Duterte must address the people’s medical and economic demands

Days after the state’s scheduled mass testing, the people is yet to see drastic improvements in the Duterte government’s response to the pandemic. Financial and food aids are still reported to be inaccessible to the general public. Duterte’s incompetence has enraged the Filipino people with his failed promise and outright neglect to the lack of a comprehensive medical and social plan in battling COVID-19.

Despite having weeks of preparation for the April 14 mass testing plan of the government, data from the country’s health ministry reports the incapacity to actively conduct massive testing for PUIs and PUMs. Recent reports for April show that only 36,000 Filipinos are tested for the virus. Worse, persons under monitoring (PUMs) are excluded from the DOH list of priority individuals for testing.

The Philippines has already exceeded the 5,000 mark for COVID-positive patients, the highest in Southeast Asia with a death toll of more than 300 people. Compared to neighboring countries, the number of tested individuals are limited to a small population and is severely underreported.

According to the Department of Health, this country lacks the sufficient number of laboratories and testing kits to conduct tests nationwide. Local government units are gripped to conduct mass tastings and intensified medical programs at the absence of a national testing plan. As of this writing, only 15 subnational laboratories can conduct COVID-19 tests while 28 are currently undergoing laboratory certification. Provincial and municipal offices in the nation’s capital, Southern Tagalog, and even in Visayas called out the administration for the lack of mass testing.

Why is mass testing important?

Mass testing is necessary in order to formulate national and local action plans against COVID-19. International practices have shown that mass texting, quick isolation, and accessible medical services are key in decreasing the number of deaths and increasing the number of recoveries. Moreover, economic activities can only be resumed if the country’s medical response can keep up with the spread of the virus.

Duterte focused his efforts in implementing an ineffective blanket lockdown that violated people’s democratic right with incompetent military men at its helm. Even the National Action Plan is to be executed by former generals of the armed forces.

Neoliberal policies worsened PH healthcare

Over the past few weeks, the health crisis exposed the Duterte regime’s ineffectiveness in handling the national public health emergency and the moribund policies that dominate the system for health and basic services in the country.

Through loan conditionalities brought by foreign direct investments, aids and loan programs from multilateral institutions, the reactionary government had allowed neoliberal reforms to treat healthcare and other basic services as products in the market rather than as a fundamental human right. At the expense of the Filipino people’s lives and well-being, that state allowed the transformation of our healthcare system into a huge corporate venture with the primary aim of generating large amount of profit for big corporations.

The reactionary government have allowed the privatization of hospitals, market-driven production of medicines, and deregulated business schemes for corporate healthcare. Continuous cuts in funding have allowed and justified the penetration of commercial interest into public services instead of developing the country’s hospitals and health structures.

Since 1990, more than 30 national and regional hospitals underwent and are undergoing privatization through corporatization. Primarily under the regime of the neoliberal stalwart Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, corporations were allowed to acquire stocks and were allowed to own, manage, and profit from state assets such as hospitals, pharmacies and laboratories. The National Heart Center, National Kidney Institute, and the National Lung Center are some examples of corporatized assets for the money-making of huge companies.

With these schemes, healthcare in the country becomes inaccessible to 90% of poor Filipinos. With the current population, a doctor in the country is responsible for 33,000 patients. Most health workers are also enticed to work overseas due to grave working conditions. Nurses, doctors, medical technicians, and even hospital staff work for more than their regular work hours a day, receiving meager wages and no hazard pay. They are also not exempted from inhumane neoliberal practices imposed by foreign nations such as contractualization and the lack of a national minimum wage.

In addition, medical education in the country comes at a high cost. An average college degree would require P30,000-P60,000 in tuition fees alone for a semester, while studying medicine will cost around P30,000-P60,000 for public schools and an average P100,000 for private schools each semester.

Comprehensive, sufficient, and immediate health and economic measures for the people

Neoliberal policies paved the way for the catastrophe that the country is experiencing right now. Duterte’s incompetent handling of this pandemic and his militaristic solutions formulated and implemented by his Interagency Task Force will only cause further damage and threaten the lives of the Filipino people.

The only way to resolve our country’s COVID-19 problem is to put forward a comprehensive, sufficient, and immediate health and economic measures for the people grounded on primary needs in order to curb the spread of the virus.

Duterte must heed the demands of the entire nation to swiftly act on the implementation of mas testing in order to gauge the extent and spread of the virus. It is also of utmost importance to provide ample support and funding for research, training, and developing practices in battling COVID-19. Personal protective equipment, testing kits, and other materials needed in battling COVID-19 must also be prioritized by the regime.

Moreover, state support in the form of financial aids to workers, peasants, and professionals must be given right away. Duterte’s lockdown, without these aid, will only hinder the people’s access to basic goods and intensify the people’s unrest. These demands are necessary to encourage lesser mobility.

Health workers must also be given ample wage increase and hazard pay instead of focusing salary increase of military personnel alone. COVID-19 testing must also be administered to health workers to ensure their safety as frontliners in these pandemic. Job security must be prioritized in order to encourage more health workers to stay and serve the country.

Hospitals, laboratories, and other health-related institutions should be nationalized by the state especially those that would play key role in handling the national emergency. Public hospitals must be given increased support in order to establish health infrastructures that are inclined to treat people’s sickness as a priority, and not for profit.

Despite the powers to realign public funds, Duterte’s budget for handling COVID-19 proved to be insufficient and inutile. The distribution of aid is delayed in most parts of the country while some are not compensated. Duterte is given a proposal to cancel debt payments but his neoliberal advisers stand against it — proving their obedience to colonial impositions of US and China. Duterte has not yet touched the budget for OPLAN Tokhang, for the National Task Force and the Presidential funds and even Chinas; debt trap under Build, Build, Build.

As days go by, President Duterte has continuously isolated himself from the Filipino people. Even when presented with scientific and mass-oriented propositions in handling COVID-19, Duterte addresses the public with threats, fear, and repression. He desperately latches on his band-aid iron hand solutions to fool the Filipinos while hunger and inaccessibility to medical services shows the deleterious conditions under his regime. The Filipinos can depend on our collective strength to fight for the people’s demands and intensify our efforts against the spread from the pandemic. We must unite in drumbeating the public’s demand for medical services, food, and financial aid. The people and the entire revolutionary movement will stand united to defeat this pandemic and execute his removal from office brought by his tyranny, incompetence, and negligence.

Read about the national democratic perspective on pressing issues — from the Kabataang Makabayan National Spokesperson.