[OPINION] It’s our dissent that will save us

Source: Rappler
Author: Teddy Casiño

Stay home. Be quiet. We’re on it. Just wait. Help will come. Trust us. Do as you’re told or else.

These, in a nutshell, were the key messages pounded on the public by President Rodrigo Duterte and his officials in the 3 weeks that the entire Luzon and other parts of the country have been on lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

But each message seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Many people have been going out, speaking out, challenging government’s response to the crisis and overcoming the limits set by the lockdown. This is certainly not a bad thing.

The outrage over the government’s late and tepid response to the COVID-19 threat started in late January, following Duterte’s initial refusal to impose a travel ban from China despite mounting evidence that travelers were spreading the virus outside Wuhan. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told senators that the travel ban was a “very tricky and difficult issue” due to diplomatic and political repercussions. As late as January 24, tourists from Wuhan were still arriving in droves in Boracay.

Duterte’s stubborn deference to China was roundly criticized in mainstream and social media. The public outrage gave rise to the hashtag #OustDuterte which trended on Twitter on Janurary 31, the same day government finally imposed the travel ban.


Later on, again kowtowing to China, Duterte imposed a travel ban on Taiwan despite its low incidence of infection and absence of local transmission. The public uproar initiated by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and Taiwan’s threat to retaliate forced Duterte to rescind his illogical order.

Downplaying the threat

After the travel ban fiasco, Duterte and his officials spent the next 3 weeks giving assurances that government was on top of the situation and that the country’s health system was well prepared for the pandemic. On February 4, Duque announced that Duterte had “approved in principle” P2.25 billion for personal protective equipment (PPEs) for 5,000 health workers. He also claimed on February 29 that the country had enough testing facilities to accommodate the expected surge in Covid-19 cases.

“We are prepared to handle this public health emergency in case the worst scenario happens,” Duterte told media on February 10, threatening to slap the virus and calling it “gago.”

It was obvious that the threat of a local outbreak was being belittled by no less than the President. At one point, he even ridiculed the safety protocols issued by the Department of Health (DOH), insisting on shaking hands and holding public meetings.

Cabinet sings same tune

The President’s attitude rubbed off on his officials.

On February 18, more than two weeks after the first reported Covid-19 case in the country, tourism secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat announced the government’s plan to promote tourism despite public concern over the disease. “It’s safe to come to our country. No local transmission (of Covid-19) and the hotels and restaurants are ready,” she declared in a vain hope to spur local tourism and bring in guests from South Korea, the US, Australia, Japan and Europe.

Two days later, she also announced the holding of a nationwide mall sale from March 1-31 – dubbed the 2020 Philippine Shopping Festival – to promote the country as a “fun, unique and affordable shopping destination.”

As late as March 9, despite the DOH’s declaration of a Code Red Sub-Level 1 alert and Duterte’s declaration of a public health emergency due to confirmed cases of local transmission, the President was still in a state of denial, announcing plans to visit Boracay with Romulo to encourage local tourism.

In contrast to Duterte’s nonchalance and in spite of Duque’s assurances that the DOH was ready and equipped to handle the threat, many health experts and professionals, policy makers, health workers organizations and concerned citizens persistently aired their doubts about the health system’s readiness to address the pandemic.

Of particular concern was the minimal testing and contact tracing being done, the shortage of face masks and other PPEs for health workers, the lack of quarantine and treatment facilities, including trained personnel. Critics noted the P147.4 million reduction in the DOH’s budget for disease surveillance as well as the P6 billion cut in its Health Systems Strengthening Program. Many demanded an immediate rechanneling of funds and resources to upgrade public hospitals and even baranggay health facilties for the expected local outbreak. The many issues and concerns raised by government critics forced the public to take a hard look at government’s response to the health crisis. It forced a healthy debate that extended into the corridors of power. But all we got were more assurances that everything was being addressed.

Lockdown, emergency powers

The March 12 announcement of a lockdown confirmed our worst fears about government’s unpreparedness and lack of a comprehensive plan to address COVID-19.

