Condemn Duterte government for lack of mass testing, tracing and isolation after two-month lockdown

Communist Party of the Philippines

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the Filipino people condemn the Duterte regime for its failure to put into place a comprehensive plan to undertake mass testing, tracing and isolation as the key strategy to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Duterte placed large parts of the country under two months of military lockdown and made people suffer intolerable conditions. But it wasted all the people’s effort because it utterly failed in its obligation as the government to conduct mass testing, tracing and isolation of Covid-19 cases. Until now, the government is mostly blind as to the actual extent of infections. Its numbers are at best incomplete.

Under conditions of a public health emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic, it is the responsibility of the state to detect and trace the spread of the virus in order to isolate or quarantine the infected, treat the sick and protect the uninfected. In such times, the government is responsible to raise the capacity of the public health system to conduct mass testing, tracing and isolation, treat the sick and protect the vulnerable.

But the Duterte regime failed to carry out any emergency state investments in public health. It failed to lead in the procurement of testing kits and reagents, in strengthening the machinery for mass testing and tracing, in hiring more nurses, doctors and health workers, in building enough quarantine centers and other necessary public health measures. It continues to prioritize debt servicing and counterinsurgency, buying new attack helicopters, cannons and missiles. It is utterly reprehensible that only now are some of Duterte’s officials talking about hiring people to conduct contact tracing, but only as an afterthought amid the grave unemployment problem.

To fight the pandemic, the key measure is to undertake mass testing. At the outset, officials of the World Health Organization stated unequivocally that “(m)any countries are in a situation where the disease is recognizable, cases can be detected, contacts can be identified, quarantined and it is a more cost-effective intervention to separate some individuals from society than separate everybody in society from each other.”

The Duterte government, however, failed to carry out urgent testing and tracing after the first case of Covid-19 infection in the country was reported on January 30. Duterte instead downplayed the threat of the pandemic, refused to stop the influx of potentially infected tourists from China and failed to undertake preparations to strengthen and ramp up the capacity of the public health system to detect, trace and isolate the virus in the country.

Thus, WHO officials also warned: “Where enough has not been invested in core public health interventions such as case finding and contact tracing then social distancing measures may be our only option to create distance between individuals.” They cautioned, however, that measures to keep people apart “are very costly interventions in terms of societal acceptance (and) in economic terms and they have to be used in a time-limited fashion.”

The state of testing in the country is dismal. According to the May 11 dataset provided by the Department of Health, only 137,136 tests have been conducted in the Philippines, or an average of 3,608 tests conducted daily. The average has risen to 5,686 tests a day in the past ten days which, however, is still grossly low. In per capita terms, the country has conducted only 1,247 tests per million (tpm), which is below Vietnam’s 2,681 tpm, Cuba’s 5,783 tpm and South Korea’s 12,249 tpm, countries which are among those largely successful in carrying out tracing and isolation of cases.

There are pockets of mass testing, but are small-scale and mostly carried out on the initiative of some local government units whose officials are highly conscious of the need to be proactive and to be a step ahead of the virus. They have mobilized their limited resources in the right direction, also receiving assistance from companies and private individuals. These local efforts, however, are not enough and may prove futile if there is no nationwide effort led by the national government.

For two months, the Duterte regime relied on lockdowns and “ECQs” and “GCQs” as public health measures because it was blind to the real situation of the spread of the Covid-19 having failed to carry out the necessary steps to detect, trace and isolate cases. Instead of performing its task of detecting the cases, it made the people solely responsible for stopping the spread of the virus by staying at home.

Duterte’s “ECQ/GCQ” has created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the National Capital Region as well as other parts of the country. People were forced out of work and prevented from earning an income. There was no public transportation for necessary travel. Close to 4 million families have yet to receive the promised social amelioration. Tens of thousands are forced to line up for days on end to wait for their money. Millions of families in the NCR and other parts of the country are literally on the verge of dying of hunger. The prolonged “ECQs” have resulted in widespread economic as well as psychosocial problems.

Worse, the regime has further reinforced state fascism. People were forced to follow “stay-at-home” orders by police and soldiers who used increasingly brutal methods of coercion. Repressive measures adopted by the Duterte regime are among the worst across the world. Fascist-minded power-tripping local officials imposed cruel total lockdowns forcing people to stay in their cramped shanties. The regime is using state fascism to “change the mindset” of people to treat and make them act like a herd of animals. Duterte continues to use the crisis to pursue his scheme of establishing a fascist dictatorship.

As the WHO stated, “social distancing is based on a principle that you don’t know who’s infected and you’re separating, putting social distance between everyone.” By relying on the ECQs, the Duterte regime has, in fact, covered up its failure to perform its state duty to conduct mass testing, tracing and isolation. To wash its hands of responsibility, it has passed on the blame on the people for the continuing spread of the Covid-19. Because it remains blind and unable to act proactively to defeat the Covid-19, the Duterte government has embarked on a media campaign of “Takot ako sa Covid-19” to instill fear on the people and leave them with no choice but “to follow” what Duterte tells them to do.

After two months of economic and social devastation caused by the lockdown, Malacañang has announced today that it will continue to place the NCR under “modified ECQ” but has ordered the lifting of the “ECQs” in other places of the country. It is prioritizing the resumption of business and production of export-oriented enterprises, corruption-laden Build, Build, Build infrastructure projects, POGO operations, mining and plantations and the economic interests of its favored cronies and big bourgeois compradors to allow them to resume making profits. People, desperate for jobs, will now be made to work “under minimum health precautions,” still blind to the actual extent of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, it yet has to order any state-wide coordinated campaign to test, trace and isolate. Instead of doing so, the Duterte government insists on keeping the assumption that everyone is a possible carrier of the virus, and that the spread of the virus is the responsibility of everyone. Without mass testing, tracing and isolation, there are well-grounded fears that the relaxation of ECQs in many places across the country will result in a resurgence in Covid-19 infections in the coming weeks and months.

Without reliable information that can only be drawn from mass testing, the claims of the DOH of having “flattened the curve” are all but empty assurances. Without a mass campaign of detection and tracing, the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to plague the country and threaten the lives of millions of Filipinos.

The Filipino people, all democratic forces, scientists and health professionals, the workers and semiproletariat, students and their professors must unite and demand the Duterte regime to immediately carry out state-wide mass testing, tracing and isolation of the infected in order to end the nearly two-month long lockdown in the National Capital Region and other parts of the country and effectively fight Covid-19. If the regime continues to refuse to heed their demand, the Filipino people are fully justified to demand Duterte’s resignation or ouster as the ultimate means of defeating the pandemic.