate adjustments, loan guarantees), direct long-term lending, equity support, health (purchase of medical equipment and supplies) and income support (such as tax reduction, subsidies to households and businesses), budget reallocation, central bank financing, and other economic measures, as well as for procurement of vaccines. (ADB, 2021)
With the international assistance received, the Philippines has ramped up its testing capacity to 60,000 reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction tests per day as of April 2021 (Bordey, 2021). The government targets 80,000 to 90,000 tests per day with the addition of antigen test kits certified by the World Health Organization and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. As of end April 2021, almost 2 million vaccine doses have been administered, and this continues ot grow exponentially as more vaccines arrive in the country.
VI. Issues Plaguing COVID-19 Response
Despite the efforts of the government to ensure a smooth outcome, there were still some backlogs, and delays, and other issues that the government and the LGUs faced. As per the approved Memorandum Circular No. 1, which details the implementation guidelines for the distribution of the SAP-ESP as early as March 28, the actual distribution of said assistance from the government was delayed. The issue on delayed distribution has also caused concern, as the distribution for April, and May has not been achieved, and both the first and second tranche of distribution has yet to be finished as of November 2020. This said delay of financial distribution has ultimately failed its principal goal of providing temporary relief to households affected by the pandemic. The effects of the pandemic were very much felt in the earlier days of the lockdown, and it would have been better for a household to receive the financial assistance early on, rather than in the later stages of the lockdown as was intended by the program.
The system of distribution was met by disappointed criticisms by the citizens as some households were not able to receive the needed assistance from the government. There were numerous complaints as to the inaccuracy of capturing the exact numbers of household beneficiaries that were eligible for the program to receive assistance (Chiu 2020). These households who were not able to receive aid were called “waitlisted beneficiaries”, which are families that have eligible members as per guidelines but were not included in the first tranche of distribution (Reyes, Asis, 2020). As SAP-ESP was distributed, the LGUs and the government were faced with duplication problems and ineligible beneficiaries that were included and identified as eligible, despite the implementation of a Social Amelioration Card (SAC). The second tranche distribution had to be trimmed down to 14.3 million beneficiaries to account for duplication, and ineligible beneficiaries, and families who have been identified. SAP-ESP distribution status report has reported 675,933 duplicate recipients, 239,859 ineligible beneficiaries, and 58,725 families who returned their cash aids (Cudis 2020). Bureaucracy has also been a problem by the government. The reasons for some of the delays in central Visayas and in other regions may be due to this procedure in releasing government funds. It has added to the burden amid the rising number of coronavirus infections (CNN Philippines, 2020). Senator Richard Gordon (2020) has expressed his disappointment by saying, that there seems to be a lack of urgency in some bureaucrats, and is the main reason as to why the country lags behind in its response rate, compared to some Southeast Asian neighbors. Bureaucracy is the number one problem, he told CNN Philippines.
VII. A Case of Flattening the Curve
The toll of the pandemic rises everyday as countless of lives were lost by the raging crisis, as of April 27, 2021 confirmed cases are now up to 1,006,428, with 16,853 fatalities, and 8,929 new cases (World Health Organization 2021). While there was a crisis about subsidy and relief distribution and the problem of a possible rise in unemployment rate, and the apparent impact of the pandemic on small and medium enterprises, there has also been a brewing problem in the Philippine health system. During the month of June 2020, there was an alarmingly huge surge of cases in Cebu City. With an exhausted health system and a tired medical working force, Cebu City was bound to be the second epicenter for the coronavirus. This caught the attention of Malacañang palace and eventually placed Cebu City in another ECQ. During this time of surging cases, Cebu was in a grim state (Labella, 2020). Hospital beds were at full capacity for COVID-19 patients, majority of the mechanical ventilators are in use, all intensive care unit beds are occupied, 90% of the 399 isolation beds are occupied, 93% of the 133 ward beds in hospitals are occupied. In the first week of extended community quarantine (ECQ), the city has taken into account almost 1,000 cases in a span of just a week (Macasero, 2020).The contributing factor to the rise of infections of COVID-19 in the city according to IATF’s initial assessment was due to the relaxed enforcement of quarantine restrictions, as well as allowing suspected and confirmed cases to quarantine at home which has a high danger of spreading the virus within the household and have a tendency to for it to spread to its neighbors (Macasero, 2020). After Cebu was placed under ECQ, the national government sent Secretary Roy Cimatu, a retired general to oversee COVID-19 response in the city. To intervene with local government affairs since the beginning of the pandemic was a first for the national government, this shows the seriousness of the national government regarding the events that were unfolding in Cebu City.