The first meeting of the Inter Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) chaired by Duque was held on January 28, more than 20 days after China confirmed the corona virus outbreak. But for the next 4 weeks, the body overseeing the government’s comprehensive response to Covid-19 focused its attention on travel restrictions and quarantine protocols for foreign travelers and returning Filipinos, leaving all health matters to the DOH.

Unfortunately, just like Duterte, the DOH itself appeared to have underestimated the threat. On Febrary 28, Duque even announced that the number of persons under investigation (PUIs) in the country was decreasing, with those found negative of COVID-19 on the rise.

The DOH reported having no new cases for two consecutive weeks, earning a citation from the World Health Organization (WHO). Duque later admitted to Congress that he should have declared a public health emergency much earlier than the President’s March 8 declaration.

By this time, the number of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases was rising steeply by the day. Hospitals were reaching full capacity. Apparently the low number of confirmed cases in the country was due to the low number of tests being done and the negligible effort at tracing possible COVID-19 carriers. As a result, the DOH could not determine the actual extent of community infection. And even if it did, there were no quarantine centers to accommodate suspected carriers of the virus.

In a desperate move to contain the virus’ spread, Duterte adopted the IATF’s recommendation to subject the entire Metro Manila area to a lockdown by March 15. This caused widespread panic buying, a mass exodus from Metro Manila, massive traffic jams and throngs of stranded commuters trying to get in the next day, defeating the quarantine’s objective.

Finally, on March 16, Duterte expanded the lockdown to the entire Luzon Island, creating new and bigger problems on top of existing ones.

The lockdown measures aimed to impose strict social distancing protocols and limits on the movement of persons. But it was utterly lacking in health measures and steps to mitigate the lockdown’s impact on the economy and people’s livelihoods.

For two weeks, no one could give a straight answer on how many PPEs would be acquired by government, when, and how they would be distributed. No one could explain why VIPs were being tested yet ordinary PUIs were not. Nobody knew the protocols and mechanisms for putting up quarantine centers. And it seemed local government units (LGUs) were being left on their own to address the people’s health needs as well as the economic needs of those dislocated by the lockdown.

Worse, Duterte was asking for a draconian emergency powers law that was unnecessary and did not categorically address the many gaps in his government’s response to the crisis. With the lockdown in place, people took to social media to air their objections and suggestions.

The hashtags #NoToEmergencyPowers and #DuterteResign trended highly on Twitter in the run-up to Congress’ Mar. 24 special session to act on the measure.

Fortunately, Congress was listening. It struck down the unconstitutional provisions of the draft bill and tempered some draconian features. The Senate in particular put in clear and definite measures regarding the budget and the various health and socio-economic measures to address the crisis.

From dissent to concrete action

By the time Duterte imposed the lockdown on Luzon, groups and individuals critical of the government’s response took to social media not only to pressure the government to act on their demands but to organize networks to meet those needs without government help. Criticism and protest had turned into concrete action, whether by the critics or the objects of their criticism.

Powerful hashtags like #MassTestingNowPH, #NoToVIPTesting and #ProtectFrontliners captured the demands of a disgruntled public, resulting in changes in the way government has responded to Covid-19.

Likewise, hashtags like #TanongNgTaongBayan and #NasaanAngAyuda captured the demands for urgency and transparency with regards to government’s response to the people’s health and socio-economic needs, providing much needed pressure for government to act. The sense of protest and outrage over government inaction and incompetence has spurred ordinary citizens to use social media to creatively fill the gaps in providing food, transportation and PPEs to health workers; giving relief packs to poor families and vulnerable communities; and even raising bail for those arrested during the lockdown.

As always, social media’s backlash to Duterte’s fascist moves was immediate and fierce. A few minutes after Duterte’s April 2 rant where he ordered the police and baranggay tanods to shoot quarantine violators if they felt threatened, the hashtag #OustDuterteNow trended, gathering almost half a million tweets until the wee hours of the morning.

The next day, the President was compelled to clarify his pronouncements.

