Residents at a depressed area in Brgy. Pasong Tamo, Quezon City on March 31. 2020, post a message at a barricade that reads “Gutom na Kami.” The residents said that they are still waiting help and relief goods from the LGU and the national government. Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

As Luzon marks its 36th day of lockdown a.k.a. community quarantine, the political and economic rights of the people are also under virulent atack. 

Pleas for economic relief for the marginalized households, calls for mass testing, appropriate health-based approach to the pandemic and adequate protection for frontliners, have not been fully, efficiently, timely and properly addressed by the national government. 

Worse, the government and some vocal and visible figures of this administration peddle, pass off or tolerate their own fake news and concocted narratives to create an image of being on top of the situation in addressing the pandemic. At the same time, it is tapping on its pawns with rifles and boots on the ground to sow terror and muzzle those who choose to see and expose the grim reality– that the deadly virus continues to claim lives and that the government by and large bungles and baffles through the crisis. 

Proof of this and straight from the horse’s mouth is the recent admission that the Duterte administration has yet to draw up concrete, orchestrated and comprehensive plans in addressing the pandemic, after a month’s implementation of the lockdown.

The more than 30-days lockdown has demonstrated just how bound and determined this administration, not in “flattening the curve” of COVID-19 cases, but at committing human rights violations with impunity along the way. It is hell-bent on “flattening” and dismissing criticisms on the glaring “double standards” in the implementation of its own lockdown policies, the real talk of growling stomachs, and the sound proposals of experts to cushion the economic impact of a dominantly militarist approach to the crisis.

We will never forget how the administration, through its combat-ready eager forces in uniform, to many a bigoted bureaucratic minion, to an arrogant local queen, down to an overzealous barangay tanod with a baston, used its iron fists on people with no big names by exposing them under the sun, keeping them in dog cages overnight, hauling them like scampering rats, mocking, humiliating and parading them, and sending them to already overcongested jails.

These, while invoking “compassion and understanding” to the entitled and a bunch of equally non-self-effacing government officials who broke lockdown rules with their posh parties, idiotic photo ops and multiple frontlining  at testing with their “VIP” advantage while valuable doctors and nurses die without really confirming what hit them.

We will always be reminded of how the administration’s mouthpieces flaunt its disregard of basic human rights by mass warrantless arrests for allegedly violating lockdown policies and misinforming the public that human rights are no longer honored amid the pandemic. We have noted how the government has mocked and continues to mock freedom of the press and information with their desperate efforts to tweak the number of COVID deaths and of people dying without being tested for the virus, with how medical frontliners go to battle without the prescribed personal protective equipment, with how people fighting the virus and their families shall defray medical expenses with PhilHealth’s limited coverage and the dire situation of our healthcare system overall; and now, their yet another frenzied attempt at besmirching the reputation of independent media outfits and all-time favorite “redtagging” of peoples’ organizations for reporting the real score on the ground and simply sending immediate relief to impoverished communities, as with the case of the Norzagaray 7. 

As the narrative shifts at conveniently and erroneously putting all the blame on arguably “hard-headed” poor people for the continued spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, there goes our late-night President Duterte again, with his recent threat of a “martial-law like crackdown” implementation of the lockdown. 

While threats of a martial law-like crackdown are certainly legally untenable and open to constitutional challenge and debate, this is something that should never be taken lightly as the administration’s henchmen in uniform have already continued to cause human rights violations, silence critics or send them behind bars through non-use, misuse and abuse of the legal system.

At this point, we should reiterate that the “rule of justice” has never ceased to operate. Basic economic, social, political and civil rights have never been reduced to a mere enumeration of empty do’s and dont’s as what control-obsessed wielders of power, high and low, try to undermine.

The lockdown and the pandemic are not  the government’s “passes” to sow a reign of terror, cultivate a climate of fear and blind obeisance, and commit human rights violations with impunity. 

For as soon as the dust settles,  there will be an accounting and accountability.  Every single duck walk, every prolonged exposure to the sun, every carrying of coffins, caging, show trials, nuisance investigations, arbitrary arrests and more importantly, the unacceptable failure to feed and care for the people when they needed a government most are memorialized in different forms and images, ready to be retrieved in a time of reckoning. 

In the meantime, despite practical

limitations, we will continue to counter the misinformation, the false narratives, the empty claims, the arrogant threats. the chipping away of our rights and dignity. We will continue to equip the people with legal knowledge, competent advice and as prompt aid as possible to protect and defend their rights.

Asserting and exercising one’s individual and collective rights are not incompatible with preserving life, caring for health and ensuring our welfare which are rights themselves.

When this pandemic is over, our basic rights and dignity should still be with us. #

Reference:

Ephraim B. Cortez
NUPL Secretary General

Josalee S. Deinla
NUPL Spokesperson

NUPL
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers was founded September 15, 2007 as a nationwide association of human rights lawyers as well as law students, paralegals and legal workers in the Philippines united by a commitment to the defense, protection, and promotion of human rights especially of the poor and the oppressed. nupl2007@gmail.com | 02 9206660