The first order that was effective immediately was the revocation of quarantine passes. The quarantine pass was a small identification card that was to be given to any uniformed personnel of authority enforcing the GCQ, who would want to know the reasons for which a person would leave the house. The quarantine pass was also required when entering establishments and grocery stores, and is required when going to public markets. According to Cimatu, the contributing factor to the surge of the virus was the concentration of people in certain areas, creating crowding problems and only making the spread of the virus more convenient. Cimatu has also noted that the highest number of cases was no longer just in the urban poor and congested neighborhoods, but also in the medium-density, middle class barangays. Thus prompting him to impose his second order of the day that would be to lockdown barangays with the most cases, so as to monitor who could come in and who could come out. Cebu City, under the care of Cimatu and assisted by retired General Mel Feliciano, saw an increased presence of military and police personnel, who was drawn from the different islands of the Philippines to assist in the policing of the lockdown. An additional 150 more cops from other regions in the country, including an undisclosed number of Special Action Force (SAF) troopers, were posted in Cebu City to assist in the lockdown (Macasero, 2020). But the enduring actions of Cimatu and Feliciano took were empowering the city’s emergency operations center (EOC) in tightening their response to the pandemic.
The local government has also set into motion drastic measures to ensure that the virus can be kept at bay. In Cebu City contact tracing, testing, and isolation and treatment cycle among COVID-19 patients and Persons under investigation (PUIs). The tests allowed for the identification of persons who might have been infected by the virus, and the process of isolation would help ensure that the spread of COVID would somehow be slowed down. In addition to that, contact tracing was employed by medical establishments, and government establishments. Business establishments, commercial buildings, fast food chains, workplaces and the like, have also extended their cooperation with the government by employing contact tracing to ensure congruence with what Cebu City government has been implementing. The contact tracing would tremendously help in the process of identifying those who were in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient. This has been the recurring procedure in the city of Cebu and has proven effective in combating the spread of the virus. Cebu city has also allocated PHP 1 Billion for COVID-10 relief and response efforts, and has also ensured the allocation of necessary equipments to help combat the virus; these are namely, PCR machines, rapid test kits, and negative-pressure ambulances. Cebu City was later the first LGU in the country to establish clinics for the conducting of swab tests, and the first LGU to have established quarantine facilities to compensate for the already full hospitals. Cebu City has also employed barangay isolation clinics to isolate those who are asymptomatic and those with mild to moderate symptoms. During the duration of July to August, Cebu City had seen lesser infections during the length of the ECQ. The reported cases from July 5 to 7 were 294 which dropped to 267 from July 12 to 18, then down to 189 cases between July 26, and August 1.This was a signal that the efforts made were effective, and that the spread of the virus has eventually slowed down to an average of a patient infecting less than one other person, compared to the first few weeks of the GCQ which saw one person having the possibility of infecting two or more.Cayton (2020) said that the main contributing factor as to why the curve has been alleviated was due to Cebu having a longer and stricter quarantine period than in other areas of the country that had eased restrictions too quickly. With effective contact tracing and isolation strategies, the number of new cases in Cebu City had continued to decline despite the implementation of less restrictive quarantine protocols. At the peak of the outbreak, there were 10,000 active cases. With proactive approach and longer restriction period, Cebu City was able to lower the 400 active cases by October 7, 2020. The lowest number of new cases was recorded onMonday, September 28, Cebu City. The consistency has been an on-going trend even after the majority of the military and police forces had all left the city in the month of August. Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera (2020) said that the meticulous attention to detail in the management of the pandemic had made a great difference and impacted the flattening of the curve. Garganera stressed further that key improvements to the contact tracing teams and the speeding up of the swabbing has been the few key ingredients that make up the whole. From only 5 contact tracing teams during the beginning of the pandemic in the City of Cebu, it has now been bolstered to 423 teams. With 5 teams, patients would have to wait for a week or more for their swab results. In addition, due to the small number of swabbing teams who are also in charge of paper works and monitoring, many of the swabbed individuals were no longer given the right attention and were no longer being monitored due to the volume of people that were swabbed. With more personnel on the ground however, the results would come back within just one to 4 days of waiting after swabbing. Improving this capability of the city has allowed for the faster response of medical personnel, and the fast transfer of patients to isolation facilities, thus reducing the risk of further exposing the patient to other healthy individuals in society. These are overall good signs, but Garganera believed that these improvements although believably positive must not be a source for complacency and that the government should in all its best efforts prepare for a anotherwave of infections, which may happen anytime.