What all this indicates is that in the time of Covid-19, dissent is not only healthy. Given government’s bungling, militarist response to the crisis, it is our dissent that will save us. – Rappler.com




Demand Just Treatment for Grand Princess Workers Stranded on Coronavirus-Stricken Cruise Ship

We hold Princess Cruises responsible for the death of a Filipino crew member of the Grand Princess ship who died from COVID-19 on April 1 in a hospital in San Francisco, CA. Like other crew members and passengers, this worker was denied adequate access to full testing, humane treatment, and safe quarantine, all which might have prevented this catastrophe.

Hundreds of mostly foreign-born workers remain stranded on the coronavirus-stricken Grand Princess ship since it journeyed back to the San Francisco Bay Area and docked in Oakland, CA on March 9, 2020, after an outbreak of COVID-19 infections was confirmed. Although passengers and crew members were evacuated when the ship docked, over 600 workers remained on board when it pushed back out from port and remained in the SF Bay. This was despite the fact that, by March 21, seventeen percent of all the passengers who were tested for coronavirus returned positive results.

Princess Cruises’ management of the coronavirus outbreak has been a clear and egregious violation of its responsibility as an employer to protect its workers, and it acted counter to public health best practices and scientific guidelines. Read more about the failure of Princess Cruises’ failure to protect workers.

Help amplify the voices of these workers who are demanding COVID-19 testing & treatment, repatriation to their home countries, compensation for lost wages, and transparency from Princess Cruises by signing this petition and sharing it with your networks.

Our demands:

Princess Cruises has thus far resisted all calls for transparency regarding any measures it has supposedly taken to guarantee crew members’ safety, and, because of this lack of transparency, we cannot be sure that workers are safe from harm amidst the current pandemic. Workers continue to face a high risk of exposure and infection until they are disembarked and provided testing, medical care, and safe quarantine. We demand that Princess Cruises take the necessary immediate action to preserve the health, safety, and well-being of its workers on all of its ships, including:

  1. Disembarking, testing, and humanely treating all workers. All workers must be tested, and not just screened for symptoms; and that testing must be paid for by Princess Cruises. Those who test positive must be given proper treatment and documentation of the treatment, and those who test negative must be provided the documentation proving negative test status.
  2. Providing all workers with comprehensive medical and mental health services Workers should be provided access to a social worker and full psychiatric and medical evaluations and treatment to address their mental and physical health concerns upon disembarking, especially after being quarantined on a contaminated ship with limited to no contact with their families, their union representation, and the outside world throughout this traumatic experience.
  3. Providing safe housing accommodations. Disturbingly, the San Francisco Port Commission has indicated that workers may continue to be housed on the ship. We believe that all workers (non-essential and essential) should be removed from the ship, per WHO guidelines, and provided temporary housing in a local hotel, paid for by Princess Cruises, throughout the duration of their quarantine and their process of returning to their home countries, until they reach their own homes safely and completely healthy.  
  4. Compensating workers for lost wages for their full contracted term, ensuring financial and job security. According to their Collective Bargaining Agreement, seafarers are entitled to additional compensation specified in the event of an unexpected termination of their voyage or contract. Princess Cruises needs to honor all its commitments to its workers whose contracted work will be terminated prematurely by this public health crisis. Beyond that, Princess Cruises should provide hazard pay for work conducted while on board infected ships, and any and all additional compensation needed to restore the workers’ being “fit to work.” Princess Cruises should not discriminate in the rehiring and recontracting of these workers when the industry restores its cruise operations.
  5. Covering all costs attendant to repatriating workers to their countries of origin. After providing testing and humane treatment, Princess Cruises must work with the workers’ home countries to repatriate the workers, and cover the cost, as expeditiously as possible.
  6. Decommissioning the ship and having it disinfected by professionals with proper protection and equipment in accordance with World Health Organization guidelines.
  7. Transparency on its management of the COVID-19 outbreak. Princess Cruises must divulge its process of testing workers, answer to why workers were kept on the ship despite official recommendations to disembark all people on cruise ships, and, share its supposed outbreak management plan, with confirmation from workers that outbreak management training was provided, and a sanitation certificate.

