Filipinos voice frustration over Duterte’s handling of COVID-19 crisis

Filipinos voice frustration over Duterte’s handling of COVID-19 crisis
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte talks to members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines. (File/AP)
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Updated 28 March 2021

Filipinos voice frustration over Duterte’s handling of COVID-19 crisis

Filipinos voice frustration over Duterte’s handling of COVID-19 crisis
  • Follows government’s move to place Metro Manila and four provinces under the strictest lockdown amid a massive spike in COVID-19 cases
  • Nearly 25 million Filipinos are affected by the strictest quarantine status

MANILA: Filipinos took to social media over the weekend to vent their anger over the government’s move to place the nation’s capital and four surrounding provinces under the strictest lockdown for a week starting from Monday amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Close to a quarter of the country’s more than 100 million population, or nearly 25 million Filipinos, are affected by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the strictest quarantine status, which Malacanang announced on the eve of President Rodrigo Duterte’s birthday.
During his press briefing on Saturday, presidential spokesperson, Harry Roque, said that Duterte had approved the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases’ (IATF-EID) recommendation to place Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, and Laguna under the ECQ until April 4.
“We want to take drastic measures because there’s a drastic threat. Drastic threats warrant a drastic response,” Roque said, adding that the use of major hospitals, particularly in Metro Manila, was at a critical level due to the daily increase in COVID-19 cases.
On Sunday, the Department of Health (DoH) reported 9,475 new coronavirus infections across the country, bringing the total tally to 721,892 with 11 new deaths recorded, taking the fatality count to 13,170.
However, the DoH also reported 22,000 new recoveries, taking the total number of recovered patients to 605,154 since the start of the pandemic.
Experts from the University of the Philippines’ (UP) Octa Research Group have also proposed a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) for at least two weeks to break the transmission chains fueling the surge in cases and to prevent hospitals and health care workers from being overwhelmed.
In a radio interview on Saturday, Vice President Leni Robredo cited the example of a hospital where staff said they had started intubating patients in the parking lot due to a shortage of beds for COVID-19 cases.
“Right now, OCTA’s projection continues to be accurate. We are now witnessing longer queues for admissions, and the longer these patients wait for proper medical attention, the higher their risk of succumbing to this infection. We need to lower the health care utilization rate. We need a time out, and we need it now,” the Octa Research Group said in a statement.
“We are doing this to save lives and livelihoods. The longer we delay the implementation of stricter mobility restrictions, the more people will get sick and die from this surge,” it added.
Under the ECQ, movement is limited to essential activities, goods and services or work.
Public transport will continue, albeit with lower capacity, which the transportation department will determine and announce in the coming days, according to Roque.
The five areas will also be under a more extended curfew, starting from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m.
However, authorized persons outside of their residences, workers, cargo vehicles and public transportation are not covered by the curfew.  
Malls will remain open only for essential services such as groceries, pharmacies and hardware stores, while restaurants will be limited to take-out and delivery only.
Following Malacanang’s announcement on the reimposition of ECQ, many Filipinos took to social media to air their grievances over what they said was the Duterte administration’s “failure” and “incompetence” to address the COVID-19 health crisis more than a year since the outbreak, with hashtags #Duterte Resign, #DutertePalpak (Duterte is a Failure) trending over the weekend.
“Going back to ECQ again, while the other countries are going back to normal already,” Twitter user Stanlee Sanchez said. Christ Orozco, another user, added: “The President will leave Metro Manila, the epicenter of pandemic, after imposing ECQ to celebrate his birthday in Davao? Obviously wala na siyang pakialam sa Pilipinas (Obviously he no longer cares about the Philippines). The best way is to resign #DutertePalpak #DuterteResign.”
Another Twitter user, Jomarie Sauquillo, said: “Going back to ECQ again means incompetence of his government. We’re just following an unbreakable cycle.” He added: “It’s our right as Filipino citizens to complain and demand!!! #DuterteResign #DutertePalpak”
In a separate tweet, Kamil_Anne said: “After a year and trillions of debt, this is still what the government can come up with. #DuterteResign #DutertePalpak”
Meanwhile, Facebook user E.B. Cortez said: “Mr. President, you cannot solve a public health emergency of this magnitude by simply showing yourself on TV every Monday . . . Your policies, if ever there is one, are incomprehensible and confusing as your slurred and incoherent speeches. Your incompetence is beyond description. Your callous indifference brings death and suffering to the people . . . It’s time for you to go. Let the people be.”  
Cortez also ended his post with hashtags #DutertePalpak and #DuterteResign.
Experts and lawmakers also questioned the government’s handling of the pandemic.
IBON Foundation Executive Director Sonny Africa said: “Stopping people from working and taking your time vaccinating isn’t a COVID-19 response strategy — it’s making people suffer from incompetence or, worse, for some sinister agenda.”
In a statement released on Saturday, opposition Congressman and House Deputy Minority Leader Isagani Zarate said that placing Metro Manila and its four neighboring provinces again under ECQ “is a tacit admission by the administration that it failed, that it bungled big time the COVID pandemic crisis.”
“It is proof, too, of its calamitous failure to listen to the health experts early on,” he said, adding that “ECQ without free mass testing, aggressive contact tracing, effective and timely isolation and treatment, as well as a speedy vaccination rollout, would be repeating the same militarist, inefficient and highly ineffective lockdowns.”
Health workers, however, welcomed the decision to revert to the ECQ but urged the government to “do more” in addressing the COVID-19 crisis.
In a press briefing on Saturday night, Health Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) member and president of the Philippine College of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Pauline Convocar ,said that the measure was necessary as hospitals were currently swamped with COVID-19 patients.
However, she said: “The lockdown . . . is only temporary to control people’s mobility and prevent the spread of the virus,” before emphasising that “sustainable solutions are needed at the same time.”
Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, also a member of the HPAAC, said that “hopefully when we get by the end of the week, there will have been significant improvements so we won’t have to extend.”
To “future-proof” the government’s COVID-19 response, the group suggested that it: expand the One Hospital Command Center to turn it into a One COVID-19 referral network; provide an integrated response from contact tracing, testing, isolation, and treatment; ensure a fair and efficient vaccine rollout, which would hold non-priority individuals who had been inoculated accountable; ensure enough public transportation supply; and financial aid for people affected by the lockdown.
Duterte is expected to return to Manila on Monday to welcome more Sinovac vaccines from China.
Roque said that he had asked the national taskforce against COVID-19 to issue an exemption for the event, which takes place on the first day of the ECQ and bans public gatherings.