Sunday, March 22, 2020

NAGKAISA and KMU Joint Statement on the Government’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

We are dismayed with the government’s ill-conceived lockdown that caused more problems and may have spread the virus wider, as the government failed to give assurance to the public, caused panic, implemented the lockdown without the necessary medical response and possibly compromising the safety and health of workers.

We are not opposed to community quarantine as it is clearly unsafe and hazardous for workers to expose themselves to the virus going to work. This might save them from COVID-19, but without providing the appropriate social protection, workers and their families would die from hunger.

Thus we are demanding a 10,000-peso Quarantine Subsidy. While we welcome the 5,000-peso financial assistance announced by DOLE as a good start, we find it insufficient. We also welcome all Congressional initiatives to provide subsidies to workers and to other vulnerable citizens.

Workers estimate that 225 billion pesos would be needed to provide the subsidy. An amount that will be surely circulate back into the local economy and keep the economy afloat.

Our frontliners of doctors, nurses and all other health workers should be fully supported by providing them with personal protective equipment, accessible transportation (including select PUVs), hot meals, express lanes at checkpoints, hazard pay, even proper sleeping quarters near hospitals.

Workers can actually invoke the right to refuse work that is dangerous as in the case of the COVID-19 national calamity, under RA 11058 or the new Occupational Safety and Health Law. But instead of doing so, workers in industries allowed to operate such as banks, food, export-oriented enterprises, BPOs and those part of skeletal workforces have chosen to cooperate as an expression of our commitment to the nation. These workers deserve the support health workers should get. But the situation and the Virus itself, seem to have gotten out of control. Thus, we need to send them home soon.

No health worker should die saving lives. No worker at all should die saving the economy.

While the government could have prepared better, it should now exert more effort and mobilize resources to the right channels. It should focus on medical efforts such as the fast procurement and production of COVID-19 test kits that will be used for mass testing, making testing facilities accessible to those in need, and the mobility and protection of our health workers. Some 10 billion will be needed for this. We demand a special session of Congress to approve the release of the amount needed for the Quarantine Subsidy, the mass testing, heath-centered response and other social protection measures. Congress, in their next regular session in May, should prepare the 2021 budget prioritizing measures versus pandemics and establishing the Center for Disease Control and Protection in the long term.

As the national government hardly supports LGUs, the latter should be given the discretion to mobilize select PUVs (ex. Tricycles, jeepneys, UVs) that is much needed; it is a concrete way to support our frontliners and workers.

The Labor Department should also extend support to Filipino workers overseas, especially in COVID-19 hard hit countries. We hope to get assurance that the proper medical care is also being extended to them by the host government with assistance from the Philippine government. For returning OFWs, their health condition should be continuously monitored and given free quarantine services if needed.

The COVID-19 pandemic should be a wake-up call for the government to invest heavily on our health system, particularly in government hospitals and for employing more medical practitioners and health workers who could render public service. We have long called for an increase in budget for the health sector, as well as other social services for the general public, as opposed to privatizing hospitals and public utilities.

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