In solidarity,

Migrante NorCal

ASATA (Alliance of South Asians Taking Action)

NAFCON (National Alliance for Filipino Concerns)

PAWIS (People’s Association for Workers and Immigrants)

FCC (Filipino Community Center)

ABSF (Anakbayan SF)

Filipinx Health Initiative SF

League of Filipino Students – SFSU

Equality Labs

Police arrest hungry protesters in Quezon City

Source: Kodao Productions

Twenty-one protesting and hungry Quezon City residents were arrested Tuesday morning, April 1, the incident earning swift condemnation from the urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay).

Residents of Sitio San Roque, Barangay Bagong Pag-Asa, reportedly members of the group Sandigan ng Maralitang Nagkakaisa (SaMaNa) held a protest action along Epifanio delos Santos Avenue and were violently dispersed by the Quezon City Police Department.

Although not affliated with their group, Kadamay said the SaMaNa protesters were calling for food and social services amid the corona virus disease (Covid-19) lockdown imposed on the whole Luzon island by the Rodrigo Duterte government.

Kadamay said the protesters have yet to be given food and other aid promised by the government in imposing the lockdown since March 15.

In a DZRH report, the arresting officers were heard to have repeatedly accused the protesters of being “hard-headed” for refusing to stay indoors.

Kadamay however clarified the residents’ protest action was a spontaneous demonstration “rooted in the growing discontent, hunger and frustration at the lack of aid from government.”

The urban poor group urged that instead of responding with violence and arrests, the government should solve grave deficiencies in handling the crisis it says affect the poor as the most vulnerable sector in the country.

“Instead of listening to pleas about the lack of services, the poor are being subjected to violence and arrest. We should instead ask, why is there no help being given to the poor?” Kadamay chairperson Gloria Arellano said.

Arellano said such protest actions are bound to happen if the government insists on a militarist response to the pandemic instead of focusing on social services.

She stressed that it is the primary task of the national government to address the urgent need for food, sanitation, medical services and other basic needs during the pandemic, adding that the Duterte administration continues to pass on the burden to many ill equipped local government units while avoiding outlining a concrete plan apart from the lockdown.

Kadamay said it will do everything it can to help in the negotiations for the release of the arrested.

The group also revealed it is operating community kitchens and relief operations in several poor communities in and outside Metro Manila, adding however that these activities are limited in scope.

Kadamay said it remains the responsibility of the government to address the needs of the people during the emergency. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Quarantined crew from California ship demands for more tests, health workers

 

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 27) — The Filipino crew members who were rescued from a coronavirus-hit cruise in California raised several concerns as their 14-day quarantine in Tarlac nears its end. This includes a need to conduct more COVID-19 tests and to deploy more health workers to their facilities.

The crew sent a letter to the government on Friday, urging that all of its members be tested for COVID-19 before their scheduled return to their families on March 29.

“If the politicians and their families are able to avail of testing, then we, who were exposed continuously to COVID-19 for a long time, need and deserve the testing even more,” the letter stated.

The letter was addressed to President Rodrigo Duterte, Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), Department of Health and Magsaysay Maritime Corporation at Princess Cruises.

“While in quarantine, only our temperature is being checked, and testing remains random and unsystematic,” the crew complained.

Over 400 Filipinos, most of whom are crew members, arrived in the country on March 16 from the MV Grand Princess, which was docked off the coast of California after a passenger onboard a previous trip died due to COVID-19.

The evacuees have since been on quarantine in the Athlete’s Village in New Clark City.

“It’s also essential to send more of our hardworking frontline health workers to care for us here,” the letter also said.

The crew also expressed concern how they will return to their respective provinces given the Luzon-wide quarantine.

“At this time we do not know where we will go after the quarantine,” they wrote. “There should be a clear plan so that we can go back home to our families.”

The evacuees also appealed for financial and livelihood assistance as well as help for those who were left behind in the ship.

PAWIS Joins the Fair Workplace Collaborative (FWC) of Santa Clara County’s Office of Labor Standard and Enforcement (OLSE)

The OLSE of Santa Clara County launched its Labor Standards Outreach and Education Initiative in September 2019. The initiative is a robust public engagement campaign throughout Santa Clara County with the mission to inform workers and business of their rights and responsibilities as well as deliver support and individualized services to those seeing assistance to resolve potential claims or existing judgements. OLSE contracts with the member organizations of the Fiar Workplace Collaborative to provide this outreach and education. The services include (10 OLSE Attorney Staffed Advice Line; (2) Workers’ Rights Trainings and Clinics; (3) Business Outreach and Education; and (4) individualized services for workers and businesses.

