In the current public health emergency of COVID-19 outbreak marked by an atmosphere of fear, panic, and confusion, there is one reality that becomes clearer, more visible, and more real every day: there is a wide gap between the rich and the poor. In a time of crisis, when everyone is vulnerable, the poor is way more vulnerable to the immediate and attendant threats to public health and their economic impact.
Yesterday, the president declared that a Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine would be implemented as the reported number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continues to rise. The declaration means suspension of mass transportation, restricted movement of people, closure of business establishments – leaving only the essential sectors of banking and retail for the provision of food and health essentials, and increased presence of uniformed personnel to maintain peace and order.
The declarations of community quarantine for Metro Manila, and subsequently, of enhanced community quarantine for the whole of Luzon resulted in the huddling of people in key entry and exit points throughout Metro Manila, virtually rendering the guidelines to observe social distancing and to restrict forming in large crowds ineffective.
This picture is an indication of a deeper national problem: the lack of safety nets for the poor and the vulnerable.
The ones who have enough resources can properly observe the prescribed precautionary measures and have access to basic necessities that will allow them to survive for weeks to come while on community quarantine.
For the poor, it is altogether a different story. For the poor, the daily wage earners, those who are part of the informal economy, or those who are employed by small businesses who could not survive prolonged inactivity, suspension of work, suspension of mass transportation, and social distancing could mean hunger. Social distancing may not even be imaginable, let alone observable, for those who live in poor communities where the requirements of proper hygiene, space, and access to healthcare are a luxury. For many Filipinos, precautionary measures like staying at home and social distancing are another privilege they cannot afford.
This unprecedented public health emergency calls for fast and meaningful action from stakeholders. The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) urges all to follow precautionary measures if they can, and for key government agencies and local government units to prioritize the marginalized and most vulnerable, particularly in the provision of health services and financial assistance. We also call for the dutiful observance of the rule of law in the enforcement of enhanced community quarantine.
The current predicament also reminds us of the need to enact long overdue laws that will uplift the quality of life of Filipinos so that they will not be helpless in times of crisis. Security of Tenure and Magna Carta of Workers in the Informal Economy, for instance, are bills that seek to protect the rights of workers and provide social protection for those who are informally employed. This situation also calls for a review of laws that protect small and medium enterprises from the shocks of unexpected crises.
In the wake of this public health emergency, may legislators set their eyes on the crafting of laws that will improve governance and strengthen the government’s response to possible similar health crises in the future – providing safety nets for the public, especially for the vulnerable and marginalized populations.