VIII. A Militaristic approach
The national government has in a short span of time made use of its different apparatus to ensure that the virus can be contained. With the many strategies and laws passed on to combat the virus, there is but one important part of its apparatus that it has relied on so much that it almost seemed as if it had become the backbone and priority of the national government. The government’s focus and priority has seemingly shifted toward policing its citizens, and disciplining the bullheaded and stubborn Filipino, or disciplining the “pasaway” as the national government and the Philippine national police would like to call them. Policing the citizens and ensuring that everyone would comply with the set rules and regulations require extraordinary powers and the undivided cooperation of Filipinos (Hapal 2020).With the need to convince the Congress, he had to pin it on something he was sure he can justify. To no one’s surprise, the national government has called an “all-out war against COVID-19”. And to justify this so-called war, the national government has characterized COVID-19 as an “unseen enemy” that is threatening to destroy health and order. Duterte was then granted emergency powers by Congress in the form of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
With the premise of Duterte that the Philippines is at war, and worse, with an unseen enemy, he began to turn former generals into cabinet members who occupied key positions in the Inter-Agency Taskforce on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID). IATF-EID being the main policy-making and executive apparatus of the government in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak has the oddest composition for a task force which has the sole purpose of fighting the virus (Makabenta, 2020). The members were composed of old and retired soldiers, generals whose methods of how to fight the pandemic in the most efficient way possible might be different from that of an epidemiologist’s approach of containing the virus. To add to the peculiarity of such an occurrence, if one were to look closely at the lineup that Duterte has opted for, there was no single epidemiologist in sight, nor was there anyone from the medical field holding a key position in this task force which should have had majority of its members coming from the aforementioned field.
With retired soldiers at the helm of the IATF-EID, Manila was placed on a strict lockdown on the 16th of March and the police and the military were immediately brought in to impose lockdown measures, and this has also been reflective of other parts in the Philippines, especially in Cebu City. The police and the military who were sent to be dispatched in operating checkpoints brought with them reinforced armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and in some rare cases, light tanks, (Mayol et al., 2020) and carried with them high powered firearms, others even wearing their full tactical gear for the sole purpose of fighting an “unseen enemy”. With military and police forces in checkpoints all over the Philippines, it has become evident through strict and almost uncompromising rules that there was no concern for citizen’s personal struggles despite issues pertaining to or relating to citizens income, livelihood, food security, space or population-density (Hapal 2020). These so called tactics were later coined as draconian and is a tactic that warrants the use of force if necessary to eliminate the threat.
The bullheaded citizens or pasaway as they are known had supposedly caused trouble for the responding police and military personnel in Cebu City and throughout the Philippines. These persons who are pasaway have been branded as people who ignore the ill-effects of COVID-19, and must be disciplined as per orders by the IATF-EID. As Hapal would like to put it, “this pejorative term is often used to describe the Filipino’s lack of self discipline in this time of pandemic, and has been used to explain many phenomenon that cause trouble for the Filipino, may it be horrendous traffic, pollution in creeks, rivers, and waterways; long and unorganized queues in government offices, malls, or public transportation, recidivist offenders, and many more (Hapal 2020).”
