As the entire country has just been placed under the state of calamity due to the escalating spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), we offer our prayers for our people, particularly the poor and most vulnerable sectors, who will bear the heavier burden caused by the present crisis.
With the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) we also acknowledge our responsibility to participate in addressing this national emergency: “This is a time of difficulty but also a time for growing in true discipleship as we strive to follow the Lord in selfless love and service of others.”
In the spirit of solidarity, and in support of our government in our efforts to adopt decisive measures to respond to this pandemic crisis, we would like to offer our recommendations, re-echoing the appeals of other civil society organizations, in ensuring that the welfare of all, particularly the poorest and the most vulnerable, is considered in government policy and interventions.
We strongly call on our government to consider the following points, to plug the gaps in the government’s response:
- Food and medical assistance should be provided for free to the affected households giving priority to the depressed areas in Metro Manila, and in Luzon, in general. The government must provide support and subsidy (financial or in kind) to support the basic needs of the poorest in the communities
- The government should look at its fiscal space and free up funds that may be used to acquire food, medical supplies, and other goods that will address their daily needs.
- The Office of the President has large budgetary allocations by way of Intelligence Fund, Confidential Fund, President’s Social Fund, and other items in the GAA 2020 that should be scrutinized for flexibility as additional resources that can be mobilized immediately.
- Workers, especially daily income earners, should be provided with substantial emergency assistance package including displacement insurance to compensate for loss of income during the whole period of forced quarantine. It should be in the form of comprehensive financial assistance and unemployment benefits, and not loans. The one-time financial assistance of PhP 5,000.00 to cover the unpaid leaves of the affected workers, under DOLE’s COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (DOLE Department Order 209), is not enough.
- The community-based package of assistance providing emergency employment for the displaced workers, called TUPAD or Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged and Displaced Workers must be implemented and made operational efficiently and should cover the entire affected workforce.
- Treatment should be made readily available at cost to the government, in cases of confirmed COVID cases. Mass testing should be conducted in all areas as a prevention and containment measure. There is emerging evidence of best practices from other countries on how testing can be ramped up and scaled up. If a house to house approach is necessary, then it should be done
- Mass disinfection should be undertaken in areas where people usually congregate including terminals, government offices, public transport, courts. In the spirit of bayanihan, the people should be mobilized in the effort. All those part of the drive should be medically equipped. The government to must ensure the protection of the frontline workers by providing them the necessary gears and apparatuses for protection and also access to free transportation services.
- Checkpoints must be supervised by health professionals who are trained to respond when there are cases of suspected COVID carriers. Remember that any potential carrier should NOT be treated like criminal offenders. We are confronting a health crisis, not a military problem. Extreme compassion should be exercised at all times.
- Congress must appropriate additional funds for the response. To fund these initiatives, the existing calamity funds, MOOE of concerned government institutions including schools, courts, among others must be maximized. The interventions should not be debt-creating given that the government intends to access loans from international financial institutions.
- A moratorium on payment of mortgages, interests on loans, and financial obligations including payment of utilities and household bills, waiving of rentals, and the like, should be enforced. Filipino families must be un-burdened with these obligations at a time when the preoccupation should be prevention, containment and treatment.
- Community level citizens desks should be set up as a feedback, grievance, and action mechanism. Support must be prepared and provided for the psychosocial wellbeing of our fellow Filipinos, on an individual, family, and community level, as this will be an urgent need in the coming days and weeks.
- The Government should speak in a unified voice. If DOH is the lead agency that should oversee the enhanced lockdown, they must be the sole source for information and direction to avoid confusion and miscommunication. Hourly updates, as to the progress of the intervention, must be communicated by health experts and experienced science communicators who should be the ones holding the press conferences.
Again, united with our Bishops, we continually entrust our country to our compassionate God: “In this time of crisis let us put our trust in the Lord who accompanies and strengthens our faith. May He open our hearts to help those in need and move us to genuine compassion for our brothers and sisters who suffer.”
City of Manila
March 18, 2020
Living Laudato Si’ Philippines is part of the Eco-Convergence convened by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (CBCP-NASSA) / Caritas Philippines
(Graphics source: Pixabay.com)