On the evening of March 15, the national government enforced a “community quarantine” in Metro Manila as COVID-19 cases increased day by day. Two days after the proclamation, the whole of Luzon was placed in an “Enhanced Community Quarantine” as a heightened containment measure against the virus.
The order entailed the deployment of armed, uniformed men in designated checkpoints to check and control the number of people entering and exiting the area.
Photo from Twitter
While this is an upstanding measure to prevent the further spread of the disease, majority of the public were appalled with the directive and immediately called on the government to improve the measure using the hashtag #SolusyongMedikalHindiMilitar.
The call had been a subject of criticisms and debates for days and had stirred quite a commotion in social media. Some took the call literally, implying that it meant that medical workers should be at the checkpoints instead of the uniformed men.
Photo from Twitter
But this is not what the call is about. On the contrary, the statement #SolusyongMedikalHindiMilitar implies that:
IT IS NOT ABOUT BEING LITERAL. The military is important to keep the number of people at bay. The call does not discredit the fact that they have a substantial role in the fight against the virus. What is alarming, however, is to see them unequipped with the proper supplies and apparel.
If the goal was to identify and bring people who are manifesting the symptoms of the disease into isolation, then it would be more sensible to have them be equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, face shields, and non-contact thermal scanners than military equipment like guns and rifles.
The virus is easily transmittable and the safety of these people at the frontlines should be considered and should be the utmost priority.
THE PUBLIC NEEDS WORKABLE, FEASIBLE, AND TANGIBLE PLANS OF ACTION. Beyond merely imposing quarantine to over 57 Million residents in Luzon, the statement calls for the government to draft, present, and execute workable, feasible, and tangible plans of action to not only contain the virus but to also address the needs of the affected individuals.
Aside from instructing residents to stay inside their homes, it is imperative for the national government to address the basic needs of the individuals throughout the duration of the quarantine – that is, among others, food, financial help especially for contractual and minimum-wage workers, and temporary shelters for the homeless.
THE HEALTHCARE SYSTEM NEEDS SUFFICIENT FUNDING. The health sector of the country has received multiple budget cuts through the years.
According to a Philippine Star report, budget statements showed that President Rodrigo Duterte reduced the Department of Health’s (DOH’s) budget from P125 Billion in 2016 to P94 Billion in 2017. Funding for the maintenance and operating expenses of the DOH was cut from P75.1 Billion to P38.9 Billion, and the allocation for capital expenditures – like clinics and hospitals – was cut from P27.6 Billion to P25.2 Billion.
At present, it has been documented that the budget for the health department was increased from P165.92 Billion in 2019 to P172.37 Billion in 2020. Furthermore, it has been reported that, in the final version of the 2020 national budget approved on January 6, 2020, the DOH Office of the Secretary received P100.56 Billion and PhilHealth’s budget also increased to P71.35 Billion.
Although a recent directive prompted the government economic team to roll out an additional P27.1 Billion package of priority actions to fund for the healthcare system, to help the front liners, and to address the needs of the people amid the outbreak, the funds were misappropriated.
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the health services sector needs sufficient funding for the procurement of PPE, medical supplies, testing kits, for research purposes, and for setting up spaces and places that can be used to isolate persons-under-investigation (PUIs) and persons-under-monitoring (PUMs).
MEDICAL WORKERS SHOULD BE WELL COMPENSATED. In a previous report, the DOH called for medical workers, experts, and professionals to “volunteer” at a P500 per day compensation. The public berated the health agency for seemingly undermining and, ultimately, exploiting the medical workers.
The statement entails that our team of medical experts and professionals should be empowered, prioritized, given importance, and be well-compensated as they are at the forefront of tending to the people amid the outbreak – a risky and hazardous role amid the crisis.
This means that they should be given the care that they need – may it be transportation arrangements, sufficient PPE, or financial compensation.
In essence, the statement #SolusyongMedikalHindiMilitar simply calls on the government to treat the pandemic as a global health crisis and not an issue of peace and order. The statement simply calls on the government to act fast – and act accordingly – to contain the threat. The statement simply calls on the government to prioritize what is important in this time of need.The statement simply calls on the government to empower our healthcare and medical workers.
Effective quarantine, intensive medical action, and extensive testing are the essential for tackling the virus.
To quote World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward, “ To actually stop the virus, [China] had to do rapid testing of any suspect case, immediate isolation of anyone who was a confirmed or suspected case, and then quarantine the close contacts for 114 days so that they could figure out if any of them were infected. Those were the measures that stopped transmission in China, not the big travel restrictions and lockdowns.”
At the end of the day, we all have a common goal in mind – contain and eliminate the threat of the virus. Every one’s duty amid this global pandemic is of utmost importance. But beyond simply acknowledging the role we have during these trying times and beyond simply being haphazard in planning and executing preventive measures is the importance of being smart and strategic in handling such crises.