The government’s accusation of the Filipino being pasaway, however, is believed to have disputable claims. It has been said that most Filipinos have been pasaway by not wearing masks and not staying at home and only going out to loiter around. In contrast, one a study shows that, if not all, then most Filipinos have been following quarantine rules (Crisostomo and Romero, 2020; Punongbayan, 2020). Studies have also shown that, despite certain limitations due to the lockdown, Filipinos, in general have stayed at home, worn their masks, and have washed their hands. In a survey conducted by Imperial College London & YouGov (2020), the Philippines was at the top in terms of using face masks, 91% of the Filipinos according to the study “always” wear face masks when going out of their homes. Similarly, it has been found that most Filipinos have topped the rank in terms of people avoiding going out in general.
The study has shown the government’s insistence with their intention of putting the blame on these so called pasaway individuals who are according to the government, contributing to the rise of infected people by the day. For Lasco (2020) however, the attitude of the government and their tone of seemingly putting the blame on the pasaway for the rising number of infected cases is its attempt to deflect accusations of incompetence in handling this pandemic, making the so called “pasaway as a scape goat” (Lasco 2020) to avoid the crossfire of criticisms from the weary and exhausted health workers, the working class, and the poor and homeless. This has shown that the focus of the government has exceeded its focus on law enforcing and disciplining the citizens. This may have been due to the fact that the government has tied its perception of stopping the virus by declaring war with it. As in any form of warfare, the state has the duty to look for and destroy the enemy, which is in this case, the pasaway, an enemy who might threaten national security and health. The government has placed so much effort into this campaign of waging war against the virus and towards strict policing that it had not realized that it did not adequately prepare itself to fight this virus. It moved in a slower pace with a sloppy response and did not equip itself with the proper tools necessary (e.g mass testing and modern efficient contact tracing) to detect this invisible enemy so that it could be identified and could then be curbed as efficiently as possible.
This act of securitisation has wittingly, or unwittingly, turned the Filipino people into the enemy (Hapal 2020). The very people and constituents that the government has promised to protect from any form of threat have now received the full brunt of the draconic effects of the current administration’s strategy, and have been themselves a threat to the sense of security that people feel in this time of the pandemic. Despite the government’s efforts and small successes in combating the virus, it still failed to function efficiently and with proper coordination with its local government units. This was reflected on how slow the government response was, and certain local governments with laws that are sometimes capricious and erratic, the government has also seen its fair share of delays on the distribution of its assistance services and other failures that it had faced. This has ultimately influenced how most Filipinos view the government’s efforts to mitigate the potentially long-term effects of the pandemic (Hapal 2020).
The local government unit of Cebu was not able to address the concern regarding the accelerated spread of the COVID-19 virus in the first few weeks of the outbreak, due to the relaxed nature of how the local government units were implementing its rules and regulations. Problems in logistics, bureaucracy, manpower, and the like have plagued Cebu as it attempts to fight off the pandemic and its widespread effects.
Poverty is part of the problem, and makes poorer sectors even more vulnerable from the virus. Those who have no money will not be able to capacitate themselves in safeguarding their health and ensuring that they will be able to go through the day without being hungry. Those who are poor and are struggling will only become poorer as the pandemic drags on. Being poor will be one of the factors that will raise the possibility of high infection rates in areas wherein affected households could net fend for themselves against the virus. Those areas with high densities of citizens who can provide for their needs have lower possibilities of the virus from spreading.
The local government units of Cebu have been formulating, creating, and carrying out strategically sound methods that helped in mitigating the effects of the spread of the virus, especially in the health and economic sector of the Philippines. The main strategies that the local government units of Cebu worked to improve on was its capability to test rapidly and release said test results as quickly and as accurately as possible. This in turn will contribute to the capability of medical personnel and government entities to respond in a swift manner to infected individuals. These infected individuals can then be placed into isolation facilities much quicker than previous responses, and this ability of the local government units to act quickly will protect other healthy individuals from said infected individuals.
