Karapatan: Address distress signal of frontliners by scrapping IATF’s militarist leadership and strategies

Imposing a two-week “modified enhanced community quarantine”(MECQ) on Metro Manila and other provinces “would still yield the already failed results of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic” if the “anti-people leadership” of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) is not replaced, human rights alliance Karapatan asserted.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated that “urgently and truly acting on the calls of our healthcare workers and medical professionals should primarily involve heeding their calls for the government to recalibrate its strategies. Foremost of the ways by which this can be done is by scrapping its ineffective militarist and punitive approach in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Our frontliners are already calling a spade a spade: we are fighting a losing battle against the pandemic. This is a damning indictment of the government’s failed response to the pandemic. We have said this time and time again: a quarantine is a public health measure that requires comprehensive medical and socioeconomic solutions to curb the spread of the pandemic and address its impact on people’s livelihood, but what did the IATF do? They wasted months in distorting the application of a quarantine by turning it into a mere cover for the curtailment of people’s rights and civil liberties — at the expense of both our healthcare workers and the poor,” Palabay said.

Last Saturday, August 1, thousands of healthcare workers and medical professionals released an open letter to President Rodrigo Duterte and the IATF to send a “distress signal to the nation” and to call for the refinement of government’s strategies in combating and controlling the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, and address, in particular, the problems of hospital workforce deficiency, failures in testing that have hindered effective contract tracing, isolation, and treatment, transportation and workplace safety, public compliance with self-protection, and the provision of social amelioration for affected families.

The Karapatan official continued that “amid the ballooning number of COVID-19 cases, overwhelmed hospital and health workers, and generally worsening situation of hunger, poverty and distress of the people, the government’s decisions to impose or lift ‘quarantine’ measures for the past months have been and are being glaringly not made with the people’s welfare in mind — and what do we expect? Instead of competent public health experts, the IATF is being lorded over by bloodthirsty militarists with records of human rights violations and bureaucrat ‘czars’ who have only blamed the people and not themselves for this pandemonium of a crisis that we are now in.”

“The IATF’s distorted application of quarantines would only replicate and continue the same haphazard results — and healthcare workers need to reclaim the quarantine from the clutches of the militarists and bureaucrats in the IATF and their failed, unscientific, and anti-poor response to the pandemic. A true medical quarantine isn't a punitive lockdown criminalizing dissent and the poor; it should be scientific, pro-people, and seeks to uphold the people’s right to health by protecting the safety of our healthcare workers as well ensuring the provision of adequate aid and free medical services to the people. We need a change in leadership by letting competent public health experts take the lead — as it should have been in the first place,” the Karapatan officer ended.