The formation of the FWC is to assist the OLSE in its mission to extend workers protections across the County, increase the effectiveness of existing County and local protections, and help Santa Clara County be a national leader in addressing labor abuses is of critical importance to advancing the economic and social well-being of the County as a whole. According to national studies the average low-wage worker lose approximately $2,643–or 15% of their earnings — each year because of wage theft because of wage theft. The majority of these wages were stolen by failing to pay minimum wage or overtime, failing to provide breaks, and requiring unpaid, off-the-clock work.

The FWC is comprised of Working Partnerships-USA, Step Forward Foundation, PAWIS, Day Worker Center of Mountain View, Vietnamese American Round table, Enterprise Foundation/Silicon Valley Small Business Development Center and the Latino Business Council of Silicon Valley

Labor Unions, Port Workers, Filipino Advocates Rally Together In Support of 500+ Filipino Grand Princess Cruise Ship Workers Amidst Covid-19 Scare

Contact: Terry Valen, terrencevalen@yahoo.com, National Alliance for Filipino Concerns

                Nap Pempeña, info@migranteusa.org, Migrante USA

On Saturday, March 14, 2020, Migrante Northern California and National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) joined several Bay Area based labor unions and workers advocates for a press conference raising concern about the treatment and well-being of the more than 500 Filipino seafarers aboard the Grand Princess Cruise Ship, as well as the thousands of passengers who were at risk of exposure to a Covid-19 outbreak on the ship. The Grand Princess Cruise Ship, which was anchored 10 miles off the coast of SF was finally allowed to dock at the Port of Oakland on March 9 and remained there until Sunday, March 15. 

Health experts already decried the example of the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, where so many more passengers and workers were infected than needed to be, by quarantining them on a contaminated ship kept off the Japanese coast. 700 people tested positive for Covid-19 on the Diamond Princess, 80 of whom were Filipino crew members, and 6 people died from their exposure. 

While measures to disembark passengers were immediately attended to, the foreign workers of the cruise were kept aboard the ship. “Workers were being treated with less concern and dignity than the passengers who were disembarked first. There’s a need for transparency, cooperation, and government action for humanitarian relief and the health and safety of everyone – the passengers, the foreign workers, the port workers, and the surrounding community,”  said Terry Valen, President of NAFCON and Executive Director of the Filipino Community Center in San Francisco. 

Shortly after the press conference on Saturday afternoon, the Filipino workers were disembarked, screened, and repatriated back to the Philippines. “We’re relieved that the workers were able to finally leave the ship and go home,” said Nap Pempeña of Migrante-USA. “ The workers should receive appropriate and comprehensive medical and mental health services upon their return to the Philippines, and they should receive fair compensation and appropriate protection from lost wages based on their contract and their collective bargaining agreement (CBA) if applicable. With more ships expected to be infected and to dock all over the world, the Philippine government must be ready to receive and support repatriating Filipino seafarers.” 

There are close to half a million Filipino seafarers on cargo ships, cruise ships, fishing and other vessels on the seas at any given time, making up to a third of all crew members on maritime vessels. Forced to work abroad due to unemployment, dismal wages and crushing poverty in the Philippines, Filipino workers experience exploitation, harassment, discrimination and hazardous working conditions aboard. The contractual and seasonal nature of their work exacerbates their hardship as shipping companies, recruitment agencies and government agencies sometimes evade liability when seafarers’ rights are violated. 

The case of the Grand Princess Cruise Ship highlights the challenges faced by Filipinos and other seafarers in general and exacerbated by inadequate response to the Covid-19 health crisis. With the service workers on land and offshore crucial to the healthcare system and to the upkeep of commercial establishments, travel and tourism industry as well as other workplaces, their vulnerability to contracting the disease increases due to their nature of work requiring physical presence and constant contact with other people. 

As the crisis worsens and deals negative impacts on various industries, workers will need not just access to healthcare, but also economic support to sustain themselves and their families.