Cebu’s local government units have also secured for themselves the tools necessary to combat the virus. By acquiring for the city more equipment to combat the virus, Cebu has essentially bolstered its capability and its odds against the virus. Cebu has also set in motion its strategies in identifying and distributing relief programs by the national government to its constituents, although these strategies faced certain complications and issues that slowed down the distribution of financial and goods assistance to many Cebuanos. Despite the setbacks and issues that the national and local government units were faced with, it was still an effort that was seen through, and was able to provide relief to the majority of the people in central Visayas, thus making the employed strategies of the local government units of Cebu effective in combating the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The policing tactics of the government were also quite instrumental to the mitigation of the virus in other regions, specifically in Central Visayas. The strict adherence to certain guidelines have helped kept most of the citizens in central Visayas in their homes, and kept people from creating densely populated hot zones for the COVID-19 pandemic, however it has come with a few issues. The overly rigid and stringent strategies coined as draconic; has presented a few problems.
It has employed retired military generals in fighting the pandemic instead of epidemiologists, which would greatly polarize the strategic planning of the IATF-EID towards a militaristic approach rather than a medical approach. This draconic approach is not appropriate in all circumstances during the duration of the pandemic, and the current plans to contain the pandemic may benefit more from a medically informed strategy than it would from a militaristically informed strategy.
For the purpose of combating this pandemic, and to address future pandemics, and disasters alike, the following recommendations are proposed:
- Timely and improved disaster response
To combat various disasters, it is important for the national government and the local government units to think of more sustainable, sufficient and efficient response and recovery packages to provide their constituents during times of crises.
The current assistance programs should be expanded with established implementation processes whether modifying or improving them might be more efficient than creating new programs and laying out new mechanics for implementation.
The national government must work to improve on the logistical capacity and capability of the local government units which will greatly enhance its responsiveness and efficiency.
Issues on limited personnel to implement different programs must be remedied. Competing information which is disseminated to citizens, skeptical and questionable community leaders, and bureaucratic inefficiencies of both local government units and national service departments must be remedied to ensure the smooth transition of response, relief efforts, and implementation of programs.
The predominant strategy of a militaristic and draconic approach should be transitioned to a more community-based participation of stakeholders.
- Use of technology for disaster response
The national government, local government units, and non-government units should seriously consider the employment of more advanced technological capabilities. Paperless works and the incorporation of it in the implementation of the majority of the government’s future programs might greatly aid the capability of the government to centralize information regarding the spread of the virus or any information for that matter, and will help in an accurate and congruent data base when disseminating information to the public.
- Labor assistance
- The need for more temporary emergency assistance programs and other measures such as wage subsidies or low-interest loans which are necessary to enable those who lost their jobs or closed their businesses to bounce back from the crisis.
- Science-based, data-driven decision-making
- Cebu’s government officials must lead through data-driven decision-making which is necessary in moving ideas forward and executing effective local programs and assistance.
- Long term strategy
The officials responsible for policymaking must think about the long-term impacts of the pandemic and future pandemics to come, with that includes other problems that need addressing such as poverty, school dropouts, and other non-COVID health concerns.
The national and local government units must establish stronger infrastructure, plan out efficient and effective risk reduction management strategies so effects of future shocks and hazards or any nature-oriented disaster will not be severe.
- Enhanced Health care capacity
Health systems should have stronger health financing for greater healthcare access, which will in turn lead to an improved health status and will provide citizens with the sense of financial protection in mind.
There must be a universal health insurance with greater benefits, including testing and vaccination. This will help in future health-related public emergencies.
Finally, mental health services such as psychological first aid to affected households should be provided. The consideration of these recommendations will greatly capacitate the local government units of Central Visayas and that of the national government to efficiently respond to any disaster from global virus outbreaks, to natural or manmade disasters. With better strategies of implementation, an organized system of information, and overall improved and better instrumentation, increases the effectiveness of the response rate, which in turn will greatly benefit the vulnerable sectors and will help mitigate the effects of any disaster that may occur, greatly reducing the risk of severe consequences in social security welfare, economic stability, and public health.
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